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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  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.

    • A study tantalizingly promises a possible location for new elementary particles called axions, which may also constitute the elusive dark matter. A team led by a theoretical physicist from the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has pinpointed axions as the potential source of the high-energy X-rays coming out of a cluster of neutron stars called the Magnificent Seven.

      Axions were first theorized as fundamental particles as far back as the 1970s but have yet to be directly observed. In a fun fact, the idea for the name "axion" came to the theoretical physicist Frank Wilczek from a laundry detergent brand. If they exist, they'd be produced in the core of stars, converting into photons (particles of light) upon encountering electromagnetic fields. Axions would likely have small masses and come into contact with other matter quite rarely and in a way that's hard to detect.

      They may also be responsible for dark matter, which could comprise about 85% of the known universe but is also yet to be seen. We think we know about it from its gravitational effects. If axions are real, they could account for this "missing" mass of the universe. Astronomical observations tell us that visible matter, including all the galaxies with their stars, planets, and everything else we can conceive of in space is still less than one sixth of the total mass of all of the universe's matter. Dark matter is thought to be making up the rest. So finding it and finding axions could be transformative for our understanding of how the universe really works.

      The new paper from Berkeley Lab proposes that the Magnificent Seven, a group of neutron stars that's hundreds of light-years away (but relatively not so far), may be a perfect candidate for locating the axions. These stars, coming into existence as the collapsed cores of massive supergiant stars, have very strong magnetic fields and feature an abundance of X-rays. They are also not pulsars, which give off radiation at varying wavelengths and would likely obscure the X-ray signature the researchers spotted.

      The study utilized data from the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton and NASA's Chandra X-ray telescopes to discover high levels of X-ray emissions from the neutron stars.

      Benjamin Safdi, from the Berkeley Lab Physics Division theory group which led the study, said they aren't saying yet they found the axions but are feeling confident the Magnificent Seven X-rays are a fruitful place to look.

      "We are pretty confident this excess exists, and very confident there's something new among this excess," Safdi said. "If we were 100% sure that what we are seeing is a new particle, that would be huge. That would be revolutionary in physics."

      Are Axions Dark Matter?

      Postdoctoral researcher Raymond Co from the University of Minnesota, who was also involved in the study, confirmed that "It is an exciting discovery of the excess in the X-ray photons, and it's an exciting possibility that's already consistent with our interpretation of axions."

      Building upon this research, the scientists also plan to use space telescopes like NuStar to focus on the X-ray excesses as well as to examine white dwarf stars, which also have strong magnetic fields, making them another possible location for the axions. "This starts to be pretty compelling that this is something beyond the Standard Model if we see an X-ray excess there, too," said Safdi.

      Besides Berkeley Lab, the current study also involved support from the University of Michigan, the National Science Foundation, the Mainz Institute for Theoretical Physics, the Munich Institute for Astro- and Particle Physics (MIAPP), and the CERN Theory department.

      Check out the study published in Physical Review Letters.

    • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
    • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
    • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.

      • In the film adaptation of "Bye Bye Birdie" (1963), Dick Van Dyke sings to a dour Janet Leigh to simply put on a happy face. "Wipe off that 'full of doubt' look, / Slap on a happy grin! / And spread sunshine all over the place[…]." This classic—if admittedly hokey—ditty it seems has become the mantra of our "service with a smile" corporate culture. And it may actually be good advice.

        New research suggests that putting on a happy face reduces fatigue at work and improves our relationships, but only if we employ "deep acting" strategies over "surface acting" ones to regulate those emotions.

        What is deep acting?

        Arlie Russell Hochschild (pictured) laid out the concept of emotional labor in her 1983 book, "The Managed Heart."

        Credit: Wikimedia Commons

        Deep and surface acting are the principal components of emotional labor, a buzz phrase you have likely seen flitting about the Twittersphere. Today, "emotional labor" has been adopted by groups as diverse as family counselors, academic feminists, and corporate CEOs, and each has redefined it with a patented spin. But while the phrase has splintered into a smorgasbord of pop-psychological arguments, its initial usage was more specific.

        First coined by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in her 1983 book, "The Managed Heart," emotional labor describes the work we do to regulate our emotions on the job. Hochschild's go-to example is the flight attendant, who is tasked with being "nicer than natural" to enhance the customer experience. While at work, flight attendants are expected to smile and be exceedingly helpful even if they are wrestling with personal issues, the passengers are rude, and that one kid just upchucked down the center aisle. Hochschild's counterpart to the flight attendant is the bill collector, who must instead be "nastier than natural."

        Such personas may serve an organization's mission or commercial interests, but if they cause emotional dissonance, they can potentially lead to high emotional costs for the employee—bringing us back to deep and surface acting.

        Deep acting is the process by which people modify their emotions to match their expected role. Deep actors still encounter the negative emotions, but they devise ways to regulate those emotions and return to the desired state. Flight attendants may modify their internal state by talking through harsh emotions (say, with a coworker), focusing on life's benefits (next stop Paris!), physically expressing their desired emotion (smiling and deep breaths), or recontextualizing an inauspicious situation (not the kid's fault he got sick).

        Conversely, surface acting occurs when employees display ersatz emotions to match those expected by their role. These actors are the waiters who smile despite being crushed by the stress of a dinner rush. They are the CEOs who wear a confident swagger despite feelings of inauthenticity. And they are the bouncers who must maintain a steely edge despite humming show tunes in their heart of hearts.

        As we'll see in the research, surface acting can degrade our mental well-being. This deterioration can be especially true of people who must contend with negative emotions or situations inside while displaying an elated mood outside. Hochschild argues such emotional labor can lead to exhaustion and self-estrangement—that is, surface actors erect a bulwark against anger, fear, and stress, but that disconnect estranges them from the emotions that allow them to connect with others and live fulfilling lives.

        Don't fake it till you make it

        Most studies on emotional labor have focused on customer service for the obvious reason that such jobs prescribe emotional states—service with a smile or, if you're in the bouncing business, a scowl. But Allison Gabriel, associate professor of management and organizations at the University of Arizona's Eller College of Management, wanted to explore how employees used emotional labor strategies in their intra-office interactions and which strategies proved most beneficial.

        "What we wanted to know is whether people choose to engage in emotion regulation when interacting with their co-workers, why they choose to regulate their emotions if there is no formal rule requiring them to do so, and what benefits, if any, they get out of this effort," Gabriel said in a press release.

        Across three studies, she and her colleagues surveyed more than 2,500 full-time employees on their emotional regulation with coworkers. The survey asked participants to agree or disagree with statements such as "I try to experience the emotions that I show to my coworkers" or "I fake a good mood when interacting with my coworkers." Other statements gauged the outcomes of such strategies—for example, "I feel emotionally drained at work." Participants were drawn from industries as varied as education, engineering, and financial services.

        The results, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, revealed four different emotional strategies. "Deep actors" engaged in high levels of deep acting; "low actors" leaned more heavily on surface acting. Meanwhile, "non-actors" engaged in negligible amounts of emotional labor, while "regulators" switched between both. The survey also revealed two drivers for such strategies: prosocial and impression management motives. The former aimed to cultivate positive relationships, the latter to present a positive front.

        The researchers found deep actors were driven by prosocial motives and enjoyed advantages from their strategy of choice. These actors reported lower levels of fatigue, fewer feelings of inauthenticity, improved coworker trust, and advanced progress toward career goals.

        As Gabriel told PsyPost in an interview: "So, it's a win-win-win in terms of feeling good, performing well, and having positive coworker interactions."

        Non-actors did not report the emotional exhaustion of their low-actor peers, but they also didn't enjoy the social gains of the deep actors. Finally, the regulators showed that the flip-flopping between surface and deep acting drained emotional reserves and strained office relationships.

        "I think the 'fake it until you make it' idea suggests a survival tactic at work," Gabriel noted. "Maybe plastering on a smile to simply get out of an interaction is easier in the short run, but long term, it will undermine efforts to improve your health and the relationships you have at work.

        "It all boils down to, 'Let's be nice to each other.' Not only will people feel better, but people's performance and social relationships can also improve."

        You'll be glad ya' decided to smile

        But as with any research that relies on self-reported data, there are confounders here to untangle. Even during anonymous studies, participants may select socially acceptable answers over honest ones. They may further interpret their goal progress and coworker interactions more favorably than is accurate. And certain work conditions may not produce the same effects, such as toxic work environments or those that require employees to project negative emotions.

        There also remains the question of the causal mechanism. If surface acting—or switching between surface and deep acting—is more mentally taxing than genuinely feeling an emotion, then what physiological process causes this fatigue? One study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience measured hemoglobin density in participants' brains using an fNIRS while they expressed emotions facially. The researchers found no significant difference in energy consumed in the prefrontal cortex by those asked to deep act or surface act (though, this study too is limited by a lack of real-life task).

        With that said, Gabriel's studies reinforce much of the current research on emotional labor. A 2011 meta-analysis found that "discordant emotional labor states" (read: surface acting) were associated with harmful effects on well-being and performance. The analysis found no such consequences for deep acting. Another meta-analysis found an association between surface acting and impaired well-being, job attitudes, and performance outcomes. Conversely, deep acting was associated with improved emotional performance.

        So, although there's still much to learn on the emotional labor front, it seems Van Dyke's advice to a Leigh was half correct. We should put on a happy face, but it will only help if we can feel it.

        • Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
        • The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
        • The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

        A recently-found picture of a wild pig that was made over 45,500 years ago is the world's oldest known cave painting, according to archaeologists. The painting, which may also be the world's oldest representational or figurative artwork, was discovered on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, hidden away in a remote Leang Tedongnge cave.

        If you're wondering, the now-second world's oldest dated painting of 43,900 years of age was previously found in the same Sulawesi area by the same team. That one pictured a group of part-human, part-animal hybrid figures on the hunt. The scientists also point out that these dates are minimum ages, determined from analyzing buildups of mineral deposits on the cave art. The paintings could be as old as 60,000 to 65,000 years. By comparison, the cave paintings in the Lascaux cave complex in France are "just" 17,000 years old.

        The discovery was made inside the Leang Tedongnge cave by the archaeologist Basran Burhan, a doctoral student and co-author of the study. He's part of a team which involves researchers from Griffith University in Australia and Indonesia's leading archaeological research centre, Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional (ARKENAS).

        "Humans have hunted Sulawesi warty pigs for tens of thousands of years," said Burhan, adding "These pigs were the most commonly portrayed animal in the ice age rock art of the island, suggesting they have long been valued both as food and a focus of creative thinking and artistic expression".

        The Sulawesi warty pig was painted using dark red ochre pigment and is about 53 by 21 inches in size. It features some upright hair and horn-like warts on the face that the adults of this species are known for. Another two partially-preserved pigs face the main animal.

        Oldest Cave Art Found in Sulawesi

        Two hand prints, most probably left by Homo sapiens rather than other human ancestors like the Denisovans, can be seen by the pig's hindquarters. The scientists are looking to extract DNA samples from the prints.

        The cave with the painting is in a valley of limestone cliffs, an hour's walk away from any road. You can only access it during dry season because of flooding during the rainy season. Previously it was only known to members of the isolated Bugis community.

        The site has the oldest evidence of human presence on the islands of Indonesia, known as "Wallacea," and is likely linked to the group of people who were migrating to Australia.

        Read the new study in Science Advances.


        Philosophers of the Islamic world enjoyed thought experiments.

        If the heavens vanished, they wondered, would time continue to pass? If existence were distinct from essence, would that mean that existence itself must exist? Can God turn your household servant into a horse, so that you come back home to find it has urinated all over your books?

        But the most famous is the so-called 'flying man' thought experiment, devised by the most influential philosopher of the Islamic world, Avicenna (in Arabic, Ibn Sīnā, who lived from 980 to 1037 CE). Imagine, he says, that a person is created by God in mid-air, in good condition but with his sight veiled and his limbs outstretched so that he is touching nothing, not even his own body. This person has no memories, having only just been created. Will his mind be a blank, devoid as it is of past or present sensory experience? No, says Avicenna. He will be aware of his own existence.

        Three questions immediately arise. First, when Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978), imagined a whale popping into existence in mid-air above an alien planet, had he been reading Avicenna? I have no idea, but I like to think so.

        Second, is Avicenna right that the 'flying man' would be self-aware? Well, it's important to realise that Avicenna does not attempt to argue that the flying man would know that he exists. Rather, he takes it as obvious. In one version, he even tells readers that we should imagine ourselves being so created. If we put ourselves in the flying man's dangling shoes, we should just see that we would be self-aware. Indeed, this turns out to be a fundamental idea in Avicenna's philosophy. He thinks that we are all always self-aware, even when we're asleep or focusing hard on something other than ourselves. Paradoxically, we're often not aware of being self-aware: it is the non-interruptive background music of human psychology, something we notice only when our attention is called to it, a pre-reflective awareness of self. The flying man thought experiment is itself one way to call attention to this self-awareness: Avicenna calls it a tanbīh, meaning a 'pointer' to something.

        Our self-awareness is a foundation for our first-person perspective on things. It's a sign of this that when I see, imagine or think something, I can immediately apprehend that I am seeing, imagining or thinking about that thing. Any other form of cognition – any awareness of other things – presupposes awareness of oneself.

        Incidentally, you might object that the flying man would have certain forms of bodily awareness despite his lack of vision, hearing and so on. Wouldn't he at least sense the location of his limbs by another form of sensation, namely proprioception? Imagine you are in total darkness and your arm is not resting on anything: proprioception is the sense that tells you where it is. This is indeed a problem for the thought experiment as Avicenna sets it up, but it isn't really philosophically decisive. One can just modify the scenario by adding that God blocks the man's ability to use proprioception, or that the flying man's proprioceptive faculty happens to be defective. Avicenna's claim will then be that, even under these circumstances, the flying man would be aware of himself.

        Now for the third, and hardest, question: what does the flying man thought experiment prove? Avicenna draws a surprising conclusion: it shows that we are not identical with our bodies. Just consider. The flying man is aware of himself; he knows that he exists. But he is not aware of his body; he doesn't know that his body exists, nor indeed that any body exists. And if I am aware of one thing but not another, how can those two things be identical?

        This sounds pretty persuasive, until you reflect that one can be conscious of a thing without being conscious of everything about it. You, for example, have been aware of reading this article for the past few minutes, but you haven't been aware of reading something written while Dixieland jazz was playing. It would be a mistake to conclude from this that the article is not something written with Dixieland jazz playing. In fact, that is exactly what it is. To put it another way, the flying man could be aware of his self without realising that his self is a body. Contemporary philosophers would say that Avicenna is mistakenly moving from a 'transparent' to an 'opaque' context, which is basically a fancy way of saying what I just said.

        Efforts have been made to spare Avicenna from this mistake. One possible way to rescue the argument would go like this. Avicenna is trying to criticise another way of thinking about the soul, one that goes back to Aristotle. According to the theory he rejects, the soul is so closely associated with the body that it can only be understood as an aspect or organising principle of the body, which Aristotle called the body's 'form'. The thought experiment is designed to show that this is wrong. It does so by calling to our attention that we have a means of access to our souls apart from bodily sensation, namely self-awareness.

        How would this refute Aristotle? Well, consider again just why it is that the flying man is not aware of his body. It is because he is not currently using his senses and has never done so (he only just started existing, remember), and sense perception is, Avicenna assumes, the only way to become aware of any body. If this is right, then anything that the flying man grasps without using sense perception is not a body, not material. Since he does grasp his soul without using sense perception, his soul is therefore not a body.

        On this reading, Avicenna would be helping himself to a pretty big assumption, which is that bodies can be discovered only by the senses. You can see, hear, touch, taste or smell them, but otherwise you can never so much as know that they exist. Since for Aristotle the soul was a form of the body, if you couldn't experience the body, you would not, on his account, have access to the soul; and yet, Avicenna claims, the falling man would have access to his soul.

        I suspect this is (at least in part) what he had in mind in creating this thought experiment. But that's not to say that I'm convinced. All Avicenna has really done is to throw down a challenge to his materialist opponents: show me how a body could be aware of itself without using sensation to do so.

        Philosophy in the Islamic World by Peter Adamson is out now through Oxford University Press.Aeon counter – do not remove

        Peter Adamson

        This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons. Read the original article.

        • While today's computers—referred to as classical computers—continue to become more and more powerful, there is a ceiling to their advancement due to the physical limits of the materials used to make them. Quantum computing allows physicists and researchers to exponentially increase computation power, harnessing potential parallel realities to do so.
        • Quantum computer chips are astoundingly small, about the size of a fingernail. Scientists have to not only build the computer itself but also the ultra-protected environment in which they operate. Total isolation is required to eliminate vibrations and other external influences on synchronized atoms; if the atoms become 'decoherent' the quantum computer cannot function.
        • "You need to create a very quiet, clean, cold environment for these chips to work in," says quantum computing expert Vern Brownell. The coldest temperature possible in physics is -273.15 degrees C. The rooms required for quantum computing are -273.14 degrees C, which is 150 times colder than outer space. It is complex and mind-boggling work, but the potential for computation that harnesses the power of parallel universes is worth the chase.