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
  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.


    • One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
    • A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
    • The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.


    The most common chronic disease among athletes competing in the Olympic Games is asthma. It's not a coincidence — asthma is a risk associated with activities that require increased ventilation, such as high-performance athletics. One treatment for the condition is the inhalation of β-agonists prior to exercise as a means of warding off asthma symptoms. The drugs relax the airways that provide oxygen to the lungs.

    But β-agonists pose a problem for World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) officials — drugs have been tied to performance enhancement. In fact, asthmatic athletes, who have a sound medical reason to use β-agonists, have consistently outperformed non-asthmatic athletes at the Games. There has been unconfirmed speculation that athletes who don't have asthma may also be taking β-agonists in hopes of gaining their own performance boost.

    A new study published in British Journal of Sports Medicine seeks to be the most comprehensive look yet at the effect of β-agonists on athletic performance, looking at a broad selection of β-agonist drugs, including medications both allowed and banned by the WADA.

    WADA uncertainty

    urine sample for drug test

    Image source: joel bubble ben/Shutterstock

    When inhaled β-agonists first came out just before the 1972 Olympics, they were immediately banned altogether by the WADA as possible doping substances. Over the years, the WADA has reexamined their use and refined the organization's stance, evidence of the thorniness of finding an equitable position regarding their use. As of January 2020, only three β-agonists are allowed — salbutamol, formoterol, and salmeterol —and only in inhaled form. Oral consumption appears to have a greater effect on performance.

    The study

    runner at starting position on track

    Image source: MinDof/Shutterstock

    Of primary interest to the authors of the study is confirming and measuring the performance improvement to be gained from β-agonists when they're ingested by athletes who don't have asthma.

    The researchers performed a meta-analysis of 34 existing studies documenting 44 randomized trials reporting on 472 participants. The pool of individuals included was broad, encompassing both untrained and elite athletes. In addition, lab tests, as opposed to actual competitions, tracked performance. The authors of the study therefore recommend taking its conclusions with just a grain of salt.

    The effects of both WADA-banned and approved β-agonists were assessed.

    Approved β-agonists and non-asthmatic athletes

    vaulter clearing pole

    Image source: Andrey Yurlov/Shutterstock

    What the meta-analysis showed is that the currently approved β-agonists didn't significantly improve athletic performance among those without asthma — what very slight benefit they may produce is just enough to prompt the study's authors to write that "it is still uncertain whether approved doses improve anaerobic performance." They note that the tiny effect did increase slightly over multiple weeks of β-agonist intake.

    Banned β-agonist and non-asthmatic athletes

    swimmer mid stroke

    Image source: Nejron Photo/Shutterstock

    The study found that for athletes without asthma, however, the use of currently banned β-agonists did indeed result in enhanced performance. The authors write, "Our meta-analysis shows that β2-agonists improve anaerobic performance by 5%, an improvement that would change the outcome of most athletic competitions."

    That 5 percent is an average: 70-meter sprint performance was improved by 3 percent, while strength performance, MVC (maximal voluntary contraction), was improved by 6 percent.

    The analysis also revealed that different results were produced by different methods of ingestion. The percentages cited above were seen when a β-agonist was ingested orally. The effect was less pronounced when the banned substances were inhaled.

    Given the difference between the results for allowed and banned β-agonists, the study's conclusions suggest that the WADA has it about right, at least in terms of selection of allowable β-agonists, as well as the allowable dosage method.

    Takeaway

    The study, say its authors, "should be of interest to WADA and anyone who is interested in equal opportunities in competitive sports." Its results clearly support vigilance, with the report concluding: "The use of β2-agonists in athletes should be regulated and limited to those with an asthma diagnosis documented with objective tests."


    • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
    • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
    • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.

    In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.

    The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.

    "Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."

    One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.

    Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.

    Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:

    The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.

    "Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.

    For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.

    • True crime podcasts can get as many as 500,000 downloads per month. In the Top 100 Podcasts of 2020 list for Apple, several true crime podcasts ranked within the Top 20.
    • Our fascination with true crime isn't just limited to podcasts, with Netflix documentaries like "Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" scoring high popularity with viewers.
    • Several experts weigh in on our fascination with these stories with theories including fear-based adrenaline rushes and the inherent need to understand the human mind.

    From Netflix documentaries about notorious serial killers to dramatized TV shows with murders who have a certain charismatic appeal, many of us have some kind of fascination with true crime stories. Even beyond television, true crime books and podcasts are extremely popular. In fact, the "Wine and Crime" podcast gets around 500,000 downloads per month, with around 85 percent of those people being female.

    In the "Top 100 Podcasts" list for Apple US, we see "Crime Junkie" in at number 3, "My Favorite Murder" in at number 6, and "Morbid: A True Crime Podcast" at number 15.

    Why do we love true crime stories?

    Why are we fascinated with true crime stories?

    woman standing in front of crime scene notes

    Several experts and psychologists weigh in on why we could be so fascinated by violence, destruction and true crime stories...

    Photo by Motortion Films on Shutterstock

    Several experts have weighed in on this topic over the years, as the spike in popularity of true crime media has continued at an astonishing rate.

    Psychopaths are charismatic.

    One of the defining qualities of a psychopath is that they have "superficial charm and glibness", which could explain part of our fascination with podcasts, TV shows, and movies that cover the lives of famous serial killers like Ted Bundy.

    Our psychology demands we pay attention to things that could harm us.

    Psychology can play a large role in why we like what we like, and our fascination with true crime stories is no exception. When it comes to potential threats or things that could be threatening to humanity, perhaps we've been conditioned to pay those things extra attention.

    According to Dr. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at Doctor on Demand who spoke about the process in an interview with NBC News, seeing destruction, disaster, or tragedy actually triggers survival instincts in us.

    "A disaster enters into our awareness - this can be from a live source such as driving by a traffic accident or from watching a news report about a hurricane, a plane crash or any disaster," Mayer said. "This data from our perceptual system then stimulates the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotions, survival tactics and memory). The amygdala then sends signals to the regions of the frontal cortex that are involved in analyzing and interpreting data. Next, the brain evaluates whether this data (awareness of the disaster) is a threat to you, thus judgment gets involved. As a result, the 'fight or flight' response is evoked."

    Could it just be morbid curiosity?

    Dr. Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., a professor at De Sales University, explained in an interview with Bustle:

    "Part of our love of true crime is based on something very natural: curiosity. People reading or watching a true crime story are engaged on several levels. They are curious about who would do this, they want to know the psychology of the bad guy, girl, or team. They want to know something about the abhorrent mind. They also love the puzzle - figuring out how it was done."

    Perhaps it's a way of facing our fears and planning our own reactions without risking immediate harm.

    In an interview with NBC News, psychiatrist Dr. David Henderson suggested that we may be fascinated with violence, destruction, or crime as a way of assessing how we would handle ourselves if put into that situation:

    "Witnessing violence and destruction, whether it is in a novel, a movie, on TV or a real life scene playing out in front of us in real time, gives us the opportunity to confront our fears of death, pain, despair, degradation and annihilation while still feeling some level of safety. This sensation is sometimes experienced when we stand at the edge of the Grand Canyon or look through the glass at a ferocious lion at the zoo. We watch because we are allowed to ask ourselves ultimate questions with an intensity of emotion that is uncoupled from the true reality of the disaster: 'If I was in that situation, what would I do? How would I respond? Would I be the hero or the villain? Could I endure the pain? Would I have the strength to recover?' We play out the different scenarios in our head because it helps us to reconcile that which is uncontrollable with our need to remain in control."

    Psychologically, negative events activate our brains more than positive events.

    A 2008 study published by the American Psychological Association found that humans react to and learn more from negative experiences than we do positive ones. The term "negative bias" is the tendency to automatically give more attention (and meaning) to negative events and information more than positive events or information.

    A forced perspective may trigger empathy and act as a coping mechanism.

    Viewing destruction (or listening to/watching true crime stories) could be beneficial. According to Dr. Mayer, "the healthy mechanism of watching disasters is that it is a coping mechanism. We can become incubated emotionally by watching disasters and this helps us cope with hardships in our lives…" Dr. Stephen Rosenburg points out, however, that this empathetic response can also have a negative impact. "Being human and having empathy can make us feel worried or depressed."

    Dr. Rosenberg goes on to explain that this can also impact the negativity bias. "We tend to think negatively to protect ourselves from the reality. If it turns out better, we're relieved. If it turns out worse, we're prepared."

    Perhaps the adrenaline of fear that comes from listening to or watching true crime can become addicting.

    Similarly to how people get a "runners high" from exercise or feel depressed when they have missed a scheduled run, the adrenaline that pumps during our consumption of true crime stories can become addictive. According to sociology and criminology professor Scott Bonn, in an interview with Psychology Today: "The public is drawn to these stories because they trigger the most basic and powerful emotion in us all: fear."

    • Churches and ministries received up to $10 billion in federal assistance during the first round of stimulus.
    • The Catholic Church exploited a loophole to be considered a "small business" and received up to $3.5 billion in forgivable loans.
    • With stimulus measures ending last week, up to 40 million Americans are in danger of losing their homes.

    Last Friday, the weekly $600 federal stimulus boost ran out, impacting over 30 million Americans that are currently collecting unemployment. While a new round of stimulus is being debated, as many as 40 million Americans could lose their homes if no protections are put in place. Despite noise about "tense negotiations," the government isn't acting with the urgency necessary to protect citizens.

    Not that the first round of stimulus went exceptionally well. The U.S. Treasury sent over one million checks, totaling $1.4 billion, to dead people. At least 43 companies with over 500 workers received assistance under the Paycheck Protection Act, which is above the requirement threshold. This included a number of chain businesses, some of which returned the money.

    In one of the most surprising revelations, religious groups received up to $10 billion in relief, including the U.S. Catholic Church, which reportedly received as much as $3.5 billion in forgivable loans under the CARES Act. That stimulus money makes the organization, with over a billion followers and up to $30 billion in wealth, one of the biggest winners in the stimulus program.

    The Archdiocese of New York was awarded at least $28 million for its top executive offices. Orange County churches received four loans worth at least $3 million. Another $2 million went to a West Virginia diocese that was under investigation just last year for sexual abuse charges.

    It appears that having friends in high places helped out.

    "Lobbied by religious leaders, the Trump administration went one step further by granting all faith groups a special waiver to the 500-employee cap. For the Catholic Church, that meant instead of all churches, schools, and other organizations in a diocese grouping their employees into a single total — making many ineligible due to their size — each could apply as an independent, 'small' entity."

    crowd outside of Pope Francis' window

    People wait for Pope Francis to give a short speech followed by the Angelus from the window of his apartment over St. Peter's Square on September 02, 2018 in Vatican City, Vatican.

    Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

    Catholic institutions in America employ over one million people, over 200,000 more workers than on Amazon's payroll. Quite a small business.

    The Catholic Church wasn't the only non-taxpaying entity to receive a boon. A campus ministry subsidiary of the Presbyterian Church of America received between $5-$10 million. Another $5 million went to Willow Creek Community Church, a megachurch whose longtime pastor was accused of sexual misconduct in 2018.

    The First Baptist Church of Dallas received up to $5 million. The church's leader, Robert Jeffress, believes abortion caused 9/11, gay sex can make you explode, and pedophilia and homosexuality are inherently related. Jeffress also sits on Trump's evangelical advisory board.

    Churches and ministries receiving at least $2 million include ministry group, Jews for Jesus (total assets: $39,596,245); evangelical book and music publisher, David C Cook (total assets: $87,871,425); Mariners Church, an Irvine-based megachurch (total assets: $107,026,283); The Summit Church, a North Carolina-based Southern Baptist church (total assets: $60,694,442); and Orlando-based Ligonier Ministries (total assets: $46,203,410).

    Another 400 ministries received at least $1 million in forgivable loans under the CARES Act.

    To reiterate, up to 40 million Americans may lose their home this year.

    While churches already save $71 billion in tax relief every year, both Republican and Democratic proposals allow religious organizations to participate in the next round of stimulus funding.

    Blessed are the meek, unless you have a lobbyist. Then you're just blessed.

    --

    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."