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."
- The Ultimate Adobe CC Training Bundle includes courses in using Adobe's most popular apps.
- Students learn basic to advanced features in Photoshop, Premiere, Illustrator and four other Adobe CC programs.
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With that kind of market saturation, anyone hoping to work in digital media absolutely must know how to use these signature programs. Getting started with easy-to-follow instructions and coursework is essential, and that is exactly what you'll find in The Ultimate Adobe CC Training Bundle.
The package itself is comprehensive. Altogether, it’s nine courses that introduce users to seven of Adobe CC’s most versatile and powerful creative environments.
After a pair of in-depth graphic design mastery courses, this collection walks students through basic and advanced features in image editing with Photoshop and Lightroom, video creation with Premiere Pro, as well as crafting dynamic vector graphics and other illustrations with Illustrator. You can also learn to use full page layout and digital publishing tools with advanced training in InDesign.
You’ll also get a bevy of web design experience with Adobe XD training and a crash course in creating movie-quality visuals with After Effects.
Software not included. Prices are subject to change.
When you buy something through a link in this article or from our shop, Big Think earns a small commission. Thank you for supporting our team's work.
- In Landmarks, Robert Macfarlane revives hundreds of nearly-forgotten words to remind us of our relationship with nature.
- New dictionaries are deleting nature words while adding technology terms, which Macfarlane states further separates us from the environment.
- The words we speak shape the reality we understand, making it essential to aptly describe what is happening on the planet.
A' Ghnùig (Gaelic)
The steep slope of the scowling expression.
Human nature is part of nature too.
Large wave or waves, coming after a succession of lesser ones.
Surfers know the danger of being caught in one of these cycles.
Bobbles (North Sea Coast)
Choppy, short waves roused by wind.
First slight ruffling of the water after a calm.
Light rain that still manages to get you soaking wet.
The perfect word to yell out when you leave your umbrella at home.
Practice of placing quartz stones in moorland streams so that they would sparkle in moonlight and thereby attract salmon to them in the late summer and autumn.
While this holds little practical utility for most of us today, it's an example of the complex relationship between humans and nature and our attempt at condensing seemingly disparate realms—vision; nighttime; hunting; seasons—into one word. Also, pay attention to Macfarlane's "user-value framework" explained below. To have a language that describes a world that doesn't include us in its workings is essential.
Footprints of creatures as they appear in the snow.
Deceitful promise of better weather.
Weathermen have gotten better, but not that good...
Hot-spong (East Anglia)
Sudden power of heat felt when the sun comes from under a wind-shifted cloud.
Nothing like that feeling.
Hole deliberately left in a wall for an animal to pass through.
To throw flat stones so that they skim on the surface of water.
I wrote an entire song to describe the feeling I had when doing this as a kid. Little did I know it was already named!
Splashed with mud by a passing vehicle.
To wander aimlessly, unguided by outcome or destination.
Is this even practiced in a world with GPS?
Summer Geese (North Yorkshire)
Steam that rises from the moor when rain is followed by hot sunshine.
To create what he termed a "psychedelic society," the ethnobotanist Terence McKenna declared that we must completely remake "our fundamental ontological conceptions of reality." In order to accomplish this, he suggested a new language to address the new reality we are embarking upon. "A new reality will generate a new language," he wrote in his essay, "Psychedelic Society." "A new language will make a new reality legitimate and a part of this reality."
Humans structure reality by how we name things. A language is not only a means for transferring ideas and directives to others; it serves as a guiding philosophy for how you understand reality. McKenna was imagining a new future, yet he also knew that the archaic techniques of ecstasy provided by shamanism was a means for looking back to reconstruct our present reality. In some ways he was suggesting the resurrection of an old language for new purposes.
Likewise, British writer Robert Macfarlane (recently featured on the Think Again podcast) has devoted his career to understanding and, at times, translating the natural world (for us novices, at least). His book, Landmarks, is an attempt to create a dictionary of forgotten languages that describe the world in ways that help us to understand reality differently and, perhaps, more perceptively.
"We inhabit a post-pastoral terrain, full of modification and compromise," he writes, noting that we now have difficulty imagining reality outside of a "user-value framework." Indeed, environmental decimation would be impossible if we had a better way of discussing what is actually happening to the planet. The problem is the language of technology has displaced discussion of nature. A recent edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary added words such as broadband, chatroom, and voice-mail while deleting actor, dandelion, and heron—words the gatekeepers decided were no longer relevant to the experience of childhood.
Yet, as Macfarlane writes, "language does not just register experience, it produces it." We educate children by the words we teach them. Australian environmental philosopher, Glenn Albrecht, coined the term solastalgia to describe "the pain or distress caused by the loss or lack of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one's home and territory." That's a word millions of his countrymen are feeling at this very moment.
When I asked Albrecht about Landmarks—Macfarlane offered an overwhelmingly positive blurb on Albrecht's book, Earth Emotions—he replied,
"One of the major things is the recovery of language, which is being lost in a world which is transforming so rapidly that the old words for the way that humans have culturally and bio-physically evolved are being lost. He's reviving them and putting them back into the language."
We can only see what we name. A culture deficient in terminology is incapable of registering what is being destroyed in terms of environmental as well as personal awareness. The above 15 words from Landmarks remind us of what is possible to imagine—and experience—when we have names for it.
- Melanie Katzman has 30 years of experience in her field, yet was advised to tell people she had just 20 years of experience so she wouldn't seem too out of touch.
- Katzman strongly disagrees with that assessment of age in the workplace. Rather than see it as a liability, older professionals should embrace their age and experience. They can see patterns more broadly, plus they have deep network connections, information, and the desire to be generous.
- "Research shows us that generativity flows downhill," says Katzman. "... New recruits and aging boomers can really change the world together but we have to not be afraid of stating our age."
- Nonviolent protests designed to effect change are a common occurrence around the world, especially today.
- While they may seem to be a sign of sour grapes or contrarianism, there is a serious philosophical backing to them.
- Thinkers from Thoreau to Gandhi and King have made the case for civil disobedience as a legitimate route to change.
If you're reading this, there is a fair chance that you are either near or aware of a major act of civil disobedience happening right now. From Hong Kong to Chile, the wave of global protest movements has made headlines and tangible changes around the world. These protests have been generally nonviolent, and have focused attention on a variety of issues that plague modern society. The fact that you are probably thinking of about three of these movements right now is a testament to the power of civil disobedience.
While most people know that civil disobedience has a long and noble history, with great campaigns being carried out by the likes of Gandhi, King, and Chavez, fewer know of the serious philosophy behind the idea of nonviolent resistance. That is why today, we'll dive into the intellectual background behind making a stand against the way things are.
The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. – Henry David Thoreau
On the 24th or 25th of July 1846, American writer Henry David Thoreau was placed under arrest while walking to the shoemakers for refusing to pay the poll tax. While he had enough money to pay the bill, he refused to pay on the grounds that the money would go to finance the Mexican-American war, which he found to be unjust, and the institution of slavery, which he detested.
He spent one night in jail. Someone, widely believed to be his aunt, paid the bill, and he was released the next morning. He then went to get his shoe fixed.
While no lasting harm was done, Thoreau used the incident as a reason to put his ideas on lawbreaking for good to paper. The resultant essay, commonly known as Civil Disobedience, is a classic of American political thought and has influenced thinkers around the world.
Thoreau's reasoning is easy to follow, he points out that there is such a thing as justice but that not all laws adhere to it. This presents any lover of justice with a problem:
"Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once?
Perhaps obviously, he thinks the solution is the last one. He argues that just because the state is carrying out a particular policy doesn't mean that the individual is obligated to sit quietly and accept it if it is unjust. Everybody has a conscience, and they must follow it.
While it is possible that waiting until the next election could be an effective method of altering the law, Thoreau reminds us that people don't live forever and that such methods "take too much time." Furthermore, a person who obeys an unjust law for years acquiesces to the injustice. Instead, it is just to act now and prevent yourself from being an accomplice to injustice.
As an illustration, he compares the state to a machine. While he admits that sometimes the machine might incidentally create injustices, other times, the injustice is systemic and directly results from bad policy. In such a case, the only thing for a just man to do is to "Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine."
He further calls for us to "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence," rather than sit back and let the majority run things unjustly. He goes on to imagine what would happen if masses of people stopped paying their taxes while the government still uses them to promote unjust laws and notes that it is more likely that there would be policy changes then mass arrests.
While it might look like Thoreau is just trying to get out of his taxes, he says explicitly that he would be happy to pay a highway tax, since that only helps people. However, since he cannot trace the route of his money as it works its way through the bureaucracy, he finds it better to avoid showing allegiance to the state at all through paying anything.
If you are noticing a few radical notions here and there, you're not seeing things. Thoreau's ideas are part of the foundation of the school of thought known as individualist anarchism. This school, like many strains of anarchism, views the state as "expedient" at best and a threat to freedom and dignity at the worst. While Thoreau wasn't a bomb thrower, he notes in his essay that the American Constitution has many excellent features, he firmly believed the state would wither away as society advanced to a point where it was no longer needed.
The lasting influence of Civil Disobedience
The essay directly inspired Mahatma Gandhi, whose brand of nonviolent resistance to British rule in India would inspire Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez in the United States. Dr. King would write his own essay, The Letter from Birmingham Jail, expanding on the same themes.
King's arguments are less anarchistic than Thoreau's, but the basic principals remain the same; there is such a thing as justice, a person has no obligation to follow an unjust law, and a person is morally obligated to break a law that promotes injustice.
Dr. King's letter, written while in jail as opposed to just after leaving, also adds a strategic element to the analysis of nonviolent protest.
"You may well ask: 'Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?' You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation."
As you can see, King believes that nonviolent demonstrations can bring ignored issues to the forefront of public opinion. It is then possible for progress to be made on those issues. This idea isn't totally unique to King; a similar philosophy was used by Emmeline Pankhurst during the suffrage movement, though she was much more open to destructive tactics.
Nonviolent resistance has a long and noble history of creating positive change without resorting to destruction. Thinkers like King and Thoreau make excellent arguments as to why we should not be content with injustice and slow progress but should instead take action to improve our situation.
So next time a protest march inconveniences you, remember that the participants are carrying on a well thought out tradition, and maybe try to hear them out before you dismiss them.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Soon after the Nazis took control of France in June 1940 they began a military campaign against Britain. For three months, the Luftwaffe bombed targets in Britain, countered by the Royal Air Force (RAF). Their targets were sporadic: First, the Luftwaffe attacked ports and shipping centers, then RAF bases, then strategic infrastructure, and finally, civilians and politically significant sites. This military campaign was known as the Battle of Britain, which included the series of high-intensity night bombings known as the Blitz.
Defeating the RAF was crucial before the German army could launch a land invasion of Britain, but ultimately, the military campaign became too costly for the German forces to sustain. The planned invasion was called off, and the campaign against Britain shifted its focus to blockading the island nation's access to the sea. This would become the German's first major defeat in the war and form a crucial turning point that would define its remainder.
In part, the British victory was won by the German's lack of preparation. Hitler never expected to need to invade Britain; after France fell, he expected Britain would recognize "her hopeless military situation" and agree to the favorable terms of surrender he had put forth. Historians have long debated what the Luftwaffe could have accomplished had the Germans developed a more comprehensive strategy.
Two strategic blunders
Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce a statistical model (docx download) capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different.
Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.
"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a statement. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.
"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."
Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.
Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.
A tool for understanding history
This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."
The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.
Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.