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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  • The School of Graphic Design Mastery Bundle covers basic industry philosophies and tools.
  • Special courses dig into branding techniques as well as using the Adobe Creative Cloud apps.
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Well-tuned aesthetics and a strong visual eye are great, but before you assume that’s enough to get working in the graphic design field, you should also consider a few basics. Do you have a firm command of core graphic design principles? Are you familiar with the key design tools that industry pros use every day?

If you’re a little shaky on those questions, there’s a simple way to catch up. The School of Graphic Design Mastery Bundle ($39, over 90 percent off) brings together seven courses that will give you the industry training required to create stunning work and carve out your own niche in that competitive arena.

Your first four courses, centered around a pair of Graphic Design Master Classes, dig deep into basic design knowledge every designer has to know, including typography, color theory, layout and composition, photo editing, branding and more. Since branding and business design elements play a huge role in graphic art, there’s also coursework centered there, including creating a logo, producing a color palette and even how to design a great T-shirt.

Meanwhile, the remaining three courses focus on some of the most used tools of the graphic design trade, specifically the Adobe Creative Cloud app suite. By the time you’re done, you’ll be fully versed in the use of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and more to create basically any graphic look or feel you want.

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  • "Autism is caused by a lot of factors that we don't fully understand," says epidemiologist Dr Larry Brilliant, "but vaccines are not one of those factors."
  • Vaccines have saved hundreds of millions of children's lives—they have eradicated smallpox, nearly eradicated polio, and they have reduced the population explosion. How? Thanks to vaccinations, parents no longer expect 50% of their children to die from disease, so they have less children.
  • Vaccines have protected the lives of children so effectively that anti-vax parents—who only have their children's best interests at heart—have lost sight of how critical vaccines are. When polio was rampant in the U.S., parents waited in line for hours and hours to have their children vaccinated. Safety changes our mental calculus, but vaccinations must continue to ensure that safety lasts.

Over the past decade, many scholars have questioned the credibility of research across a variety of scientific fields.


Some of these concerns arise from cases of outright fraud or other misconduct. More troubling are difficulties in replicating previous research findings. Replication is cast as a cornerstone of science: we can trust the results originating in one lab only if other labs can follow similar procedures and get similar results. But in many areas of research – including psychology – scientists have found that too often they cannot replicate prior findings.

As psychologists specialising in clinical work (Alexander Williams) and methodology (John Sakaluk), we wondered what these concerns mean for psychotherapy. Over the past 50 years, therapy researchers have increasingly embraced the evidence-based practice movement. Just as medicines are pitted against placebos in research studies, psychologists have used randomised clinical trials to test whether certain therapies (eg, 'exposure therapy', or systematically confronting what one fears) benefit people with certain mental-health conditions (eg, a phobia of spiders). The treatment-for-diagnosis combinations that have amassed evidence from these trials are known as empirically supported treatments (ESTs).

We wondered, though: is the credibility of the evidence for ESTs as strong as that designation suggests? Or does the evidence-base for ESTs suffer from the same problems as published research in other areas of science? This is what we (with our coauthors, the US psychologists Robyn Kilshaw and Kathleen T Rhyner) explored in our study published recently in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.

The Society of Clinical Psychology – or Division 12 of the American Psychological Association – has done the arduous work since the 1990s of establishing a list of more than 70 ESTs. They have continued to update the ESTs listed, and the evidence cited for them, to the present day. We conducted a 'meta-scientific review' of these ESTs. Across a variety of statistical metrics, we assessed the credibility of the evidence cited by the Society for every EST on their list. We examined measures related to statistical power, which indicates plausibility of the reported data given the sample sizes of the experiments. We computed Bayesian indices of evidence that shows how probable the results were, assuming the therapies actually helped those receiving them. We even looked at rates of misreported statistics – if a study reports, say, '2 + 2 = 5', we know that there must be a problem with at least some of the numbers. All told, we analysed more than 450 research articles. What we found is a study in contrasts.

Around 20 per cent of ESTs performed well across a majority of our metrics (eg, problem-solving therapy for depression, interpersonal psychotherapy for bulimia nervosa, the aforementioned exposure therapy for specific phobias). This means not only that the therapies have been subjected to clinical trials, but that the evidence produced from these clinical trials seems credible and supports the claim that the EST will help people. We also found a 'murky middle': 30 per cent of ESTs had mixed results across metrics, performing neither consistently well nor poorly (eg, cognitive therapy for depression, interpersonal psychotherapy for binge-eating disorder).

That leaves 50 per cent of ESTs with subpar outcomes across most of our metrics (eg, eye-movement desensitisation and reprocessing for PTSD, interpersonal psychotherapy for depression). In other words, although these ESTs seemed to work based on the claims of the clinical trials cited by the Society of Clinical Psychology, we found the evidence from these trials lacked statistical credibility. For these ESTs, the relevant research results are sufficiently ambiguous that we cannot be sure that they really do work better than other forms of therapy.

There is a large, dense body of literature showing that psychotherapy usually helps those who seek it out. Our results don't challenge that conclusion. What does it mean, though, if the evidence behind the therapies thought to be best supported by research is not as strong as one would hope?

One conclusion we draw is that we might be in need of what we're calling 'psychological reversal'. The term, a version of what the US medical scholars Vinay Prasad and Adam Cifu called medical reversal, argues for desisting from the use of psychological practices if they are found to be ineffective, inadvertently harmful or more expensive to employ than equally effective alternatives. If some ESTs lack credible evidence that they are superior to simpler, less costly and time-consuming forms of therapy, shifting resources towards the latter group of treatments will benefit therapy clients and all those bearing the costs of mental-health care.

The other conclusion is a lesson in humility for those who provide therapy (one of the authors of this article among them). For close to a century, psychologists have debated the 'dodo bird hypothesis'. Deriving its name from the proclamation of the Dodo Bird in Alice in Wonderland ('Everybody has won and all must have prizes!'), the dodo bird hypothesis suggests that different forms of psychotherapy perform equally well, and that this is because of the common factors of all therapies (eg, they all provide clients with a rationale for the therapy). The existence of ESTs seems to refute the hypothesis, demonstrating that some therapies do work better than others for certain mental-health conditions. We put forward a different possibility: the 'do not know' bird hypothesis. Given the problems with credibility we found across many clinical trials, we contend that we currently do not know in many cases if some therapies perform better than others. Of course, this also means we do not know if the majority of therapies are equally effective, and, if such equality exists, we do not know if it owes to common factors. When it comes to comparing psychotherapies, therapists could do worse than to channel every philosophy undergrad: when someone purports one therapy works better than another, wonder aloud: 'How do we know?'

Psychotherapy could be on the verge of a renaissance. Research on mental-illness treatment can benefit greatly from the lessons psychology has learned about credibility. For example, investigators can ensure that their studies have sufficient power; that is, enough participants in a clinical trial to reliably detect if a psychotherapy works. They can also practise open science by making their datasets publicly available so that other researchers can verify that a trial's statistics are reported accurately; and/or preregister their therapy trials, specifying in advance their methods and hypotheses, which makes the research process transparent and helps prevent the burying of negative findings.

Ethical therapists can continue to engage in practice that is evidence-based, not eminence-based, rooting their therapies in scientific evidence rather than their own conjecture or that of senior colleagues. They can also continue the routine outcome measurement many already employ: solicit therapy clients' feedback early and often, be open to surprise about what's working and what's not, and adjust accordingly. Clients can ask their therapists upfront if they will offer the opportunity for such mutual assessment of their progress.

Therapy helps the vast majority of those who receive it. Happily – if the discipline embraces reform in research, and cultivates a humble, flexible approach to therapy – it could help even more.Aeon counter – do not remove

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

Emotions have a powerful part to play in both our behavioural choices and our health.


Experiencing a range of positive emotions has been associated with lower levels of inflammation, for example, and emotional control has even been linked to higher performance in sportspeople. Negative emotions, too, can have a serious impact on behaviour: research has investigated the emotional triggers of self-harm, for instance.

Now new research from Charles Dorison and colleagues at Harvard University, published in PNAS, has looked at the role of negative emotions in addiction. Though some theories say negative mood in general is associated with problematic substance use, the study suggests that, for tobacco at least, it's sadness per se that is related to addiction.

For their first study, the team looked at data from a national survey that tracked 10,685 people over 20 years. It found that sadness significantly predicted smoking status — something that no other emotion, positive or negative, did. There seemed to be a long-term effect, too: sadness reported at the first phase of the data predicted smoking ten and twenty years later.

In the second study, which looked at cravings for cigarettes, 425 smokers were placed into three conditions: sadness, disgust and neutral. Those in the sadness condition were shown a clip from the notoriously tear-jerking Pixar film Up, and were then asked to write about a time they themselves had experienced significant loss, like the elderly man in the film.

Participants in the disgust condition were shown another iconic film clip: the scene from Trainspotting in which Ewan McGregor roots around in a decidedly unclean toilet. They were then asked to write about an unsanitary experience in their own life. And in the neutral condition, participants viewed a video about furniture making and were asked to write about their work.

Before and after watching the clips, participants were asked three questions about how much they were craving cigarettes — and, once again, sadness was related to tobacco use. Sadness increased craving compared to both the neutral and disgusted states, the latter of which appeared to decrease cravings (perhaps rather unsurprisingly, although the effect wasn't statistically significant).

A third study again looked at cravings, asking 760 participants to watch either neutral or sad videos, and then indicate whether they'd prefer to have a few puffs of a cigarette immediately, or wait to have more puffs after a small delay. Those in the sadness condition were far more impatient, craving fewer puffs sooner than those in the neutral condition.

And in a final study, 158 smokers were asked to abstain from smoking for at least eight hours, with their breath verified through a carbon monoxide test. Participants were again asked to watch either a sad or neutral video. They then smoked a cigarette through a device that measures volume, speed and duration of puffs. Mirroring previous results, smokers in the sadness condition were both more impatient and smoked more per puff.

Though the findings certainly do present a strong argument for an emotion-specific model for smoking cessation, there were things left unaddressed. Only one of the experimental studies looked at other negative emotions (i.e. disgust, induced by watching the Trainspotting clip). Concluding that sadness is more potent than other negative emotional states may be too strong a statement — we have no idea how anxiety, fear or anger, for example, could trigger tobacco use.

It may also be worth conducting further research on the link between negative emotions and other addictive substances: the relationship between sadness and heroin use, for example, may be entirely different.

But encouraging people to give up smoking is not an insignificant health intervention: in both the US and the UK, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death, and one billion more premature deaths worldwide are expected to occur because of smoking by the end of the century. Understanding that, for many, smoking is not just habit-based but is deeply entwined with emotions may be a good way to develop anti-smoking programmes that work for everyone.

Sadness, but not all negative emotions, heightens addictive substance use

Emily Reynolds (@rey_z) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest.

Reprinted with permission of The British Psychological Society. Read the original article.

  • In "The Science of Storytelling," journalist Will Storr investigates the science behind great storytelling.
  • While good plots are important, Storr writes that great stories revolve around complex characters.
  • As in life, readers are drawn to flawed characters, yet many writers become too attached to their protagonists.

We are all hallucinating. No one dropped LSD into the water supply—they didn't have to. "Reality," an ambiguous term coined to denote a common set of shared facts, is a construction we've created in an attempt to comfort us that a master plan exists. It does not.

In his latest book, "The Science of Storytelling," journalist and novelist Will Storr opens with a simple yet disconcerting message: "Humans might be in unique possession of the knowledge that our existence is essentially meaningless, but we carry on as if in ignorance of it."

This is why we're all hallucinating. We're not living reality as much as constructing one based on personal history and environment. Over 7 billion human animals walking around, telling ourselves stories about ourselves, using them as emotional shields to guard against the ravages of an indifferent universe.

That's how powerful stories are.

Pouring over his notes from years of teaching creative writing, as well as research from his previous works (including "The Unpersuadables" about science deniers, and "Selfie" about our obsession with ourselves), Storr has written a masterful guide to storytelling. Compact and illuminating, the book combines the last century of neuroscience with 4,000 years of written storytelling to pinpoint what makes stories effective, and what does not.

Becoming better at writing stories "is simply a matter of peering inwards, at the mind itself, and asking how it does it." At its best, a story mirrors the complexity of the human condition without the fear of danger that occurs in real life.

"It's a rollercoaster, but not one made from ramps, rails and steel wheels, but from love, hope, dread, curiosity, status play, constriction, release, unexpected change and moral outrage. Story is a thrill-ride of control."

There is also, it should be noted, the development of empathy. Storr notes that the invention of the novel may have helped kick off the idea of human rights. Understanding the plight and experiences of others would have been impossible on any meaningful scale before this format was introduced. With the novel, other worlds were exposed. Even in our visual realm of tweet-sized stories, such an ability to communicate across borders still matters.

While no summation can perfectly capture the totality of this exceptional book, below are five techniques for becoming a better storyteller. As with any good read, Storr takes the advice he's spent years studying and teaching. He's an excellent writer. Reading "The Science of Storytelling" is in itself a pleasure.

Change Matters

As neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás points out, all life is based on prediction. Even unicellular organisms detect changes in the environment and either embrace them (food; sex) or flee (predators). Humans are no different. We depend on and react to environmental changes all the time: the deer bounding across the street breaking up the monotony of a long drive; the distracted ambivalence of a scorned lover; the anxiety-creating noise of your phone's alerts. We are primed for change.

Good stories require that a character changes. The best require that the protagonist faces an ultimate challenge, forcing them to confront life-altering change. As mentioned, we are all hallucinating reality all the time, so what happens when the illusion is exposed? Are we willing to explore our trauma and heal the scar tissue, or will we allow that pain to fester until death? Characters must be offered an opportunity for change or else the story never gets off the ground.

Cause and Effect

When a story is incomplete, writes literary scholar Jonathan Gottschall, our brain automatically fills in the gaps. This is part of the hallucination: we need everything to mean something. Religion is based on this neurological quirk: there must be a reason we're here. So too is our view on medicine and healing: for some, vaccines must cause autism because teasing apart the myriad other causes, from diet and genetics to environmental changes and toxic social structures, is too overwhelming to consider. We demand meaning, yet our brains are lazy, which is why we tend to believe the simplest explanations.

Storr writes that plots "that play too loose with cause and effect risk becoming confusing, because they're not speaking in the brain's language." Good stories are filled with cause and effect. As a writer, show the cause, don't tell it. If you refuse the reader will grow uninterested.

While this is a debate I'll likely have with fans until the end of time, season four of "Lost" lost me. There were way too many variables introduced that were dropped in the last two seasons. Too many effects, not enough causes.

Expose the Flaws

We are all flawed. You, me, Will Storr, every religious figure ever. Storr cites Joseph Campbell throughout his book, yet he doesn't include one of my favorites: "It is the imperfections of life that are lovable…it's Christ on the cross that becomes lovable." It's not the Son of God but the infallible man that makes him meaningful to followers.

Just as we crave meaning, we like to believe we're in control. Flaws often derive from the fact that control is also an illusion.

"We're all fictional characters. We're the partial, biased, stubborn creations of our own minds."

A character's "terrible power" comes from their belief that they're right; in that rightness they feel superior to others. All stories are ultimately about character. Plots are important but without convincing characters, they fall flat. The key to creating memorable characters is by exposing their flaws.

Will Storr, author of 'The Heretics', appears at a photocall prior to an event at the 30th Edinburgh International Book Festival, on August 13, 2013 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert/Getty Images

The Many Us

Many writers fail because they become too emotionally invested in their protagonist, which is often constructed from pieces of the writer. Another way to phrase it: the writer must be willing to expose their own flaws.

The Buddhist concept of no-self derives from the idea that none of us are ever one single thing. We're influenced by the environment we're in and the people we're around and the amount of caffeine we drink. We have much less willpower at night than in the morning. Our goals and desires shift by the hour. We are many people throughout the day.

"The difference," Storr writes, "is that in life, unlike in story, the dramatic question of who we are never has a final and truly satisfying answer." Humans are complex animals. We love stories that make us the hero. To be heroic requires recognizing the many conflicting desires and thoughts that make us what we are.

The Hero's Journey

Which is really what all of this is about: championing the hero. "Stories are tribal propaganda," Storr concludes. The modern storyteller is working with a different landscape than those past. "A unique quality of humans is that we've evolved the ability to think our way into many tribes simultaneously." We're no longer bound by the traditional tribal structure that dominated for hundreds of thousands of years, nor the caste system that commenced with the development of Harappan civilization. Today's hero transcends prior boundaries.

Though we cannot write off tribalism completely. We're still biologically Stone Age. Just because we have an opportunity to grow does not mean everyone chooses to. "A tribal challenge is existentially disturbing."

We all believe in stories, and all stories are inventions. If we lose our own hero narrative, depression and anxiety are certain to follow, so invested in our stories have we become. The best storytellers carry their hero through to the end. Their flaws result in transformation. It's what we all crave in a story because it's what we all desire, regardless of how illusive notions of control and closure actually are.

For the time being, while we're here, we're storytelling animals. Will Storr has contributed a wonderful guide of how to master the craft of invention. To pull a random quote from the formative years of my childhood, as Axl Rose sang, use your illusion.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."