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
  • Monogamy is natural, but adultery is, too, says biological anthropologist Helen Fisher.
  • Even though humans are animals that form pair bonds, some humans have a predisposition for restlessness. This might come from the evolutionary development of a dual human reproductive strategy.
  • This drive to fall in love and form a pair bond evolved for an ecological reason: to rear our children as a team.


  • Marathons gained popularity over the last decade. In 2018, 456,700 Americans completed a marathon, an 11 percent increase in participation from 2008.
  • Training for and racing 26.2 miles has been shown to have adverse effects on the heart, such as plaque buildup in the arteries and inflammation.
  • Running too much can lead to chronically increased cortisol levels, resulting in weight gain, fatigue, and lower immune function.


Over the past decade, marathons have become rather trendy in the fitness community. The numbers back it up. For example, in 2018, 456,700 Americans completed the full 26.2 mile race, an 11 percent increase in participation from 2008.

We've come to lionize marathoners as embodying peak physical fitness, what with their typically lean physiques, low resting heart rates, and herculean discipline. But what the training and race does to your body isn't glamorous, and it certainly isn't the epitome of health. Here are four reasons to opt for a less masochistic fitness goal this year.

Marathons might bad for your heart

Alberto Salazar, pictured before winning his third New York City Marathon in 1982, later suffered a heart attack at the age of 48.

Photo Source: Wikimedia

Some experts are divided over whether or not running the marathon is bad for your cardiac health. But the concern is mostly rooted in fear that discussing the adverse health effects could dissuading people from exercising. To be clear: Running is good for you. In moderation. However, grinding for hours on end at a moderate pace to prepare for a marathon is probably not the best thing for your heart. Studies have shown that extreme endurance sports like marathons and Ironmans can have adverse effects on heart health. When your body is burning through sugar and fat to fuel you for long runs, it releases free radicals that can bind with cholesterol. This process can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries and inflammation. Thus, training for a marathon might increase a person's risk of heart disease and lead to heart scarring. A person's chance of going into cardiac arrest even doubles by some estimates during a race, likely because of the stress of racing placing an extra strain on someone's heart who was already at risk. A 2010 study found that for less fit runners, a marathon damaged the heart for up to three months.

DNA and muscle damage

The free radicals that burn through your system when running too much can also damage your cells in a process known as oxidative stress. In a 2016 study on thirty amateur male runners, researchers found that DNA damage correlated positively with running long distances. The increased oxygen intake involved with running marathons, and oxygen supply to tissues that are active during the race and training, result in higher levels of "reactive oxygen species" (ROS). The accumulation of this, in turn, can cause oxidative DNA damage.

The repetitive muscle contractions associated with marathon training and racing can also cause muscular damage. Studies have suggested that competitive endurance events result in an increase of creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase. These chemical compounds are indicators of the extent of skeletal muscle cell damage. Research has shown that this muscle damage can be caused not only by the full 26 mile race, but also by 10 km races and 13-mile half marathons.

High mileage training boosts cortisol levels

Running too much, and a marathon is too much for most of us, can cause a spike in your cortisol levels. The hours of running required for marathon training are perceived by the body as constant stress, which causes the adrenal glands to increase the release of the hormone cortisol. This hormone boosts blood sugar levels to provide the body with energy during times of stress, and puts its digestive and reproductive systems on ice until the stressor has been dealt with. Chronically increased cortisol levels comes with some unpleasant side effects, like weight gain, fatigue, increased risk of illness, and out-of-whack menstrual cycles for women.

When it comes to marathons, the danger here is going from a relatively sedentary lifestyle to suddenly putting in a grueling number of miles to train for a 26.2 mile race. This is what freaks your body out and can cause cortisol levels to shoot up. So, if you do insist on training for a marathon, build mileage gradually.

It damages your kidneys

Back in 2017, researchers at Yale found that an alarming 82 percent of marathon participants suffered from a kidney injury that left them unable to filter waste products from the blood. This is known as stage 1 acute kidney injury. Essentially, it means that kidney cells become damaged by the lack of blood flow to the organs during a race and the loss of fluid volume. It sounds (and can literally be) nauseating, but runners' kidneys typically recover within two days. Yet, it does raise the question of whether completing multiple marathons, and the high mileage training involved, could cause chronic, or even permanent, kidney damage.

But listen, if completing the full 26.2 mile beast of a race is a true ambition of yours, I'm not here to knock it. No one's living forever. However, if the marathon hype has got you wondering if signing up for a race and spending hours pounding on pavement is a good way to get into shape this year — it really isn't. Opt for a gentler goal, like running every other day or snowshoeing. You don't need to punish your body into exhaustion to live a fitter lifestyle.

  • Isogloss maps show what most cartography doesn't: the diversity of language.
  • This baker's dozen charts the richness and humour of French.
  • France is more than French alone: There's Breton and German, too – and more.

Most maps show physical features and political divisions, but there's a special subset of cartography that reveals language as an exciting, unpredictable layer of human geography.

These are called isogloss maps, because they illuminate regions that share similar linguistic traits. Those traits sometimes echo the landscape or the history of the area they depict – and sometimes they appear to be completely random.

That mutability is one of the main attractions of isogloss maps, as Mathieu Avanzi surely will agree. He is the creator of these maps (and many more like them), that chart the diversity, the richness and the humour of the French language.

You can find them at his website, Français de nos regions (mapping French regionalisms) or in his Twitter feed. Here's an amuse-bouche, assembled for your enjoyment. Bon appétit!

Don't fall off the va-gong

In both English and French, a 'wagon' is a vehicle – mainly horse-drawn in English, exclusively rail-bound in French. An English wagon is used for transporting goods, and occasionally people. A French wagon never carries people; that's a 'voiture'.

Although French seems to have a clearer idea of what a 'wagon' is supposed to be, it's in two minds on how to pronounce the word. In most of the Francophone world, the common practice is to say something like 'va-gong' (in blue). In a much smaller part of the French language area - essentially, French-speaking Belgium – the popular pronunciation approximates 'wa-gong' (in red). There's a narrow fifty-fifty zone just across the French border (in white).

French has a habit of dealing poorly with the "w" sound at the start of words, which are often Germanic loan words. It's produced English word pairs of similar origin with different shades of meaning, such as guarantee (a promise to assume responsibility for something) and warranty (a written, formal version of a guarantee); or warden (a keeper) and guardian (a protector).

Shut the door already

If you're an English-speaker who wants to express their deep admiration of a French-speaker, just say "Shut the door". That's close enough to Je t'adore ("I adore you"). If you want that French speaker to actually shut (and lock) the door, the options are a bit more varied.

  • In most of France, the rather matter-of-fact request would be: Fermez à clef: "Close (the door) with the key".
  • In the Loire Valley, plus bits of Normandy and Artois, further north (in blue), you'd have to ask: Barrez (la porte): "Bar the door". Which suggests that surviving the night depends on a firm obstacle to keep the bandits outs. Which may have been true, not that many centuries ago.
  • In the Lorraine area in the northeast and in most of Normandy, your best bet would be to ask: Clenchez (la porte). In the Belgian province of Luxembourg, the variant is: Clinchez (la porte). Sounds like an anglicism, and indeed, some dictionaries refer to this as an expression used in Québec.
  • In the départements of Aveyron and Lozère, you may have to ask: Clavez (la porte). ('Claver' is related to 'clef', key), with smaller areas insisting on crouillez, ticlez or cottez (la porte).

Sharpen your pencils

The humble pencil has more than half a dozen appelations across the French language area. In Belgium and the Alsace, it's a simple crayon. But in most of northern France, it's a crayon de papier, while in most of southern France, it's a subtly different crayon à papier; although there are pockets of de/à dissenters in both halves. Sprinkled across the rest of France (and Switzerland) are small islands, where the locals insist a pencil is a crayon de bois, or a crayon papier, or a crayon gris.

How did the same variant emerge in areas so far apart? Was perhaps the whole Francosphere once crayon gris territory, only for it to be beaten back to the periphery by newer, more aggressive strains of crayon? The smallest, most isolated island is the crayon de mine zone astride the Aisne and Marne departments. Beset on all sides by three other variants, it is only a matter of time before it falls to one of its besiegers – the question is, which one?

Foot-fingers and lexical poverty

The French language is an excellent vehicle for complexity and subtlety, be it poetic or scientific. But it doesn't have to be. Take this map, which collects vernacular descriptions for 'toes'.

The information was collected in the 19th century – hence the non-inclusion of Brittany and Alsace, where the majority at that time still spoke Breton and German, respectively. Also note the white spot in the middle: this is Paris and environs. Of course, these locals speak proper French. No need to do any research here.

In most of France, the common word for toe is orteil. Which is the one still used today. One area, half in southern Belgium and half in northern France, insists on calling toes doilles. But in some areas, in the northeast and southwest especially, people use the descriptor doigts de pied, which literally translates as: 'foot-fingers'. It's a shocking indicator of lexical poverty. What did these people call their nose: 'face-finger'?

Sixty-ten or seventy?

French famously doesn't have a dedicated word for 'seventy'. Instead, the French use soixante-dix ('sixty-ten'). But that hasn't always been true - nor is it true everywhere.

As indicated by the red triangles on the map on the left, septante (or setante) was dominant in much of the southern, eastern and northern areas where French was spoken. Fast forward to now (map on the right), and modern education and media have done their work.

Both in France, where soixante-dix has won the battle, and in the Francophone parts of Belgium and Switzerland, where septante has retained its local dominance. The Belgians and Swiss also say nonante for ninety, by the way, while the French seem to think quatre-vingt-dix ('four times twenty plus ten') sounds better.

Le Wite-Out or La Wite-Out?

When writing was still mainly a matter of ink and paper, corrector fluid was the analog version of the backspace key. Americans may know it under the brand name Wite-Out. In the UK and Europe, the corresponding corporate designation was Tipp-Ex. And that's what Parisians, Belgians, Swiss and the inhabitants of Alsace and Lorraine also call it.

A swathe of eastern France corresponding roughly with Burgundy calls it, simply, blanc ('white') – without the final -o that gives it the product a slightly exotic flourish in the rest of France.

The graph to the left of the map indicates the preferred terms in French Canada: mostly Liquid-Paper (another brand name), sometimes also its French translation papier liquide, and Wite-Out or, simply, correcteur.

Pitcher perfect

It's a warm day, and/or the food itself is too hot. How do you ask your French waiter for a pitcher of water? This map will tell you.

In Paris, and various areas in the center and south of France: un broc, s'il vous plaît. In the northeast: une chruche. In the north and west: un pichet. In various parts of the south: une carafe. Or un pot à eau, if not un pot d'eau. In case you don't have this map handy: there's just one word for wine: vin.

Case of the melting mitten

'Mitten' is such a common English word that its foreign origin comes as a surprise. It is from the 14th-century French word mitain, for 'hand-covering, with only the thumb separated'.

While the word has flourished in English, it has melted away in its native France. The standard French term for 'mittens' these days is moufles.

Mitaines survives as a regionalism, in the Charente region, the hinterland of the port city of La Rochelle; and in parts of Francophone Switzerland.

Your pelouse or mine?

France – and French – used to be characterised by a deep split between north and south. The north was the land of butter and beer, the south of olive oil and wine. In the north, in the past often referred to as 'Langue d'ouïl', the common way to say 'yes' was the current standard term, oui. In the south, today often stlll called 'Languedoc', the local version of 'yes' was oc.

While the edges of France's great north-south divide have softened, there are still traces to be found, in culture and language. Take for instance the pronunciation of pelouse ('lawn'). Northern French will have you believe the word is p'louse ('plooz'), while southern French will take the time to pronounce the entire word, as peulouse ('puh-looz').

It is possible that name for the Palouse, the region in the northwestern US, was provided by French trappers, impressed by its rolling grasslands. A more common French loanword for grasslands is, of course, prairie.

France is not all French

The French language is essential for France's understanding of itself as a nation, yet for much of its history, the nation was not contiguous with the language. Some parts of the French language area are (and mostly always have been) outside the French borders, notably in Belgium and Switzerland. French language and culture is also significantly present in Luxembourg, northern Italy and the Channel Islands.

Conversely, while most of France now speaks French as its first language, other languages have historic significance (and lingering presences today) at the nation's extremities: Flemish in the north, German in the northeast, Breton in the west and Basque in the southwest, to name the most familiar non-Romance ones.

What survives in daily use are local expressions, like these three Breton words. Louzhou is used at the very tip of the Breton peninsula as a synonym for 'herb, medicine'. Kenavo has a wider purchase, across three and a half departments, and means 'goodbye'. Bigaille is understood down to Nantes and beyond as slang for 'small change'.

As a conversational vehicle for daily life, German in Alsace and elsewhere in eastern France is moribund, if not already dead. But a bit of Deutsch survives nonetheless, for example in Ca gehts?, the curious local portmanteau for "How are you?" – composed equally of the French "Ca va?" and the German "Wie geht's?" Another Germanic survivor: the term "Schnapps". In the rest of France, it's called "Eau de vie" ("Water of life").

All images reproduced with kind permission by Mathieu Avanzi. Check out his website and/or his Twitter feed, both focusing on isogloss maps of French, in France and beyond.

Strange Maps #1006

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

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  • From 1997 to 2017, alcohol-related deaths among Americans aged 16 and older doubled from 35,914 to 72,558.
  • From 2011 to 2017, the average number of drinks consumed by binge-drinkers rose from 472 to 529.
  • A 2018 study showed that people who consume six or more drinks per week are more likely to die early.


Americans are drinking more alcohol and dying at higher rates from it, according to two new reports released in January.

A study published in the journal Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research examined alcohol-related deaths from 1997 to 2007. (The researchers considered a death to be alcohol-related if a death certificate listed alcohol as a primary or secondary cause of death.) The results showed that over the past two decades:

  • Alcohol deaths among Americans ages 16 and older doubled from 35,914 in 1997, to 72,558 in 2017.
  • The death rate increased 50.9% from 16.9 to 25.5 per 100,000.
  • 944,880 alcohol‐related deaths were recorded between 1999 and 2017.
  • In 2017, alcohol was associated with 72,558 deaths, making it more deadly than illegal drugs, including opioids.
  • Only cigarettes are more deadly than alcohol in the U.S.

How exactly are Americans dying from booze? In 2017, about half of alcohol deaths were the result of liver disease; separate research shows that far more young Americans have been dying from alcohol-related liver diseases than they did just two decades ago. But interestingly, since 1997, significantly fewer Americans died in alcohol-related car accidents, possibly because of the rise of ridesharing apps like Uber (though the data aren't exactly clear on that).

However, more Americans are dying from drug overdoses that also involve alcohol.

"In 2017, death certificates captured 10,596 deaths due to overdoses on a combination of alcohol and other drugs and another 2,358 deaths from overdoses on alcohol alone," the researchers wrote. "Alcohol causes respiratory depression on its own, and the risk of acute respiratory failure increases when alcohol is combined with other drugs that suppress respiration, such as opioids and benzodiazepines."

Age‐adjusted death rates by sex and race/ethnicity for (A) all alcohol‐induced causes, (B) acute causes, and (C) chronic causes, fitted with joinpoint log‐linear regression: United States, 1999 to 2017. Rate is shown on a natural log scale to depict a relative change over time (i.e., APC).

The researchers added that mixing alcohol with opioids was especially deadly for Americans ages 66 to 77.

"The fact that a moderately intoxicating dose of alcohol significantly increased the respiratory depression produced by a medicinal dose of oxycodone suggests that any alcohol consumption could contribute to fatal overdoses involving opioid," they wrote.

A second study examined rates of binge-drinking among Americans from 2011 to 2017. (The study defined binge drinking as five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four for women.) The results show that, while the percentage of Americans who drink to excess hasn't really budged, those who do binge-drink are drinking more:

  • The average number of drinks consumed by binge-drinkers rose from 472 in 2011, to 529 in 2017.
  • The most significant rise in binge-drinking rates occurred among Americans without a high-school degree.
  • That group consumed 942 drinks per person in 2017, up from 646 in 2011.
  • In 2018, 26.45% of people ages 18 or older reported that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month, while 6.6 percent reported engaging in "heavy" alcohol use.

Why alcohol is addictive

Alcohol is one of the most addictive substances on the planet. The data vary by study, but it's estimated that between 6 and 30 percent of Americans are alcoholics, and that most are men. Why is drinking addictive? A few explanations include:

  • Alcohol triggers the reward centers of the brain, releasing dopamine and endorphins, which reinforces physical dependency.
  • Alcohol contains large amounts of sugar, which by itself can be addictive, at least according to some research.
  • People often use drinking as a coping mechanism, whether in social situations or for anxiety and/or depression, which can reinforce the behavior and make us more likely to repeat it in the future.
  • Some research suggests that people whose brains release large amounts of natural opioids in response to alcohol are especially vulnerable to alcoholism.

How to curb your drinking

So, how much alcohol is too much? It's difficult to say, but a 2018 study found that people who drink more than six drinks per week were significantly more likely to die early, specifically of stroke, heart disease, heart failure, fatal hypertensive disease and fatal aortic aneurysm. If you're looking to curb your alcohol intake, consider some of these tips from Harvard Medical School:

  • Put it in writing: List specific reasons why you want to quit. Studies suggest writing goals down makes us more likely to achieve them.
  • Don't keep booze in the house: Try to put more distance between you and alcohol; make it difficult to grab a drink.
  • Drink slowly: Try ordering a soda (or better, a water) between drinks.
  • Set a drinking goal: If you want to keep drinking, try setting a drink limit before going out so you know exactly when to stop.
  • Guard against temptations: Become aware of what triggers you to drink: certain friends, stress levels, particular places, etc. Be mindful of whether you're using alcohol to cope with stress, and if so, work to replace that coping mechanism with a healthier one.