Big Think Edge


PURPOSE: Set Goals, with John Amaechi

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, NBA basketball player John Amaechi shares with you the plan he created as a child to help him accomplish his dreams.

INNOVATION: Engage Your Team Through Gaming, with Jane McGonigal

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, game designer Jane McGonigal walks you through the ways in which gaming can lead to positive outcomes in the workplace.

LEADERSHIP: Overcome Obstacles, with Edward Norton

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Oscar-nominated actor Edward Norton offers a mental strategy for pushing past anxiety and fear when taking on a new venture.

TALENT: Master Your Craft, with Malcolm Gladwell

If your goal is to become masterful at what you do, the formula is simple: stay focused and do your time. In this lesson from Big Think Edge, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell teaches you how.

Understand and Address Unconscious Bias, with Jennifer Brown

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, management expert Jennifer Brown, a diversity training consultant who works with leading companies, explores pitfalls and strategies for dealing with unconscious bias.

RISK MITIGATION: Risk Management Fundamentals, with Timothy Geithner

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner teaches the fundamentals of risk management, based on lessons learned during the 2008 Financial Crisis.

MILLENNIALS: Embrace Millennials' Values, with Jon Iwata

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Jon Iwata, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications at IBM, explores key millennial values and what every company can do to embrace them.

MASTERCLASS: What Does A Leader Do?, with Robert Kaplan

In this lesson from Big Think Edge, Harvard professor and former Goldman Sachs executive Robert S. Kaplan explores three strategic key questions that leaders need to ask themselves.

Introducing Big Think Edge

Big Think's Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by thought leaders at the top of their game.

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You're waiting for the elevator at the office, sitting in a meeting that's late to start, or checking your phone with the hope that a co-worker finally responds to your email.


You know it's not productive to let your impatience consume you, but you can't help but tap your foot and fidget as time passes you by.

Far too often, we let impatience get the best of us at work. There are lots of situations when time is of the essence — when you have a pressing deadline, for example — but on many occasions, we let our stress and desire for instant gratification limit our ability to remain calm and respond with empathy.

And impatience doesn't just put you in a bad mood; it can have physical implications, too. When you're impatient, your stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) soar, blood vessels constrict, and the acid in your stomach increases, resulting in a state of physiological stress, Judith Orloff, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of Emotional Freedom, tells Thrive Global.

"As far as psychological impacts go, impatience can cause you to feel irritable, anxious, and snappy. You say things you regret. You simply don't adjust to the flow of life — you're always trying to push it and make things go according to the way you want, versus learning how to harmonize with the flow of things," Orloff says.

What's more, impatience can put you at greater risk of several negative health outcomes, Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Baylor University, tells Thrive. "Impatience is associated with cardiovascular problems. We have a lot of research showing that chronic stress and allowing yourself to be negatively impacted by daily stressors is not just bad for the physiological system — it can shorten your lifespan," Schnitker says. But while the consequences of impatience are certainly alarming, it is possible to avoid them.

Schnitker notes that people who are more patient often report higher life satisfaction, more positive emotions, and higher levels of hope and self-esteem. Plus, people who are more patient might experience greater success in achieving their goals, because they ultimately exert more effort and are more satisfied with goal progress.

"Building patience is a worthy pursuit. It takes time, but it is something that you can improve," Schnitker says. Here's how.

Communicate compassionately with yourself and others

There are a variety of ways to practice being patient that will ultimately build your tolerance and your ability to deal with slow periods or moments of stress at work. If you notice your impatience has impacted the way you communicate, Orloff recommends taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before you speak up. "By taking this pause before you speak, you won't say something you regret. Be aware of your tone — when people are impatient, they tend to get snippy," Orloff says.

On top of paying extra attention to your communication style, it's also helpful to be conscious of the way you talk to yourself. "Practice cognitive reappraisal — reimagining a situation," Schnitker suggests. "Say you have a co-worker who is frustrating you: You're getting annoyed, because they're not turning things in on time. You can try to reframe this — maybe they have something going on with their family. This helps you transition from being very frustrated to thinking 'OK, this is frustrating, but there are a lot of things going on in their life that I don't know about.'"

Practice positive thoughts

Having a high level of patience often isn't something that comes naturally; instead, it is something that improves over time. Schnitker says the key is to start small; with the help of cognitive reappraisal, you can try to shift your habits in a more positive direction, or better yet, try habit-stacking.

Take traffic, for example — no one enjoys the rush-hour commute after a long day at work, but Schnitker says it can be the perfect time to reflect on the events of your day. "Instead of focusing on the fact that you are stuck, and impatient about it, think, 'Let me see what I can do with this time,'" she says. That way, the time will feel less like an inconvenience, and instead, like an opportunity to develop a healthy habit at a time when you might normally give into negativity.

You may often turn to technology in moments that particularly try your patience, like when you're waiting in a long line. But it's worth trying to practice being patient without the distraction of our screens. "Having technology makes it easier to wait in certain situations. Say I'm stuck in a doctor's office — I'd use my phone and I'm not as frustrated. But by allowing our technology to entertain us when we're in low-stakes waiting situations, like waiting in line or other daily hassles that are part of life, people may actually not get to practice the skill of patience that they'd need in a more high-stakes situation," Schnitker says. With that in mind, use low-stakes waiting situations as an opportunity to simply be present, practice deep breathing, or find a non-technological way to keep yourself busy.

Identify your greater purpose

Another way to become more patient — and to improve your well-being in general — is to identify the purpose of things both big and small. "In our culture, our approach to any sort of suffering, waiting, or hardship is often, 'Let's just fix it and move on.' But to really be patient is to say there is a bigger picture, and something important beyond this moment," Schnitker says. An easy way to find deeper meaning in the smaller moments of life is to ask questions.

If you find yourself particularly impatient and stressed by something in the workplace, Schnitker suggests asking yourself about it. "Ask, 'Why am I doing overtime this week and missing out on something fun I wanted to do? Why do I put up with this person who frustrates me? Why am I struggling to write this deck? What's the purpose behind it all?' The answers will be beyond the self," Schnitker says.

By identifying a purpose behind the moments that cause you to feel impatient, and practicing patience both in and outside the workplace, you can not only improve your mental and physical health, but also equip yourself with an important tool to deal with whatever life throws your way.

Reprinted with permission of Thrive Global. Read the original article.

  • We all think that we're competent consumers of news media, but the research shows that even journalists struggle with identifying fact from fiction.
  • When judging whether a piece of media is true or not, most of us focus too much on the source itself. Knowledge has a context, and it's important to look at that context when trying to validate a source.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

For decades, research has shown that our perception of the world is influenced by our expectations. These expectations, also called "prior beliefs," help us make sense of what we are perceiving in the present, based on similar past experiences.


Consider, for instance, how a shadow on a patient's X-ray image, easily missed by a less experienced intern, jumps out at a seasoned physician. The physician's prior experience helps her arrive at the most probable interpretation of a weak signal.

The process of combining prior knowledge with uncertain evidence is known as Bayesian integration and is believed to widely impact our perceptions, thoughts, and actions. Now, MIT neuroscientists have discovered distinctive brain signals that encode these prior beliefs. They have also found how the brain uses these signals to make judicious decisions in the face of uncertainty.

"How these beliefs come to influence brain activity and bias our perceptions was the question we wanted to answer," says Mehrdad Jazayeri, the Robert A. Swanson Career Development Professor of Life Sciences, a member of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the senior author of the study.

The researchers trained animals to perform a timing task in which they had to reproduce different time intervals. Performing this task is challenging because our sense of time is imperfect and can go too fast or too slow. However, when intervals are consistently within a fixed range, the best strategy is to bias responses toward the middle of the range. This is exactly what animals did. Moreover, recording from neurons in the frontal cortex revealed a simple mechanism for Bayesian integration: Prior experience warped the representation of time in the brain so that patterns of neural activity associated with different intervals were biased toward those that were within the expected range.

MIT postdoc Hansem Sohn, former postdoc Devika Narain, and graduate student Nicolas Meirhaeghe are the lead authors of the study, which appears in the July 15 issue of Neuron.

Ready, set, go

Statisticians have known for centuries that Bayesian integration is the optimal strategy for handling uncertain information. When we are uncertain about something, we automatically rely on our prior experiences to optimize behavior.

"If you can't quite tell what something is, but from your prior experience you have some expectation of what it ought to be, then you will use that information to guide your judgment," Jazayeri says. "We do this all the time."

In this new study, Jazayeri and his team wanted to understand how the brain encodes prior beliefs, and put those beliefs to use in the control of behavior. To that end, the researchers trained animals to reproduce a time interval, using a task called "ready-set-go." In this task, animals measure the time between two flashes of light ("ready" and "set") and then generate a "go" signal by making a delayed response after the same amount of time has elapsed.

They trained the animals to perform this task in two contexts. In the "Short" scenario, intervals varied between 480 and 800 milliseconds, and in the "Long" context, intervals were between 800 and 1,200 milliseconds. At the beginning of the task, the animals were given the information about the context (via a visual cue), and therefore knew to expect intervals from either the shorter or longer range.

Jazayeri had previously shown that humans performing this task tend to bias their responses toward the middle of the range. Here, they found that animals do the same. For example, if animals believed the interval would be short, and were given an interval of 800 milliseconds, the interval they produced was a little shorter than 800 milliseconds. Conversely, if they believed it would be longer, and were given the same 800-millisecond interval, they produced an interval a bit longer than 800 milliseconds.

"Trials that were identical in almost every possible way, except the animal's belief led to different behaviors," Jazayeri says. "That was compelling experimental evidence that the animal is relying on its own belief."

Once they had established that the animals relied on their prior beliefs, the researchers set out to find how the brain encodes prior beliefs to guide behavior. They recorded activity from about 1,400 neurons in a region of the frontal cortex, which they have previously shown is involved in timing.

During the "ready-set" epoch, the activity profile of each neuron evolved in its own way, and about 60 percent of the neurons had different activity patterns depending on the context (Short versus Long). To make sense of these signals, the researchers analyzed the evolution of neural activity across the entire population over time, and found that prior beliefs bias behavioral responses by warping the neural representation of time toward the middle of the expected range.

"We have never seen such a concrete example of how the brain uses prior experience to modify the neural dynamics by which it generates sequences of neural activities, to correct for its own imprecision. This is the unique strength of this paper: bringing together perception, neural dynamics, and Bayesian computation into a coherent framework, supported by both theory and measurements of behavior and neural activities," says Mate Lengyel, a professor of computational neuroscience at Cambridge University, who was not involved in the study.

Embedded knowledge

Researchers believe that prior experiences change the strength of connections between neurons. The strength of these connections, also known as synapses, determines how neurons act upon one another and constrains the patterns of activity that a network of interconnected neurons can generate. The finding that prior experiences warp the patterns of neural activity provides a window onto how experience alters synaptic connections. "The brain seems to embed prior experiences into synaptic connections so that patterns of brain activity are appropriately biased," Jazayeri says.

As an independent test of these ideas, the researchers developed a computer model consisting of a network of neurons that could perform the same ready-set-go task. Using techniques borrowed from machine learning, they were able to modify the synaptic connections and create a model that behaved like the animals.

These models are extremely valuable as they provide a substrate for the detailed analysis of the underlying mechanisms, a procedure that is known as "reverse-engineering." Remarkably, reverse-engineering the model revealed that it solved the task the same way the monkeys' brain did. The model also had a warped representation of time according to prior experience.

The researchers used the computer model to further dissect the underlying mechanisms using perturbation experiments that are currently impossible to do in the brain. Using this approach, they were able to show that unwarping the neural representations removes the bias in the behavior. This important finding validated the critical role of warping in Bayesian integration of prior knowledge.

The researchers now plan to study how the brain builds up and slowly fine-tunes the synaptic connections that encode prior beliefs as an animal is learning to perform the timing task.

The research was funded by the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, the Netherlands Scientific Organization, the Marie Sklodowska Curie Reintegration Grant, the National Institutes of Health, the Sloan Foundation, the Klingenstein Foundation, the Simons Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and the McGovern Institute.

Reprinted with permission of MIT News. Read the original article.

  • Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins revealed that there were deficiencies in NASA's safety procedures following the Apollo 11 mission.
  • Moon landing astronauts were quarantined for 21 days.
  • Earth could be contaminated with lunar bacteria.


The moon landing was definitely one of humanity's most amazing achievements. It could have also been one of its most dangerous moments. Apollo 11 astronauts who took part in the landing revealed that there's a chance Earth could have been contaminated with lunar germs as a result of their mission.

NASA actually had procedures in place to address any possible spread of bacteria from space to our home planet but the measures had key deficiencies, asserted astronaut Michael Collins in the new PBS documentary "Chasing the Moon". He wasn't actually one of the people who walked on the moon. But he was in the command module when his crewmates came back from the lunar vehicle. At that moment, he would have been "exposed," as he admitted, to the lunar germs, if there were any.

"Look at it this way," he said, as reported by Space.com. "Suppose there were germs on the moon. There are germs on the moon, we come back, the command module is full of lunar germs. The command module lands in the Pacific Ocean, and what do they do? Open the hatch. You got to open the hatch! All the damn germs come out!"


His point about what happened once the command module splashed down in the Pacific were re-enforced by Buzz Aldrin, who did get to walk on the moon and could have been the one carrying the potential germs. He especially remembered the discarded rags that were used to disinfect him once he was pulled out of the module.

"You have to laugh a little bit," Aldrin mused. "It takes all those germs to the bottom of the ocean. I wonder if they'd survive down there?"

Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images

7/24/1969. Pararescueman Lieutenant Clancey Hatleberg closes the Apollo 11 spacecraft hatch as astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, await helicopter pickup from their life raft. They are wearing biological isolation garments for their 21-day, quaratine period.

Apollo 11 astronauts actually spent 21 days in quarantine, released without any noticeable issues. Future missions Apollo 15 through 17 of 1971-1972 also had men walking on the moon but did not employ any quarantine measures, according to Scientific American. This lack of precaution was precipitated by the analysis of lunar samples from previous missions, which showed no life forms.

Apollo 11 40th Anniversary - Water Recovery System

  • Oklahoma is "either your past or your future…it's a microcosm of America…the issues around racism, politics, the blurring of church and state…"
  • Come for the cultural politics…stick around for the unlikely connections to LSD, mushrooms, and the Salem Witch Trials…

In spite of all the weird ways the word has been abused since the 2016 elections, I think of myself as a liberal. As a basic value, I try to be open-minded. And like many liberals, I live in a big, liberal city where I rarely meet anyone who doesn't share my values, religious outlook, and political beliefs. As a result, like it or not, I'm in a bubble. And when I'm not being careful about it, I'm vulnerable to seeing "the Bible Belt" and the American South as one monolithic, mostly white, evangelical, anti-abortion, Christian Right-leaning mass. As some kind of living history exhibit of a past us New Yorkers have left behind.

And I know lots of people in some of the same bubbles I occupy who are quick to point to religion as the cause of horrors throughout human history. People who see reason and science as progress, religion as unequivocally retrograde, and who point to data showing that people everywhere are getting less religious as a hopeful sign that humanity might be moving in the right direction. But just as it doesn't have a monopoly on morality, religion doesn't have a monopoly on intolerance. And reason alone can't give us values like love and kindness. Religion's one of many ways that people organize their lives and like everything we make, it's subject to both our courage and our cowardice. The best and the worst of us.

A recent Pew survey says that 63% of Americans believe in God. In Bible Belt states like Oklahoma, where that number is much higher, there are fierce political battles going on for control of the Christian narrative—pushback against fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible as aligned with conservative republican values. These battles, invisible to most of us out here on the coasts, are the subject of AMERICAN HERETICS, a powerful new documentary by my guests today, Jeanine and Catherine Butler.

Surprise conversation starters in this episode:

Michael Pollan on the history of LSD and psilocybin mushrooms in America