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
  • Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
  • In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
  • One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.


An endless flow of information is coming at us constantly: It might be an article a friend shared on Facebook with a sensational headline or wrong information about the spread of the coronavirus.

It could even be a call from a relative wanting to talk about a political issue.

All this information may leave many of us feeling as though we have no energy to engage.

As a philosopher who studies knowledge-sharing practices, I call this experience “epistemic exhaustion." The term “epistemic" comes from the Greek word episteme, often translated as “knowledge." So epistemic exhaustion is more of a knowledge-related exhaustion.

It is not knowledge itself that tires out many of us. Rather, it is the process of trying to gain or share knowledge under challenging circumstances.

Currently, there are at least three common sources that, from my perspective, are leading to such exhaustion. But there are also ways to deal with them.

1. Uncertainty

For many, this year has been full of uncertainty. In particular, the coronavirus pandemic has generated uncertainty about health, about best practices and about the future.

At the same time, Americans have faced uncertainty about the U.S. presidential election: first due to delayed results and now over questions about a peaceful transition of power.

Experiencing uncertainty can stress most of us out. People tend to prefer the planned and the predictable. Figures from 17th-century French philosopher René Descartes to 20th-century Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein have recognized the significance of having certainty in our lives.

With information so readily available, people may be checking news sites or social media in hopes of finding answers. But often, people are instead greeted with more reminders of uncertainty.

2. Polarization

Political polarization is stressing many Americans out.

As political scientist Lilliana Mason notes in her book, "Uncivil Disagreement: How Politics Became Our Identity," Americans have been increasingly dividing politically "into two partisan teams."

Many writers have discussed the negative effects of polarization, such as how it can damage democracy. But discussions about the harms of polarization often overlook the toll polarization takes on our ability to gain and share knowledge.

That can happen in at least two ways.

First, as philosopher Kevin Vallier has argued, there is a "causal feedback loop" between polarization and distrust. In other words, polarization and distrust fuel one another. Such a cycle can leave people feeling unsure whom to trust or what to believe.

Second, polarization can lead to competing narratives because in a deeply polarized society, as studies show, we can lose common ground and tend to have less agreement.

For those inclined to take the views of others seriously, this can create additional cognitive work. And when the issues are heated or sensitive, this can create additional stress and emotional burdens, such as sadness over damaged friendships or anger over partisan rhetoric.

3. Misinformation

Viral misinformation is everywhere. This includes political propaganda in the United States and around the world.

People are also inundated with advertising and misleading messaging from private corporations, what philosophers Cailin O'Connor and James Owen Weatherall have called "industrial propaganda." And in 2020, the public is also dealing with misinformation about COVID-19.

As chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov put it: "The point of modern propaganda isn't only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth."

Misinformation is often exhausting by design. For example, a video that went viral, "Plandemic," featured a large number of false claims about COVID-19 in rapid succession. This flooding of misinformation in rapid succession, a tactic known as a Gish gallop, makes it challenging and time-consuming for fact checkers to refute the many falsehoods following one after another.

What to do?

With all this uncertainty, polarization and misinformation, feeling tired is understandable. But there are things one can do.

The American Psychological Association suggests coping with uncertainty through activities like limiting news consumption and focusing on things in one's control. Another option is to work on becoming more comfortable with uncertainty through practices such as meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness.

To deal with polarization, consider communicating with the goal of creating empathetic understanding rather than "winning." Philosopher Michael Hannon describes empathetic understanding as "the ability to take up another person's perspective."

As for limiting the spread of misinformation: Share only those news stories that you've read and verified. And you can prioritize outlets that meet high ethical journalistic or fact-checking standards.

These solutions are limited and imperfect, but that's all right. Part of resisting epistemic exhaustion is learning to live with the limited and imperfect. No one has time to vet all the headlines, correct all the misinformation or gain all the relevant knowledge. To deny this is to set oneself up for exhaustion.The Conversation

Mark Satta, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Wayne State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


  • A monolithic object found in a remote part of Utah caused worldwide speculation about its origins.
  • The object is very similar to the famous monolith from Stanley Kubrick's "2001: Space Odyssey".
  • The object could be work of an artist or even have extraterrestrial origins.

An enigmatic "monolith" found in a Utah desert on November 18th has become the source of worldwide attention and speculation, with Internet denizens looking for something more light-hearted to talk about as the tumultuous 2020 draws to a close.

The unusual object was discovered by a helicopter of the Utah Department of Public Safety department which was helping the Department of Wildlife Resources to count bighorn sheep in a remote southern part of the state. As the crew passed by the object, a biologist noticed what they described as something "out of this world". Upon landing amidst red rock cliffs and getting a closer look, they found a shiny object, between 10 and 12 feet high, that was eerily similar to the monolith in the film director Stanley Kubrick's seminal sci-fi masterpiece "2001: Space Odyssey".

Given the cinematic history and the location of the object, here are top 5 theories on what it could be:

1. ART OBJECT 

Chances are, this is an art object. The shiny "monolith" appears to be bolted to the ground and made of metal. It also seems to be fastened with rivets, rather being a uniform block of more unexplainable production origin. Deserts are great places for unusual art installations as has been evidenced by art projects you can discover wondering through the desert ghost towns and faraway canyons of Nevada, California, Utah and New Mexico. Certainly, an artist with a sense of humor and an appreciation of Kubrick's genius could have installed such "sculpture" in hopes of exactly what is happening right now – viral fame.

On the other hand, there is evidence, courtesy of eagle-eyed Google Earth sleuths, that the object appeared in that location (somewhere near Canyonlands National Park) in 2015-2016. So it's possibly been there for a few years. Would an artist have placed it there so long ago with the aim of having this type of success eventually?

A gallery owner claimed the work may be a tribute to the art of the late artist John McCracken, who created similar-looking objects before he died in 2011. McCracken was part of the Light and Space movement with such artists as James Turrell, and was known to make his sculptures from plywood forms that were coated with fiberglass and polyester resin.

While the theory that the monolith was the work of a McCracken aficionado (or the artist himself) may hold some water due to the object's similarity, the fact that the artist died so long ago and the lack of clear incentive for anyone to have planted this years ago only to reveal it now work against this theory.

John McCracken sculptures.

Credit: David Zwirner gallery

Another Utah desert art object.

2. ALIEN EVOLUTIONARY DEVICE 

Certainly, explaining the monolith as an art installation may make the most sense at this point but its resemblance to the famous object from Kubrick's epic "2001: A Space Odyssey" can't help but bring some science-fiction scenarios to our minds.

In the film, the perfect black slab was discovered by a group of prehistoric apes. After finding the slab, the apes seemed to have developed the ability to utilize found objects like bones as tools and weapons. The film suggests that finding the monolith had an evolutionary impact on the apes, perhaps serving as "the missing link" that propelled humans from being lower-end primates to the intellectual powerhouses they are today.

Later in the film, after fast-forwarding thousands of years into the future, such an object is discovered on the moon by human astronauts. Using the writer Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Sentinel" as its inspiration, the film's narrative suggests that alien civilizations are responsible for these objects which potentially serve as beacons that may still be transmitting signals back to whoever created them while possibly being responsible for fostering evolution throughout the Universe.

Could the Utah object be serving just such a function? While 2020 has offered very inconsistent evidence of human intelligence, a device from a benevolent alien race that can make us all smarter might be just what we need.

Or it could portend the exact opposite and be the one thing that will hasten our demise.

2001: A Space Odyssey, black monolith

3. ALIEN PROBE

Besides having some specific impact on the inhabitants of planet Earth, the monolith could "just" be an extraterrestrial probe, sent here to learn about our ways. Would placing it in the middle of Utah desert be the best place to probe humanity? If the object was part of many such probes being sent all over the cosmos, it's possible the advanced alien overlord wannabes may not know specifically we are here and are just sending these everywhere they can. It's similar to when humans send probes to places like Mars and assume there's no life there just because the rover landed in the middle of a desert.

4. KUBRICK FAN INSTALLATION

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) was one of the greatest film directors of all time, leaving behind a slate of films that are each considered a masterpiece – "Dr. Strangelove," "The Shining," "2001: A Space Odyssey," "A Clockwork Orange," "Spartacus," "Full Metal Jacket" and more.

The visionary American director left a profound legacy, garnering millions of fans around the world. As the monolith he devised for "2001: A Space Odyssey" is one of the most famous objects in movie history, it's not out of the question that one of the director's followers decided to recreate it.

2001: A Space Odyssey - The Monolith On The Moon

5. GOVERNMENT CONTROL DEVICE  

The American Southwest is rife with government military installations and mysterious bases like Area 51. Having the monolith be a part of some government (vast psychological?) experiment is a connection that's easy to make for any conspiracy-minded Internet dweller.

Of course, given the government's penchant for both secrecy and ineptitude, this last one may be the hardest to ever prove definitively. In any case, the Department of Public Safety is not releasing the exact location of the object and warns people against trying to find it:

"It is in a very remote area and if individuals were to attempt to visit the area, there is a significant possibility they may become stranded and require rescue," DPS said.

  • Diamonds aren't just beautiful, they're also excellent at cutting through most anything.
  • Researchers have worked out how to create the gems without the high temperatures that accompany their natural formation.
  • The researchers were able to create two different types of diamonds that also occur naturally.

It may not always be cool to admit you were a fan of Superman as a kid, but one thing about Supe that was inarguably cool was that he could close his hands around coal—chunks of carbon—squeeze, and open them up to reveal a brand-new diamond. Now, researchers at Australian National University (ANU) and RMIT University in Melbourne have pretty much worked out the Man of Steel's trick. They've created diamonds from bits of carbon in a lab at room temperature by applying an extraordinary amount of slightly off-axis pressure.

Their research is published in the journal Nano-Micro Small.

They totally crushed it

Credit: StarJumper/evegenesis/Adobe Stock/Big Think

"Natural diamonds are usually formed over billions of years, about 150 kilometers deep in the Earth where there are high pressures and temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius," one of the lead researchers, ANUs Jodie Bradby, told the university.

The scientists were able to make two types of diamonds: the usual kind you'd find in an engagement ring, and Lonsdaleite diamonds. Lonsdaleite diamonds are naturally produced at meteorite impact sites such as Canyon Diablo in the U.S. They're about 58 percent harder than other diamonds, and have a different crystalline structure.

While diamonds form normally as a result of extreme pressure and heat, it turns out that pressure alone can do it if it's applied in the right way, even at room temperature.

The pressure they exerted was considerable—the equivalent of the weight of about 640 African elephants concentrated on a very small area.

The telltale clue

Credit: kento/Adobe Stock

The rest of the team's formula has to do with how the pressure is applied.

Co-leader of the research, Dougal McCullough, and his team working at RMIT used cutting-edge advanced electron microscopy to image slices of experimental diamond samples that provided a peak into their formation.

One revelation was the relationship between the two diamond types. "Our pictures showed that the regular diamonds only form in the middle of these Lonsdaleite veins," says McCulloch. "Seeing these little rivers of Lonsdaleite and regular diamond for the first time was just amazing and really helps us understand how they might form."

"The twist in the story ," says Bradby, "is how we apply the pressure. As well as very high pressures, we allow the carbon to also experience something called 'shear' — which is like a twisting or sliding force. We think this allows the carbon atoms to move into place and form Lonsdaleite and regular diamonds."

The diamonds produced by the team confirm this idea. Bradby recalls, "Seeing these little rivers of Lonsdaleite and regular diamond for the first time was just amazing and really helps us understand how they might form [in nature]."

New diamonds made to order

"Creating more of this rare but super-useful diamond is the long-term aim of this work," says Bradby.

While many may think of diamonds only for their ornamental value, their hardness makes them excellent for cutting through most anything, and they're used in some of the world's most advanced precision cutting systems.

Bradby notes that, "Lonsdaleite [in particular] has the potential to be used for cutting through ultra-solid materials on mining sites."

Next up: flight and x-ray vision. (Joking.)

  • A new study demonstrates that our brains crave social interaction with the same areas used to crave food.
  • Hungry test subjects also reported a lack of desire to socialize, proving the existence of "hanger."
  • Other studies have suggested that failure to socialize can lead to stress eating in rodents.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic started, an epidemic of loneliness existed. This is not only unpleasant for those involved but has measurably adverse effects on their mental and physical health. The current outbreak has only made an existing problem worse.

A new study undertaken by researchers at MIT and the Sulk Institute suggests that our need for socialization is as hardwired as our need for food and water. It finds that the same part of our brain that hungers for food after a day of fasting longs for other people after isolation.

People sometimes crave socialization, literally.

Forty participants underwent 10 hours of either social isolation or fasting before being placed in an MRI machine. Those who fasted had their brains imaged while viewing pictures of food; those emerging from isolation viewed photos of socializing people.

The areas of the brain related to hunger pains, reward, and movements, the substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA), are also associated with cravings for food or addictive substances. When those who fasted viewed images of food, these regions of their brains lit up. Most interestingly, the same brain regions lit up when those who had been isolated for 10 hours saw pictures of other people socializing.

Test subjects also filled out questionnaires during and after the fasting and isolation periods. Not only did this confirm that people felt cravings for what they had missed, but that the effect was similar in both cases.

They also showed that very hungry people were less responsive to images of socializing, suggesting that "hanger," the state of being irritable as a result of hunger, is a demonstrable state.

How can I use this information? I’m asking for a friend.

The obvious takeaway is that it is perfectly normal to feel a need for interaction with others after an extended bout of isolation. Our brains treat some form of interaction as a basic need that must be met. While not shown as clearly in humans, not getting these needs often drives mice to stress eat, a finding that makes a great deal of sense in light of these new findings.

Exactly how we can meet the need for socialization outside of just meeting up with people (a tricky proposition at the time of writing) remains up for debate. Anybody who has tried a Zoom party during the pandemic can attest to it just not being as nice as seeing friends in person.

The study's authors are aware of this issue and note that:

"A vital question is how much, and what kinds of, positive social interaction is sufficient to fulfill our social needs and thus eliminate the neural craving response. Technological advances offer incessant opportunities to be virtually connected with others, despite physical separations. Yet, some have argued that using social media only exacerbates subjective feelings of isolation."

Unfortunately, the study cannot offer us an answer to this question just yet.

Like always, there are limitations to this study.

This study involved 40 participants. While its essential finding is likely to be generally applicable, exactly how applicable it is to the broader population cannot be known with certainty from such a small group. The participants were also healthy, well-connected young adults who might react to various problems differently than other demographic groups.

Their tendency to do so while being the focus of endless studies on psychology is a well-recorded problem.

Likewise, the fact that the participants knew they would only be isolated for 10 hours may have impacted how they reacted to the isolation—it is often easier to endure something when you know precisely when it will end.

Getting around that in future experiments may prove impossible. From an ethical standpoint, it would be difficult to structure an experiment on humans predicated on the idea that they will be kept isolated from all social interaction indefinitely.

Lastly, while all of the participants were quite hungry after 10 hours, there were enough variations in how lonely people felt after isolation to suggest a more significant variance in need for socialization than in demand for food. While this seems obvious, we all know both introverts and extroverts; it does make it more challenging to determine how much social interaction counts as a "need" that the brain craves just as it craves food.

As usual, more research is needed.

The idea that humans are social animals existed long before modern neuroscience was possible. Now, we can see exactly what happens in the brain when we can't socialize. While the final word on the subject is still to be said, it might be time to give a friend a call.