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."
She pioneered a line of hair care and beauty products for people of color early in the 20th century, and the recent Netflix series "Self Made" details the story of this talented innovator and the challenges she overcame on the way to her success.
To accomplish her goals, she had to face overwhelming uncertainties. How would she finance her business? Would her partnerships fail? Would her products sell? Would ruthless competition and racism get in her way? Madame Walker's future was far from certain when she began her journey, but that did not dissuade her.
It is tempting to think that innovators are a breed apart or perhaps lucky to be in the right place and time. But research shows this is not the case. So what characteristics do innovators like Madam Walker have that lead them to the seemingly serendipitous moment? What makes for a successful innovator or entrepreneur?
I am a researcher and professor who studies strategy and entrepreneurship. I am also myself an entrepreneur, angel investor and board member for startups and innovative firms. Pop culture might have you believe it is a tolerance for or even an obsession with risk that makes great innovators. But in fact, research has for decades demonstrated that innovators and entrepreneurs are no more risk-taking than the average person.
Generally, innovators are much more comfortable making decisions under conditions of uncertainty than the average person. Additionally, innovators tend to have a set of skills that allows them to better navigate this uncertainty. My experience and research has shown that not only are these abilities effective, but they can also be learned and practiced and anyone can improve their innovation skills.
What is risk? What is uncertainty?
Risk is when the factors determining success or failure are out of your control but the odds of success are known – a game of dice, for example. You can't control whether a 2 or a 12 is rolled, but you know the odds.
Uncertainty is when the factors determining success or failure are not necessarily out of your control, but are simply unknown. It is accepting a challenge to play a game that you do not completely know the rules of. Innovators tend to be more willing to venture into the unknown, and therefore are more likely to engage in ambitious projects even when outcomes and probabilities are a mystery.
Interestingly, risk and uncertainty appear to trigger activity in different parts of the brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has allowed researchers to discover that risk analysis is a largely rational and calculation-driven process, but uncertainty triggers the ancient fight-or-flight part of the brain. This research would suggest that experienced innovators are better able to maintain their analytical capabilities in spite of the adrenaline and instinctual response that arises when confronting uncertainty.
Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.
Skills of innovation can be learned
The chemical response to risk and uncertainty may be hardwired in our brains, but that doesn't mean you are either born an innovator or not. Innovative capacity can be learned.
Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and the late Clay Christensen spent years investigating the characteristics of successful innovators and broadly divide the skills of innovation into two categories: delivery skills and discovery skills.
Delivery skills include quantitative analysis, planning, detail-oriented implementation and disciplined execution. These are certainly essential characteristics for success in many occupations, but for innovation, discovery must come before delivery.
Discovery skills are the ones more involved in developing ideas and managing uncertain situations. The most notable are:
- The ability to draw connections between seemingly disparate ideas and contexts.
- A tendency to question assumptions and the status quo.
- A habit of looking at what is contributing to a problem before rushing to a solution.
- The frequent use of systematic experimentation to prove hypotheses about cause and effect.
- The ability to network and broaden a set of relationships, even without an intentional purpose.
Like any skills, these can be learned and cultivated through a combination of guidance, practice and experience. By asking the right questions, being observant or mindful, experimenting and networking with the right supporters, innovators will be more likely to identify opportunity and succeed.
My colleagues' and my own research and experience are summed up in our book "The Titanic Effect." We describe the PEP model of successful entrepreneurs and innovators. It stands for passion, experience and persistence.
Successful innovators are passionate about the problem they are solving and share this passion with friends and family, potential customers, supporters and other stakeholders.
Innovators also tend to have personal experience with the problem they are solving, and this yields valuable insight and firsthand knowledge.
Finally, innovation takes persistence. As Walker experienced, growing a business – even with proven products – does not happen overnight. It takes someone willing to push the boulder uphill to make it happen, and often, the more disruptive the innovation, the longer society may take to embrace it. Madam Walker amply personifies the PEP model.
Innovation now and in the future
During this pandemic, many people might be inclined to batten down the hatches, tighten their belts and ride things out by sticking to what they already know.
But uncertainty and change create opportunity and a need for innovation. The pandemic has created or exacerbated many problems that are ripe for innovative solutions.
Practices that were until recently on the fringe of acceptance – such as telehealth, food or grocery delivery, e-sports and online education – are now being accepted by mainstream society. As with anything relatively new, there is lots of room for radical improvement.
Now is not the time to put blinders on and close your eyes to uncertainty. If you build your discovery skills, you are more likely to create opportunity and persist through uncertainty. Like Walker, anyone can cultivate the abilities to navigate uncertainty and create positive change. Innovators are not a breed apart.
The '80s and '90s witnessed a rash of strict sentencing laws. Voters who lived through the rise of violent crime in the '60s and '70s offered full-throated support for such laws. Anxious to woo such voters, legislators hawked tough-on-crime rhetoric and passed ever-punitive legislation, such as Reagan's creation of mandatory minimum sentences through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
In hindsight, the consequences are as obvious as they are unsettling. Stricter laws gave judges less latitude in sentencing, and prison populations skyrocketed across the country. By 1990, state prison populations reached 115 percent of their highest capacity. Unable to house their new charges, nor garner equally enthusiastic support for the taxes necessary to fund building new facilities, some states turned to for-profit prison companies to manage the influx. As of 2019, 28 states incarcerate people in for-profit prisons.
Given this history, it's not without irony that a new study published in Labour Economics found privately-run prisons don't help states manage incarceration. The presence of such prisons may actually increase the number of incarcerated individuals as well as their sentence lengths.
Cool hand rebuke
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Researchers at Washington State University sought to determine how the availability of private prisons affected rates of incarceration in the United States. To answer that question, they performed a regression analysis on state and individual data from 1989 to 2008. Their analysis revealed a positive correlation.
As the number of private-prison beds increased per capita, so too did sentence lengths and the number of incarcerated people per capita. All told, the increase was 178 prisoners per million population per year. That comes to a taxpayer-funded bill between approximately $2-10 million annually—assuming those additional prisoners are housed in privately-run facilities. When it comes to increased sentence lengths, Gregmar Galinato, a professor in WSU's School of Economic Sciences who co-authored the study, notes that not all crimes are judged equally.
"For crimes like property damage, fraud, or non-violent drug crimes—crimes where judges have more leeway in sentencing—states saw higher sentencing rates and significant increases in sentence lengths when private prisons were established," he said in a release.
The researchers advanced two potential explanations for this interstate discrepancy. The first is good old-fashioned corruption. In states where they operate, for-profit companies can incentivize legislators to push for stricter sentencing laws and bribe judges to inflate sentence lengths.
A haunting modern example is the "Kids for Cash" scandal. In 2007, the Juvenile Law Center began receiving reports that hundreds of Pennsylvania juveniles were being tried and sentenced without defense lawyers present as representation. An investigation revealed that Robert Powell, a co-owner of two private juvenile prisons, was paying off two judges to return guilty verdicts and severe sentences to bolster incarceration at his facilities.
The second explanation is simply the availability of prison beds. As Galinato explains, judges become more hesitant to send non-violent offenders to prison in states where capacity is a concern. However, privately-run prisons reduce such concerns, making it easier for judges to mete out harsher punishments.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?
The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.
In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. One study compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, another Florida study found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from Oklahoma and another out of Minnesota, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.
The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. A Hamilton Project analysis noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.
"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."
Add event to your calendar
In a time when we're all forced to be distant, we are directed into mind states of introspection, examination, and, too often, confusion. Malcolm Gladwell joins Big Think Live to discuss this unique moment in time with Radiolab's Latif Nasser.
Together, they'll dive into Gladwell's latest season of Revisionist History, as well as the choices journalists and media figures make in recounting current events, social and political movements, history, and the ever-elusive concept of the truth.
Ask your questions for Malcolm Gladwell during the audience Q&A!
Join the live stream at 1pm ET on Monday, September 21.
- Traditionally, intelligence has been viewed as having all the answers. When it comes to being innovative and forward-thinking, it turns out that being able to ask the right questions is an equally valuable skill.
- The difference between the right and wrong questions is not simply in the level of difficulty. In this video, geobiologist Hope Jahren, journalist Warren Berger, experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, and investor Tim Ferriss discuss the power of creativity and the merit in asking naive and even "dumb" questions.
- "Very often the dumb question that is sitting right there that no one seems to be asking is the smartest question you can ask," Ferriss says, adding that "not only is it the smartest, most incisive, but if you want to ask it and you're reasonably smart, I guarantee you there are other people who want to ask it but are just embarrassed to do so."
- There are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure, such as boosted vitamin D and serotonin levels and stronger bones.
- Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent and have also been proven to have a genetic factor. Countless people are exposed to addictive things, but not all become addicted. This is because of the genetic component of addiction.
- This large-scale study explores the link between sun-seeking behaviors and the genetic markers for addiction.
The benefits of sunlight
The mental and physical health benefits of sunlight have been heavily researched.
Credit: eldar nurkovic on Shutterstock
The benefits of sunlight have been widely discussed for many years. In fact, there are a number of physical and mental health benefits to sun exposure.
Sunshine (and the lack of) impacts your hormone levels.
Sunlight (and alternatively, the lack of sunlight) triggers the release of certain hormones in your brain. Exposure to sunlight is thought to increase serotonin, which is associated with boosting your mood and helping you feel calm and focused.
Alternatively, dark lighting triggers melatonin, a hormone that is helpful in allowing you to rest and fall asleep. Without enough sunlight, your serotonin levels can dip - and low serotonin levels have been associated with a higher risk of major depression with seasonal pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder).
Sunlight can build strong bones.
Exposure to the ultraviolet-B radiation in the sun's rays can interact with your skin, causing it to create vitamin D. According to NHS, vitamin D helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body. A lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities or bone pain. A 2008 study has shown that even 30 minutes in sunlight (while wearing a bathing suit) can boost vitamin D levels.
Can sunlight actually prevent cancer?
Although heavy exposure to sunlight has been proven to contribute to certain skin cancers, a moderate amount of sunlight has actually been shown to have preventative benefits.
According to a 2008 study from the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, those who live in areas with fewer daylight hours are more likely to have some specific cancers (including but not limited to colon cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer) than those who live in areas with increased daylight hours.
Additionally, sunlight has been shown to help people with skin conditions such as psoriasis.
According to the World Health Organization, sun exposure may also be able to help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne. Some research has also indicated the sun benefits people who struggle with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Can you be addicted to the sun?
The large-scale study examines the link between addiction and sunlight, with some surprising results...
Credit: KieferPix on Shutterstock
Addictions are multi-step conditions that, by definition, require exposure to the addictive agent. Due to the increase of serotonin (a chemical in the human body that has been proven to help reduce depression, regulate anxiety, and maintain bone health), it's natural that being exposed to prolonged periods of sunlight could become somewhat addictive to the human body and mind. We crave things that make us feel good, and sometimes those cravings become something we depend on. This is the very nature of addiction.
Countless people are exposed to addictive things (substances, medications, and yes, even the sun), but not all become addicted. This is because of the genetic component of addiction.
A large-scale study from King's College in London examines more than 260,000 people to better understand how sun-seeking behavior in humans can be linked to genes involving addiction, behavior traits, and brain function.
The study included two phases:
Phase one suggested genetics play a role in sun-seeking behaviors and phase 2 helped pinpoint what those genetic markers are.
Phase 1: The researchers studied the detailed health information of 2,500 twins, including their sun-seeking behavior and their genetics. Identical twins in a pair were more likely to have similar sun-seeking behavior than non-identical twins, indicating that genetics plays a role here.
Phase 2: The team of researchers then were able to identify five key gene markers involved in this sun-seeking behavior from further analysis of 260,000 participants. Some of the genes indicated have been linked to behaviors traits that are associated with risk-taking and addiction (including smoking and alcohol consumption).
What does this study really prove?
Some may think it's natural to become addicted to something that makes you feel good. The physical and mental health benefits of the outdoors have been heavily studied...so what does this study really mean?
First and foremost, it means more research needs to be done to examine the link between human conditions and exposure to sunlight. Senior author Dr. Mario Falchi explains to the King's College London News Center: "Our results suggest that tackling excessive sun exposure or use of tanning beds might be more challenging than expected, as it is influenced by genetic factors. It is important for the public to be aware of this predisposition, as it could make people more mindful of their behavior and the potential harms of excessive sun exposure."
Additionally, it could mean alternative treatments, and further research needs to be conducted in terms of how we treat certain conditions that are caused or heavily influenced by human exposure to sunlight.