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."

More playlists
  • U.S. Presidents have invoked the Insurrection Act on numerous occasions.
  • The controversial law gives the President some power to bring in troops to police the American people.
  • The Act has been used mainly to restore order following race and labor riots.

The nationwide protests that were catalyzed by the police killing of George Floyd led to the possibility that President Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act. This piece of legislation would presumably justify the use of the military to quell the demonstrations that on numerous occasions turned violent. The legality and reality of that is still under debate, highlighting a very controversial power of an American President. While the U.S. military is banned from participating in law enforcement activities on its own soil, the Insurrection Act can provide the exceptions.

The Act was signed into law by Thomas Jefferson in 1807, and has a long history of being used to quell race and labor-related riots. The first time the act was modified was in 1861, when in anticipation of the calamity that would follow the Civil War, a section was added allowing the feds to use the National Guard and the army even against the wishes of state governments. The language specified the case of "rebellion against the authority of the government of the United States" as the cause that would justify sending in the troops.

The 1871 amendment to the act was actually meant to protect African-Americans from attacks by the Ku Klux Klan. The new wording stated then that the federal government can invoke the act for the enforcement of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This came into play during the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War and in the course of the desegregation incidents that were part of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

One important caveat to the use of the act – since 1967 it has only been invoked upon request from the states and not under exclusive authority of the President. The actual wording of the act states its purpose is to address "whenever there is an insurrection in any State against its government, the President may, upon the request of its legislature or of its governor if the legislature cannot be convened," call upon military troops. A 1956 provision, however, says the President can use it without state governments in cases where "unlawful obstructions" or "rebellion against the authority of the United States, make it impracticable to enforce the laws". In the current situation in the U.S., following the George Floyd murder at the hands of the police, the states have not asked Trump for such help.

Discovery of Nat Turner Engraving by William Henry Shelton

Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

One of the early Presidents to invoke the act was Andrew Jackson. He used it to put down the slave rebellion by Nat Turner in 1831 and to settle a labor dispute by workers of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1834.

Ulysses S. Grant relied upon the Insurrection Act several times, for the suppression of the Ku Klux Klan in South Carolina in 1871 and to put down the unrest that started after the contested 1872 Louisiana gubernatorial election.

Rutherford B. Hayes used the Insurrection Act for the troops needed to deal with the Lincoln County War of 1878, the one that famously involved Billy the Kid.

The tensions brought on by the railroad worker Pullman Strike of 1894 and the 1914 mine worker uprising dubbed the "Colorado Coalfield War" forced, respectively, Grover Cleveland and Woodrow Wilson, to rely on the act to bring back order.

Colorado National Guard troops during the Ludlow strike. 1914.

Credit: Survey Associates, Inc.

In more modern times, the Insurrection Act's re-appearance is tied exclusively to breakdowns in race relations. It was employed by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1943 Detroit race riot and by Dwight D. Eisenhower to protect the Little Rock Nine – a group of nine African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. John F. Kennedy used the act a couple of times, both times to fight segregation. He called upon it during the Ole Miss Riot of 1962 and to enforce desegregation in Alabama's public schools in 1963.

Lyndon B. Johnson was most prolific in engaging the Insurrection Act, resorting to it four times – during the bloody 1967 Detroit riot as well as the 1968 riots in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Baltimore that were precipitated by the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King.

In recent times, President George H. W. Bush was the last one to invoke the act, calling up troops to restore calm in the 1992 Los Angeles riots, prompted by the beating of Rodney King.

National Guardsmen in South Los Angeles, 30 April 1992.

Photo credit: HAL GARB/AFP via Getty Images

  • Before the hurricane season even started in 2020, Arthur and Bertha had already blown through, and Cristobal may be brewing right now.
  • Weather forecasters see signs of a rough season ahead, with just a couple of reasons why maybe not.
  • Where's an El Niño when you need one?

Welcome to Hurricane Season 2020. 2020, of course, scoffs at this calendric event much as it has everything else that's normal — meteorologists have already used up the year's A and B storm names before we even got here. And while early storms don't necessarily mean a bruising season ahead, forecasters expect an active season this year. Maybe storms will blow away the murder hornets and 13-year locusts we had planned.

NOAA expects a busy season

According to NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, an agency of the National Weather Service, there's a 60 percent chance that we're embarking upon a season with more storms than normal. There does, however, remain a 30 percent it'll be normal. Better than usual? Unlikely: Just a 10 percent chance.

Where a normal hurricane season has an average of 12 named storms, 6 of which become hurricanes and 3 of which are major hurricanes, the Climate Prediction Center reckons we're on track for 13 to 29 storms, 6 to 10 of which will become hurricanes, and 3 to 6 of these will be category 3, 4, or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher.

What has forecasters concerned are two factors in particular.

This year's El Niño ("Little Boy") looks to be more of a La Niña ("Little Girl"). The two conditions are part of what's called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which describes temperature fluctuations between the ocean and atmosphere in the east-central Equatorial Pacific. With an El Niño, waters in the Pacific are unusually warm, whereas a La Niña means unusually cool waters. NOAA says that an El Niño can suppress hurricane formation in the Atlantic, and this year that mitigating effect is unlikely to be present.

Second, current conditions in the Atlantic and Caribbean suggest a fertile hurricane environment:

  • The ocean there is warmer than usual.
  • There's reduced vertical wind shear.
  • Atlantic tropical trade winds are weak.
  • There have been strong West African monsoons this year.

Here's NOAA's video laying out their forecast:

But wait.

ArsTechnica spoke to hurricane scientist Phil Klotzbach, who agrees generally with NOAA, saying, "All in all, signs are certainly pointing towards an active season." Still, he notes a couple of signals that contradict that worrying outlook.

First off, Klotzbach notes that the surest sign of a rough hurricane season is when its earliest storms form in the deep tropics south of 25°N and east of the Lesser Antilles. "When you get storm formations here prior to June 1, it's typically a harbinger of an extremely active season." Fortunately, this year's hurricanes Arthur and Bertha, as well as the maybe-imminent Cristobal, formed outside this region. So there's that.

Second, Klotzbach notes that the correlation between early storm activity and a season's number of storms and intensities, is actually slightly negative. So while statistical connections aren't strongly predictive, there's at least some reason to think these early storms may augur an easy season ahead.

Image source: NOAA

Batten down the hatches early

If 2020's taught us anything, it's how to juggle multiple crises at once, and layering an active hurricane season on top of SARS-CoV-2 — not to mention everything else — poses a special challenge. Warns Treasury Secretary Wilbur Ross, "As Americans focus their attention on a safe and healthy reopening of our country, it remains critically important that we also remember to make the necessary preparations for the upcoming hurricane season." If, as many medical experts expect, we're forced back into quarantine by additional coronavirus waves, the oceanic waves slamming against our shores will best be met by storm preparations put in place in a less last-minute fashion than usual.

Ross adds, "Just as in years past, NOAA experts will stay ahead of developing hurricanes and tropical storms and provide the forecasts and warnings we depend on to stay safe."

Let's hope this, at least, can be counted on in this crazy year.

  • The feature is called Manage Activity, and it's currently available through mobile and Facebook Lite.
  • Manage Activity lets users sort old content by filters like date and posts involving specific people.
  • Some companies now use AI-powered background checking services that scrape social media profiles for problematic content.

Facebook is rolling out a new feature designed to help users delete old posts in bulk instead of one at a time.

The company announced Tuesday that its "Manage Activity" tool will allow users to delete posts en masse, or archive them so that they're accessible only to the user. Manage Activity will let users organize old content in batches, sorted by filers like specific date range and posts involving certain people.

Manage Activity is available today on mobile and Facebook Lite, and the company says it'll be functional for desktop users in the future.

"Whether you're entering the job market after college or moving on from an old relationship, we know things change in people's lives, and we want to make it easy for you to curate your presence on Facebook to more accurately reflect who you are today," Facebook wrote in a statement. "That's why we're launching Manage Activity to help you archive or trash old posts, all in one place."

Facebook

Why is Facebook releasing the feature now? A company spokesperson told Recode that users and privacy advocates have long requested better control over past posts. Users have had access to the "limit past posts" option, which blocks the public from accessing a user's posts past a certain date. But there has been no way to delete old content in batches.

Social media background checks


Now, the feature could bring users some peace of mind. After all, the platform currently has more than 2.6 billion monthly active users, and some of these users created accounts in their teens, around the time Facebook became widely available in 2006. As these veteran users get older, it seems likely that many would want to delete years-old posts, whether because content is embarrassing, outdated or professionally jeopardizing.

Some employers now use automated or third-party background checks that scrape candidates' social media accounts. These checks can search for content that's racist, sexually explicit, criminal or otherwise offensive.

But they're not always accurate. One AI-powered background service called Checkr has even faced lawsuits from people who claim the company's algorithms made mistakes that cost them job opportunities.

How to use Manage Activity

It's unclear when Manage Activity will become available on desktop. But to learn how to use it on mobile or Facebook Lite, check out this instructional video from Facebook.

  • A new theory takes the direct-collapse theory explaining the creation of supermassive black holes around which galaxies turn ones step further.
  • The advance is made possible by a super-powerful computer, ATERUI II.
  • The new theory is the first that accounts for the likely assortment of heavy elements in early-universe gas clouds.

It seems that pretty much every galaxy we see is spinning around a supermassive black hole. When we say "supermassive," we mean BIG: Each is about 100,000 to tens of billions times the mass of our Sun. Serving as the loci around which our galaxies twirl, they're clearly important to maintaining the universal structures we see. It would be nice to know how they form. We have a pretty good idea how normally-huge-but-not-massive black holes form, but as for the supermassive larger versions, not so much. It's a supermassive missing piece of the universe puzzle.

Now, in research published in Monthly Notices of the Astronomical Society, astrophysicists at Tohoku University in Japan reveal that they may have solved the riddle, supported by new computer simulations that show how supermassive black holes come to be.

The direct collapse theories

Glowing gas and dark dust within the Large Magellanic Cloud

Image source: ESA/Hubble and NASA

The favored theory about the birth of supermassive black holes up to now has been the "direct-collapse" theory. The theory proposes a solution to a cosmic riddle: Supermassive black holes seem to have been born a mere 690 million years after the Big Bang, not nearly long enough for the standard normal black hole genesis scenario to have played out, and on such a large scale. There are two versions of the direct-collapse theory.

One version proposes that if enough gas comes together in a supermassive gravitationally bound cloud, it can eventually collapse into a black hole, which, thanks the cosmic background-radiation-free nature of the very early universe, could then quickly pull in enough matter to go supermassive in a relatively short period of time.

According to astrophysicist Shantanu Basu of Western University in London, Ontario, this would only have been possible in the first 800 million years or so of the universe. "The black holes are formed over a duration of only about 150 million years and grow rapidly during this time," Basu told Live Science in the summer of 2019. "The ones that form in the early part of the 150-million-year time window can increase their mass by a factor of 10 thousand." Basu was lead author of research published last summer in Astrophysical Journal Letters that presented computer models showing this version of direct-collapse is possible.

Another version of the theory suggests that the giant gas cloud collapses into a supermassive star first, which then collapses into a black hole, which then — presumably again thanks to the state of the early universe — sucks up enough matter to go supermassive quickly.

There's a problem with either direct-collapse theory, however, beyond its relatively narrow time window. Previous models show it working only with pristine gas clouds comprised of hydrogen and helium. Other, heavier elements — carbon and oxygen, for example — break the models, causing the giant gas cloud to break up into smaller gas clouds that eventually form separate stars, end of story. No supermassive black hole, and not even a supermassive star for the second flavor of the direct-collapse theory.

A new model

ATERUI II

Image source: NAOJ

Japan's National Astronomical Observatory has a supercomputer named "ATERUI II" that was commissioned in 2018. The Tohoku University research team, led by postdoctoral fellow Sunmyon Chon, used ATERUI II to run high-resolution, 3D, long-term simulations to verify a new version of the direct-collapse idea that makes sense even with gas clouds containing heavy elements.

Chon and his team propose that, yes, supermassive gas clouds with heavy elements do break up into smaller gas clouds that wind up forming smaller stars. However, they assert that's not the end of the story.

The scientists say that post-explosion, there remains a tremendous inward pull toward the center of the ex-cloud that drags in all those smaller stars, eventually causing them to grow into a single supermassive star, 10,000 times larger than the Sun. This is a star big enough to produce the supermassive black holes we see when it finally collapses in on itself.

"This is the first time that we have shown the formation of such a large black hole precursor in clouds enriched in heavy-elements," says Chon, adding, "We believe that the giant star thus formed will continue to grow and evolve into a giant black hole."

Modeling the behavior of an expanded number of elements within the cloud while faithfully carrying forward those models through the violent breakup of the cloud and its aftermath requires such high computational overhead that only a computer as advanced as ATERUI II could pull off.

Being able to develop a theory that takes into account, for the first time, the likely complexity of early-universe gas clouds makes the Tohoku University idea the most complete, plausible explanation of the universe's mysterious supermassive black holes. Kazuyuki Omukai, also of Tohoku University says, "Our new model is able to explain the origin of more black holes than the previous studies, and this result leads to a unified understanding of the origin of supermassive black holes."

America is experiencing some of its most widespread civil unrest in years following the death of George Floyd.


Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May, and his death has underscored the many ways race and ethnic background drives unequal experiences among many Americans.

These charts help illustrate key gaps impacting everything from opportunity to health.

1. Wide educational gaps

In the 70 years since the US Supreme Court ruled racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional, progress in improving racial educational divides has been slow and uneven. Gaps have narrowed by 30-40% when compared to the 1970s, but divides remain large.

Improvement in 9-year-olds' NEAP math test scoresImprovement in 9-year-olds' NEAP math test scores (Image: Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis)

2. Limited access to improved earnings, mobility

For people of colour in America, education does not provide the same economic return as it might for other groups. People of colour, particularly women of colour, typically have lower salaries than white and male workers with similar levels of education.

Hourly wages. Even with similar educational levels, wen of colour are still earning less. (Image: Equitable Growth)

Income inequality is also stifling intergenerational mobility – the American Dream of children having a higher standard of living than their parents. Research from economist Raj Chetty in 2016 showed that at age 30 people born in 1940 had around a 90% chance of out-earning their parents. But for people born in 1980 this chance had fallen to half.

3. Outsized unemployment burdens

A lack of access to higher education or skilled work can make people of colour more vulnerable to unemployment during downturns and periods of economic growth. As researchers explained in one report from The Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality: "An African American cannot count on education as providing the same relief against the risk of unemployment that it provides to other groups."

Unemployment Rate by Race/Ethnicity, 1975–2011

Unemployment Rate by Race/Ethnicity, 1975–2011. (Image: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from The Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality)

4. Health care insurance and life expectancy dynamics

Life expectancy gaps between white Americans and people of colour have begun to narrow, but inequities still exist thanks to a range of socio-economic factors such as income inequality, access to health insurance and adequate health care.

The disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on black Americans demonstrates some of the vulnerabilities the population faces.

Life expectancy.

5. Black imprisonment in the US is falling but remains disproportionate

The imprisonment rate among black Americans has fallen by over a third since 2006, and stands at around 1,500 prisoners for every 100,000 adults. But black Americans remain far more likely to be in prison than Hispanic and white Americans. The figures are particularly stark among some age groups: in the 35-39 age bracket about 1 in 20 black men were in state or federal prison in 2018.

Imprisonment Rates

Imprisonment Rates. (Image: Pew Research)

Black Americans made up a third of the sentenced prison population in 2018 – nearly triple their representation in the US adult population as a whole. They also make up a disproportionate number of fatal police shootings.

Reprinted with permission of the World Economic Forum. Read the original article.