Big Think's Top 25 +1 Videos


Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Deny Evolution

If adults want to deny evolution, sure. That’s fine. Whatever. But those adults better not make their kids follow in step because we as society need them to be better. Bill Nye, everyone's favorite Science Guy, explains the importance of promoting evolution education for America's future voters and lawmakers.

My Man, Sir Isaac Newton

Are you at least 26 years-old? If so, you are older than Isaac Newton was when he invented calculus... on a dare! (If you're younger than 26, better hurry up.) Big Think expert and overall cool guy Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why Newton is the greatest physicist who ever and likely will ever live.

Will Mankind Destroy Itself?

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku sees two major trends today. One eventually leads to a multicultural, scientific, tolerant society that will expand beyond Earth in the name of human progress. The other trend leads to fundamentalism, monoculturalism, and -- eventually -- civilizational ruin. Whichever of these two trends wins out will determine the fate of mankind. No pressure, everyone.

Ricky Gervais on the Principles of Comedy

Comedy isn't just about making people laugh, says actor Ricky Gervais. It's about making people think. And while different forms of comedy require different approaches, the crux of any good performance will always be rhythm.

Reading the Bible (Or the Koran, Or the Torah) Will Make You an Atheist

Author and magician Penn Jillette was asked to leave his Christian youth group by a pastor who told his parents: "He's no longer learning about the Bible from me. He is now converting everyone in the class to atheism." The reason? Jillette did his homework and was turned off by the hostilities of the text. It can be intimidating to come out as an atheist, especially in a religious community. Jillette found that having "out" atheist role models helped him feel unalone.

Henry Rollins: The One Decision that Changed My Life Forever

Punk legend Henry Rollins describes the biggest turning point in his life: the moment he decided to leave his job as manager of a Häagen-Dazs store and eventually become the lead singer of Black Flag. It was the courage to take a risk, plus a whole lot of luck, that got Rollins to where he is today.

5 Programming Languages Everyone Should Know

Java is "heavyweight, verbose, and everyone loves to hate it," but programmer Larry Wall still thinks you should know it. In this video, he offers suggestions for people interested in learning languages, as well as suggestions for those significantly less invested in computer programming.

The Importance of Unbelief

If you assume there’s no afterlife, Stephen Fry says, you’ll likely have a fuller, more interesting "now" life. The actor and comedian details the positive influence philosophers have had on his life, as well as his journey of understanding both what he believes and why he believes it.

Why be happy when you could be interesting?

We don't really want what we think we desire, says philosopher Slavoj Žižek.

James Gleick on the Common Character Traits of Geniuses

This video is part of a series on female genius, in proud collaboration with 92Y's 7 Days of Genius Festival.


The personalities of Isaac Newton and Richard Feynman were, on one level, extremely different. Biographer and former New York Times reporter James Gleick says Newton was argumentative, had few friends, and likely died a virgin. Feynman, on the other hand, loved dancing and going to parties, and had many friends in the scientific community. But in regards to their working habits, both men were solitary and had the ability to concentrate with a sort of intensity that is hard for mortals to grasp. At bottom, Gleick says geniuses tend to have a yearning for solitude which, though fruitful for their professional work, made the task of daily living more burdensome.

The Importance of Doing Useless Things

From poetry and ballet to mathematics and being clever, life is laden with frivolous pursuits that hold no bearing on our ability to survive. Yet, insists Richard Dawkins, if it weren’t for the development of these impractical activities, we wouldn’t be here.

Why monogamy is ridiculous

Dan Savage: the idea that one instance of infidelity should ruin a relationship is a new—and misguided—notion.

Dan Harris: Hack Your Brain's Default Mode With Meditation

Dan Harris explains the neuroscience behind meditation, but reminds us that the ancient practice isn't magic and likely won't send one floating into the cosmic ooze. He predicts that the exercise will soon become regularly scheduled maintenance, as commonplace as brushing your teeth or eating your veggies. Harris, an ABC News correspondent, was turned on to mediation after a live, on-air panic attack. His latest book is 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works--A True Story.

How Intellectuals Betrayed the Poor

For 40 years academics were duped into idolizing the idea of unfettered markets, says Cornel West, and now our society is paying a terrible price.

Why Some Races Outperform Others

A psychologist explains the latest research into education disparity.

Why It's So Hard for Scientists to Believe in God

Some scientists see religion as a threat to the scientific method that should be resisted. But faith "is really asking a different set of questions," says Collins.

Why Facebook Isn't Free

Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier argues that free technologies like Facebook come with a hidden and heavy cost – the livelihoods of their consumers.

How to Tell if You’re a Writer

For John Irving, the need for a daily ration of solitude was his strongest "pre-writing" moment as a child.

Your Behavior Creates Your Gender

Nobody is born one gender or the other, says the philosopher. "We act and walk and speak and talk in ways that consolidate an impression of being a man or being a woman."

Are You a Liberal Snob? Take The Quiz

Charles Mrray designed this quiz to have a salutary effect on bringing to people’s attention the degree to which they live in a bubble that seals them off from an awful lot of their fellow American citizens.

Why You Should Watch Filth

John Waters defends the creation and consumption of obscene films, and recommends some of his personal favorites.

What Are You Worth? Getting Past Status Anxiety.

Writer Alain De Botton says that status anxiety is more pernicious and destructive than most of us can imagine, and recommends getting out of the game altogether.

Sheila Heen on the Psychology of Happiness and Feedback

Sheila Heen, a Partner at Triad Consulting Group and a lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, explains the psychology behind feedback and criticism. Heen is co-author of "Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well."

Are You a Psychopath? Take the Test.

Psychologist Kevin Dutton presents the classic psychological test known as "the trolley problem" with a variation. Take the test and measure you response on the psychopathic spectrum.

Here's How to Catch a Liar, If You Really Want To

It’s very complex as to whether or not we really want to catch a liar. We think we do. What if we find out that both of our presidential candidates are lying? Then what do we do? I’m not saying they are; I never comment on anyone in office or running for office. Only after they’re out that they’re fair game. . . . Clinton said, "I didn’t have sex with that woman" and then gave her name. "That woman" is putting her at a distance from himself.

Why I Came Out at Age 81

As a teenager in the '40s, James Randi "would have gotten stoned" for being gay. But when he outed himself to the world in 2010, the reaction was "wonderful."

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  • The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
  • The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
  • Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.

Which face mask best protects against COVID-19? To find out, a team of researchers at Duke University recently conducted a pretty straightforward experiment.

The team measured how well 14 popular face masks blocked respiratory droplets from exiting people's mouths while speaking. To measure the droplets, the researchers used "a black box, a laser, and a camera," Martin Fischer, one of the authors of the study, told CNN.

"The laser beam is expanded vertically to form a thin sheet of light, which we shine through slits on the left and right of the box."

Fischer et al.

A smartphone camera recorded video of the participants, and a computer algorithm counted the number of droplets they emitted. To establish a control trial, the participants spoke into the box both with and without a mask. And to make sure that the droplets weren't in fact dust from the masks, the team conducted more tests by "repeatedly puffing air from a bulb through the masks."

Face mask study for COVID-19

Fischer et al.

The results, published Friday in Science Advances, showed that some masks are pretty much useless. In particular, neck fleeces (also called gaiters) actually produced more respiratory droplets compared to the control trial — likely because the fabric breaks down big droplets into smaller ones.

The top three most effective masks were N95 respirators, surgical masks, and polypropylene-cotton masks. Bandanas performed the worst, but were slightly better than wearing no mask at all.

Fischer et al.

Research on mask efficacy is still emerging. But the new results seem to generally align with prior tests. For example, a study from June published in Physics of Fluid found that bandanas (followed by folded handkerchiefs) were least effective at blocking respiratory droplets. That same study also found, as others have, that masks made from multiple layers of quilter's fabric were especially effective at blocking droplets.

The researchers hope other institutions will conduct similar experiments so the public can see how well different masks can block the spread of COVID-19.

"This is a very powerful visual tool to raise awareness that a very simple masks, like these homemade cotton masks, do really well to stop the majority of these respiratory droplets," Fischer told CNN. "Companies and manufacturers can set this up and test their mask designs before producing them, which would also be very useful."

  • The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
  • Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
  • Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.

Though Marjorie Taylor Greene is scrubbing her social media conspiracy theory mongering clean after her victory in Georgia's 14th Congressional District's Republican primary, the internet's graveyard is vast. Greene appears to be distancing from her belief in QAnon, an online "movement" founded on the idea that Donald Trump is secretly battling an elite cabal of pedophiles. She went so far to call the secretive Q "a patriot."

Media Matters counts at least 75 current or former GOP congressional candidates that support the QAnon conspiracy theory. Thus far, 600,000 Americans have voted for Q-endorsing candidates. As with "Pizzagate"—the origin myth of QAnon—there have been real-world consequences. Q adherents have been tied to murders and kidnappings. The group also traffics in anti-Semitic rhetoric.

While our president is tied to an actual pedophile ring via his longtime friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell ("I wish her well"), the QAnon conspiracy theory has been little more than a dangerous distraction. Popular "QAnon researchers" like Jordan Sather uses his rhetorical bombast, in a page stolen from Alex Jones, to sell supplements and, I kid you not, pendants that provide "powerful protection from EMFs" (electromagnetic fields).

What's a good conspiracy theory if you can't monetize it?

One group that isn't monetizing anything from QAnon—a group being actively harmed by it—is traumatized children, the very people these clicktivists somehow believe they're helping. Sharing a conspiracy theory on social media is easy. Working to actually help victims of sexual abuse and child trafficking, not so much. In fact, if you want to "do the research," it takes years of hard work, which is why I talked to Regan Williams earlier this week.

Real ways you can help stop child trafficking

Williams is the founder and CEO of Seen and Heard, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps foster youth develop character through the performing arts. She's been involved with foster youth for years; I wrote about her work in child trafficking just over a year ago. Tragically, since that time, the situation for these children has only gotten worse, in large part because of QAnon.

Williams says child trafficking is an easy cause to rally people together. Fear is also a powerful unifying force, one that QAnon believers are already primed for via the news they consume. Almost every parent cares about their children, making them the ideal target to solidify groups.

The real problem, she says, is that the youth she works with are falling for these conspiracy theories. Trauma is a particularly powerful tool for indoctrination. If you're a teenager that's been abducted or abused, your trust level is already extremely low. Then you read about a global cabal of powerful men (and a few women) secretly abusing children, and the narrative seems ready-made for your personal history.

When Williams tried to "lovingly and kindly correct" the youth she was working with after learning about the Wayfair conspiracy, the girls' response was, "well, who owns the media?"

"She goes from this small little thing to a QAnon talking point. I've been thinking about why she would believe such a preposterous idea—and there are others; it's not just one student, and they're in in deep. I think that when something horrific happens to you as a child, it's a lot easier to distance yourself from the immediate reality that it was an uncle or a parent or a sibling that hurt you. By detaching from that immediate person, they project it onto Bill Gates or Chrissy Teigen. Then it's not so personal, it's global."

man wearing

A man wear a shirt with the words Q Anon as he attends a rally for President Donald Trump at the Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As Williams mentions, there are over 30,000 kids in foster care in the Los Angeles area alone. It's easy to fall through the cracks. The systems in place aren't perfect; they're certainly underfunded. When you're in a system trying to support you yet isn't capable of doing so, viewing the world as imperfect, and even harmful, becomes the lens through which you see reality. Again, this makes for a perfect indoctrination tool.

One popular QAnon talking point is that 800,000 children are missing. As Williams says, child trafficking experts "don't buy this for a minute." The number makes for a good meme but a poor representation of the problem.

To source better data, Williams turns to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). An important factor when reading data: if a teacher and a caregiver report a missing child to NCIC, that counts as two children, not one, which accounts for some of the fluctuations in numbers. In total, between 25,000 and 29,000 kids go missing every year. Importantly, 94 percent of those children are recovered within four to six weeks.

"They're not documenting the recovery rate. It's not like these numbers are perpetually hanging out there. So this 800,000 number is just ludicrous."

Williams compares what's going on to Black Lives Matter. Blacking out your Instagram profile picture is performative. It signals that you actually care, which is great, but if you're not supporting Black-owned businesses, for example, there are no teeth to your activism.

Of course, blacking out your profile doesn't cause the real-world harm the QAnon virus does. Sharing misinformation is ultimately harmful to the children in need of help. Williams offers the resources below—ranging from donations to nonprofits to educational trainings to becoming a foster parent—for people that actually want to do something to help victims of sexual and physical abuse. They might not make a great Twitter meme, but in the actual world, this support makes all the difference.

To report abuse/neglect, call the child abuse hotline: 800.540.4000 (LA county) / 800.422.4453 (National)

  • Support anti-trafficking organizations by donating to Saving Innocence, which runs the continuum of care from rescue to recovery, Zoe, a reputable faith-based organization, and Two Wings, which helps to rehabilitate female survivors
  • Nola Brantley offers in-person and online trainings to help combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children
  • Rebecca Bender is a trafficking survivor that runs "Myth Busters," which combats conspiracy theory disinformation
  • The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children
  • Operation Underground Railroad
  • Defend Innocence offers tips for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe

--

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."

  • Sci-fi visions of Mars have changed over time, in step with humanity's own obsessions.
  • Once the source of alien invaders, the Red Planet is now deemed ripe for terraforming.
  • Here's an extreme example: Mars with exactly as much surface water as Earth.

Misogynists in space

\u200bMars \u2013 and Martians \u2013 were a staple of 1930s pulp science fiction.

Mars – and Martians – were a staple of 1930s pulp science fiction.

Image: ScienceBlogs.de - CC BY-SA 2.0

"Oh, my God, it's a woman," he said in a tone of devastating disgust.

"Stowaway to Mars" hasn't aged well. First serialised in 1936 as "Planet Plane" and set in the then distant future of 1981, the fourth novel by sci-fi legend John Wyndham (writing as John Benyon) could have been remembered mainly for its charming retro-futurism, if it weren't so blatantly, offhandedly misogynistic.

Fortunately, each era's sci-fi says more about itself than about the future. That also goes for how we see Mars. 'Classic' Martians, like the ones in H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds," are creatures from a dying planet, using their superior firepower to invade Earth and escape their doom. That trope reflected 19th- and 20th-century fears about mechanized total warfare, which hung like a sword of Damocles over otherwise increasingly placid lifestyles.

Closer inspection of the Red Planet has revealed the absence of green men; and now we're the dying planet – pardon my Swedish. So the focus has shifted from interplanetary war to terraforming the fourth rock from the Sun, creating something all those protest signs say we don't have: a Planet B.

How to keep Mars from killing us

Map of the surface of the planet Mars, showing the ice caps at the poles.

Mars today: red and dusty, dead and deadly.

Image: NASA - public domain.

Cue Elon Musk, who doesn't just build Teslas but also heads SpaceX, a program to make humanity an interplanetary species by landing the first humans on Mars by 2024 as the pioneers of a permanent, self-sufficient and growing colony.

Such a colony would benefit from an environment that doesn't try to kill you if you take off your space helmet. Martian temperatures average at around -55°C (-70°F), and its atmosphere has just 1 percent the volume of Earth's, in a mix that contains far less oxygen. Changing all that to an ecosystem that's more like our own, would be a herculean task.

From Red Mars to Green Mars

\u200bBefore and after images of a terraformed Mars

Before and after images of a terraformed Mars in the lobby of SpaceX offices in Hawthorne, California.

Image: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr - CC BY 2.0

So how would Musk go about it? In August 2019, he launched a t-shirt with the two-word answer: 'Nuke Mars'. The idea would be to heat up and release the carbon dioxide frozen at Mars's poles, creating a much warmer and wetter planet – as Mars may have been about 4 billion years ago – though still not with a breathable atmosphere.

Alternatives to nuclear explosions: photosynthetic organisms on the ground or giant mirrors in space, either of which could also melt the Martian poles. However, many scientists question the logistics of these plans, and even whether there is enough readily accessible CO2 on Mars to fuel the climate change that Musk (and others) envision.

Ah, but why stop at the objections of the current scientific consensus? Sometimes, you have to dream ahead to see the place that can't be built yet. In the lobby of SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California, Red Mars and Green Mars are shown side by side. The terraformed version on the right looks green and cloudy and blue – Earth-like, or at least habitable-looking.

Or how about a Blue Mars?

wet Mars map

A map of Mr Bhattarai's wet Mars, in the Robinson projection.

Image: A.R. Bhattarai, reproduced with kind permission; modified with MaptoGlobe

But why stop there? This map looks forward to a Mars that doesn't just have some surface water, but exactly as much as Earth – which means quite a lot. No less than 71 percent of our planet's surface is covered by oceans, seas, and lakes. The dry bits are our continents and islands.

In the case of Mars, a 71 percent wet planet leaves the planet's northern hemisphere mainly ocean, with most of the dry land located in the southern half.

Most of the dry land is connected via the south pole but is articulated in two distinct land masses. Both semi-continents are separated by a wide bay that corresponds to Argyre Planitia.

The one in the west is centered on Tharsis, a vast volcanic tableland. To the north, attached to the main land mass, is Alba Mons, the largest volcano on Mars in terms of area (with a span comparable to that of the continental United States).

It's about 6.8 km (22,000 ft) high, which is about one-third of Olympus Mons, a volcano now located on its own island off the northwest coast of Tharsis. At a height of over 21 km (72,000 ft), Olympus Mons is the highest volcano on Mars and the tallest planetary mountain (1) currently known on the solar system. Olympus rises about 20 km (66,000 ft) above the sea level as shown on this map.

A new civilization

\u200bSpinning globe view of Mr Bhattarai's wet Mars.

Spinning globe view of Mr Bhattarai's wet Mars.

Image: A.R. Bhattarai, reproduced with kind permission; modified with MaptoGlobe

Mars's eastern continent is centered not on a plateau, but on a depression that on today's 'dry' Mars is called Hellas Planitia, one of the largest impact craters in the Solar system. On the 'wet' Mars of this map, the crater is the central and largest part of a sea that is surrounded by land, a Martian version of the Mediterranean Sea. Perhaps one day this Medimartian Sea will be the Mare Nostrum of a new civilization.

To the northeast of the circular semi-continent is a large island that on 'our' Mars is Elysium Mons, a volcano that is the planet's third-tallest mountain (14.1 km, 46,000 ft).

The map is the work of Aaditya Raj Bhattarai, a civil engineering student at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu (Nepal). Talking to Inverse, he said he hoped his map could help further the Martian plans of Elon Musk and SpaceX: "This is part of my side project where I calculate the volume of water required to make life on Mars sustainable and the sources required for those water volumes from comets that will come nearby Mars in the next 100 years."


Images by Mr Bhattarai reproduced with kind permission. Check out his website. Planetary projection and spinning globe created via MaptoGlobe.

Strange Maps #1043

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

________
(1) The tallest mountain in the Solar system, planetary or otherwise, we know of today, is a peak which rises 22.5 km (14 mi) from the center of the Rheasilvia crater on Vesta, a giant asteroid which makes up 9 percent of the entire mass of the asteroid belt.

  • Anyone can start a business and be an entrepreneur, but the reality is that most businesses will fail. Building something successful from the ground up takes hard work, passion, intelligence, and a network of people who are equally as smart and passionate as you are. It also requires the ability to accept and learn from your failures.
  • In this video, entrepreneurs in various industries including 3D printing, fashion, hygiene, capital investments, aerospace, and biotechnology share what they've learned over the years about relationships, setting and attaining goals, growth, and what happens when things don't go according to plan.
  • "People who start businesses for the exit, most of them will fail because there's just no true passion behind it," says Miki Agrawal, co-founder of THINX and TUSHY. A key point of Agrawal's advice is that if you can't see yourself in something for 10 years, you shouldn't do it.

  • Laser experiments can reveal precisely how far away an object is from Earth.
  • For years scientists have been bouncing light off of reflectors on the lunar surface that were installed during the Apollo era, but these reflectors have become less efficient over time.
  • The recent success could reveal the cause of the degradation, and also lead to new discoveries about the Moon's evolution.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has been orbiting the Moon about a dozen times per day since 2009. The craft carries six high-tech instruments that have helped scientists create detailed maps of the moon, and learn more radiation and temperatures on the lunar surface.

But the craft also carries a rather simple instrument: a reflector the size of a paperback novel.

Over the past decade, scientists have been shooting laser beams from Earth to the LRO's reflector, some 240,000 miles away, hoping to catch a return signal. On Monday, NASA scientists and their French colleagues announced that they successfully received that return signal for the first time.

What can scientists learn by bouncing lasers off the LRO? For one, it reveals precisely how many seconds it takes for photons to travel there and back — an average of 2.5 seconds. Scientists can use this duration to tell exactly how far away an object is. Also, by measuring tiny fluctuations in the duration, they can study subtle movements of the Moon.

laser reflecting panel on

A close-up photograph of the laser reflecting panel deployed by Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon in 1971.

NASA

The technology isn't quite new. During the Apollo era, astronauts installed on the lunar surface five reflecting panels, each containing at least 100 mirrors that reflect back to whichever direction it's coming from. By bouncing light off these panels, scientists have been able to learn, for example, that the Moon is drifting away from Earth at a rate of about 1.5 inches per year.

"Now that we've been collecting data for 50 years, we can see trends that we wouldn't have been able to see otherwise," Erwan Mazarico, a planetary scientist from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said. "Laser-ranging science is a long game."

LRO 3D model

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

NASA

But the long game poses a problem: Over time, the panels on the Moon have become less efficient at bouncing light back to Earth. Some scientists suspect it's because dust, kicked up by micrometeorites, has settled on the surface of the panels, causing them to overheat. And if that's the case, scientists need to know for sure.

That's where the recent LRO laser experiment comes in. If scientists find discrepancies between the data sent back by the LRO reflector and those on the lunar surface, it could reveal what's causing the lunar reflectors to become less efficient. They could then account for these discrepancies in their models.

Studying the Moon's core

More precise laser experiments could also help scientists learn more about the moon's core. By measuring tiny wobbles as the Moon rotates, past laser experiments revealed that the satellite has a fluid core. But inside of that fluid could lie a solid core — one that might've helped to generate the Moon's now-extinct magnetic field.

However, confirming that hypothesis will require more precise measurements — and the continued success of laser experiments involving the LRO, or reflecting panels installed on the Moon during future missions.

"The precision of this one measurement has the potential to refine our understanding of gravity and the evolution of the solar system," Xiaoli Sun, a Goddard planetary scientist who helped design LRO's reflector, told NASA.