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
  • A new study finds that rates of marijuana use and addiction have gone up in states that have recently legalized the drug.
  • The problem was most severe for those over age of 26, with cases of addiction rising by a third.
  • The findings complicate the debate around legalization.

In a complicating bit of news for proponents of legalization, a new study shows that the rates of Cannabis use disorder have gone up dramatically in states that have legalized weed. The spike was found to be particularly high for people over the age of 26 and under the age of 17.

Cannabis Use Disorder, is that when you get so high you can’t figure out how to smoke anymore?

Cannabis use disorder, also known as CUD or cannabis/marijuana addiction, is a psychological disorder described in DSM 5 as "the continued use of cannabis despite clinically significant impairment." This includes people being unable to cut down on their usage despite wanting to, those who often use it despite finding it severely impairs their ability to function, or those who are putting themselves in danger to secure access to the drug.

While an understanding that marijuana can be addictive has existed for some time, and the image of the pothead who smokes so much they can hardly function is prevalent in our society, the effects of legalization on addiction rates have somehow gone understudied until now. Importantly, previous studies had failed to consider usage rates amongst populations over the age of 25.

In the new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, focused on self-reported data on monthly drug use in four states where marijuana is now legal, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, from both before and after the drug was legalized in each state and compared it to others which have not yet legalized.

The data gave insights into the drug use habits of the respondents and specifically gave information about if they had smoked at all in the last month, the frequency of their drug use, and if they had ever had issues with how much they were using drugs.The researchers ultimately considered the responses of 505,796 individuals.

The increase in cannabis usage they found was considerable. The number of respondents over the age of 26 who claimed to have used the drug in the last month went up by 23% compared with their counterparts in states that have yet to legalize. Abuse of the drug by this group rose by 37%.

Teen usage rose by 25%, and addiction rates rose as well. This increase was small, though, and the authors have suggested it may be due to an unknown factor. The rate of usage or abuse for respondents between the ages of 18 and 25 did not increase at all.

After breaking the results down by demographics, the primary finding held; adults over the age of 26 are using marijuana more often when it is legalized, and they are starting to use it too much.

The grain of salt

As in any study where findings are self-reported, the exact numbers you see here should be taken with a grain of salt. They could be slightly higher or lower. As this study relies on people self-reporting their usage of a drug that is still illegal in many places, it is very possible that the apparent spike in addiction rates is caused by more accurate reporting, as people who live in an area where pot is still illegal may be less likely to report smoking it every day.

And it should be repeated a thousand times over that correlation and causation are not the same thing. There could be some unknown factor causing these increases in each case.

Despite these qualifications, the study is still useful in giving us a general sense of what may happen in states that have yet to legalize.

What does this mean for society and drug users?

While claims of "reefer madness" are greatly exaggerated, marijuana has several well established and thoroughly studied side effects. While occasional use isn't terribly harmful, addiction can be. Lead author Magdalena Cerdá of New York University explains in the study that heavy marijuana use is associated with "psychological and physical health concerns, lower educational attainment, decline in social class, unemployment, and motor vehicle crashes."

A substantial increase in the number of people who are addicted to the stuff will incur costs to society down the line.

Of course, a 37% increase in problematic usage means that the percentage of adults smoking too much went from .9% to 1.23% of the population responding to the survey. This makes it far less prevalent than issues with alcohol, which affected around 6% of all Americans in 2018.

Recently, Big Think's Philip Perry wrote a piece about how legalization could improve the health of millions by allowing the government to regulate the purity of commercially sold marijuana. This remains true. However, it must be weighed against the findings of this study, which suggests that at least some of these health gains will be wiped out by increased addiction rates.

What does this mean for legalization efforts?

The legalization steamroller will undoubtedly keep rolling along. While health concerns are one factor in the debate over marijuana, it is only one of many. In Illinois, where I live, weed will become legal on January 1st of 2020. The legalization campaign and legislation were more concerned with issues of social justice, the failures of prohibition, and finding a new source of tax revenue (since we're half broke) than with matters of potential addiction.

As Vox reports, the authors of the study aren't suggesting that legalization shouldn't take place; that is another, broader debate. They merely wish to present the fact that legalization has a particular side effect that we should be aware of.

While this study is unlikely to change anybody's stance on if weed should be legalized or not, it does show us a critical element to be considered when discussing drug policy. No drug is perfectly safe, and we have reason to believe that legalizing marijuana will mean that more people will have a hard time with it. Let's hope that legalization proponents keep that in mind as they rack up their victories.

  • The bill aims to decriminalize marijuana and expunge federal convictions, among other provisions.
  • To become law, it still has to pass through the Republican-controlled Senate.
  • A majority of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana, according to a recent Pew survey.

A bill that would decriminalize and deschedule marijuana at the federal level passed 24 to 10 in the House Judiciary Committee, marking the first time a Congressional body has approved legalization-related legislation.

The bill — called the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019 — aims to:

  • Remove marijuana as a federally controlled substance
  • Expunge federal convictions and arrests for marijuana
  • Create a Cannabis Justice Office that would levy a 5% tax on marijuana sales in states that have already legalized the drug
  • Allocate federal resources to communities that have been negatively impacted by the war on drugs
  • Allow the Small Business Administration to issue loans and grants to marijuana-related businesses

Under MORE, states would still be able to decide whether or not to legalize marijuana, or expunge convictions. To become federal law, the MORE Act would have to pass through other House committees, and it would then face the more difficult task of passing through the Republican-controlled Senate, where conservative leadership could choose not to consider the bill. Of the 24 House Judiciary Committee members who approved MORE, two were Republican: Matt Gaetz of Florida and Tom McClintock of California.

The More Act was introduced by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and co-sponsored by more than 50 lawmakers.

"These steps are long overdue," Nadler said in a statement. "For far too long, we have treated marijuana as a criminal justice problem instead of a matter of personal choice and public health. Whatever one's views on the use of marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes, arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating users at the federal level is unwise and unjust."

Most Americans seem to agree. In a November 2019 survey from the Pew Research Center, more than half of U.S. adults said medical and recreational marijuana should be legal, with only 8 percent of adults saying it should be illegal in all forms.

Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized both recreational and medicinal marijuana, while medicinal marijuana is available in 33 states and the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A (mostly) partisan issue

Despite public support, it seems many Republicans are at least skeptical, if not outright opposed, to pursuing marijuana legislation.

"I don't think a majority of the Republicans will support this bill," Colorado Republican and Committee member Ken Buck, said Wednesday. "It is even less likely that the Senate would take it up. Therefore, I would just suggest that we deal with other bills that we can get a much larger bipartisan support from."

Meanwhile, almost all of the Democratic 2020 presidential candidates support marijuana legalization, except former Vice President Joe Biden. During the primary debate on Wednesday, Biden opposed legalizing marijuana at the federal level, suggesting more scientific research is needed to see whether it's a "gateway drug." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees that more research is needed, but notes that the "majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, "harder" substances."

The costs of prohibition

Even if there are social costs to legalization, prohibition isn't free. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates there were 8.2 million marijuana-related arrests in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010, with police spending about $4,390 per arrest and $73,170 per felony conviction. For cases that didn't lead to conviction, individuals might have spent thousands of dollars on legal services or fines related to the charge.

The MOVE Act might not become law, but many legalization advocates see it as a promising sign in the broader fight against the war on drugs.

"Today's vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition's days are numbered," Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), told Forbes.

  • Open letters are welcome in an academic environment, but they should meet certain criteria to be considered valid.
  • While scholars are always encouraged to share their critique of a published work or body of research, they must engage with the same ethical principles as expected in other scholarly discourse.
  • The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.

  • In 2016, observations from Hungarian researchers suggested the existence of an unknown type of subatomic particle.
  • Subsequent analyses suggested that this particle was a new type of boson, the existence of which could help explain dark matter and other phenomena in the universe.
  • A new paper from the same team of researchers is currently awaiting peer review.

Physicists have long known of four fundamental forces of nature: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force.

Now, they might have evidence of a fifth force.

The discovery of a fifth force of nature could help explain the mystery of dark matter, which is proposed to make up around 85 percent of the universe's mass. It could also pave the way for a unified fifth force theory, one that joins together electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces as "manifestations of one grander, more fundamental force," as theoretical physicist Jonathan Feng put it in 2016.

The new findings build upon a study published in 2016 that offered the first hint of a fifth force.

In 2015, a team of physicists at Hungary's Institute for Nuclear Research was looking for "dark photons," which are hypothetical particles believed to "carry" dark matter. To catch a glimpse of these strange forces at work, the team used a particle accelerator to shoot particles through a vacuum tube at high speeds. The goal was to observe the way isotopes decay after thrust into high-energy states — anomalies in the way particles behave could suggest the presence of unknown forces.

So, the team closely watched the radioactive decay of beryllium-8, an unstable isotope. When the particles from beryllium-8 decayed, the team observed unexpected light emissions: The electrons and positrons from the unstable isotope tended to burst away from each other at exactly 140 degrees. This shouldn't have happened, according to the law of conservation of energy. The results suggested that an unknown particle was created in the decay.

A new type of boson

A team of researchers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), proposed that the unknown particle was not a dark photon, but rather a boson — specifically, a "protophobic X boson," which would be indicative of a fifth fundamental force. In simple terms, bosons are particles in quantum mechanics that carry energy, and function as the "glue" that holds matter together and controls the interactions between physical forces.

As Big Think's Robby Berman wrote in 2016:

"[In] the Standard Model of Physics, each of the four fundamental forces has a boson to go with it - the strong force has gluons, the electromagnetic force is carried by particles of light, or photons, and the weak force is carried by W and Z bosons. The new boson proposed by the UCI researchers is unlike others and as such may point to a new force. The new boson has the intriguing characteristic of interacting only with electrons and neutrons at short distances, while electromagnetic forces normally act on protons and electrons."

The X17 particle

In the new paper, published on the preprint archive arXiv, the Hungarian team observed similar evidence for a new boson, which they refer to as the X17 particle, as its mass is calculated to be about 17 megaelectronvolts. This time, however, the observations come from the decay of an isotope of helium.

"This feature is similar to the anomaly observed in 8Be, and seems to be in agreement with the X17 boson decay scenario," the researchers wrote in their paper. "We are expecting more, independent experimental results to come for the X17 particle in the coming years."

A 'revolutionary' discovery

The discovery of a fifth force of nature would provide a glimpse into the "dark sector", which in general describes yet-unobservable forces that can't readily be described by the Standard Model. Strangely, the subatomic particles in this hidden layer of our universe hardly interact with the more observable particles of the Standard Model.

A fifth force could scientists better understand how these two layers coexist.

"If true, it's revolutionary," Weng said in 2016. "For decades, we've known of four fundamental forces: gravitation, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. If confirmed by further experiments, this discovery of a possible fifth force would completely change our understanding of the universe, with consequences for the unification of forces and dark matter."

Without Dark Matter, It's Unlikely That Any of Us Would Exist at ...

  • When the New Horizons probe originally visited Arrokoth, the most distant celestial body to have ever been visited by a spacecraft, NASA researchers nicknamed the body "Ultima Thule."
  • Thule refers to a distant mythological civilization. Although it originated in ancient Greek and Roman literature, the Nazis co-opted the term to refer to a mythological homeland of the Aryan people.
  • The new name, Arrokoth, is Powhatan for "sky."

The object formerly known as Ultima Thule has two claims to fame. For one, it became the most distant object in the solar system to be visited by a spacecraft on January 1st, 2019, when the New Horizons space probe sailed past it. It's also well known for being named after a mythological forgotten civilization that the Nazis claimed to have descended from.

Backlash over the Nazi connection resulted in NASA recently changing the object's name to Arrokoth, which means "sky" in the Powhatan language.

Thule (pronounced THEW-lee) was originally the northernmost location mentioned in Greek and Roman documents, which was later taken to be a reference to Greenland, Iceland, or Norway. Ultima Thule, Latin for "farthermost Thule," also became a way of metaphorically referring to any distant place — hence NASA's decision to name Arrokoth after the faraway, mythological land.

But under European occult thinkers in the 20th century, Thule took on new meaning. Far-right German occultists began to believe that Thule was the origin of the Aryan race, sometimes conflating it with the other lost, mythological civilizations of Atlantis or Hyperborea.

The bulk of these musings took place in the Thule Society, an esoteric group with many members in the German Workers' Party, the political party that was famously later reorganized into the National Socialist German Workers' Party by Adolf Hitler.

Like the swastika and Charlie Chaplin's mustache, the once-innocent (if a little wacky) notion of Thule has become associated with Nazis. Researchers defended their decision to name the distant planetesimal after the mythological land. "I've said it a number of times, I think New Horizons is an example — one of the best examples in our time — of raw exploration, and the term Ultima Thule, which is very old, many centuries old, possibly over a thousand years old, is a wonderful meme for exploration," said Dr. Alan Stern, the principal investigator of New Horizons project, during a press conference after the initial controversy. "That's why we chose it. I would say that just because some bad guys once liked that term, we're not going to let them hijack it."

Its replacement is a decided improvement, however, particularly since Arrokoth will hopefully not be the furthermost object humans ever visit. Lori Glaze, the director of planetary science division at NASA, told the New York Times that the name was chosen to honor the indigenous Powhatan people of Maryland.

"The (old) temporary and permanent names are not connected — the team chose the Algonquian/Powhatan word for 'sky' — Arrokoth — as a tribute to the indigenous peoples of the Chesapeake region," said Dr. Glaze. "In particular, the New Horizons mission and Hubble Space Telescope are operated out of Maryland and the Chesapeake region and were critical to finding and studying the farthest object ever encountered by spacecraft."

What's special about Arrokoth?

Ultima Thuler/Arrokoth

A 3D animation of Arrokoth.

NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

As for Arrokoth itself, the object has a peculiar, snowman-like shape consisting of two small orbs measuring 14 miles and 9 miles across, respectively, which researchers believed were separate objects that crashed together at one point, possibly demonstrating how larger objects like planets initially form. The planetesimal appears to be covered in water ice, methanol, and tholins — complex organic compounds resulting from cosmic radiation that give Arrokoth its rust-red color. It floats roughly 4 billion miles away from Earth in a region of our solar system known as the Kuiper belt, a massive disc of asteroids made of rock, metal, and frozen chemicals that envelops Pluto, New Horizons' original and primary target.

Arrokoth was selected to be visited by New Horizons primarily due to fuel concerns and the possible scientific value of its observations. Fortunately, New Horizons will have enough power to operate until the 2030s and may even give another go at exploring distant Kuiper belt objects in the 2020s. No doubt the next object will be given a more thoroughly vetted name.