Courageous Collaborations: Difficult dialogue moves us forward

Sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation.


Are you courageous enough to collaborate with your enemies? 

  • Bishop Omar Jahwar has worked beside all kinds of unlikely allies, from Aryan Brotherhood gang leaders to former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
  • What is an enemy? A true enemy is rare, says Bishop Omar. "Enemies come when there is true violation, not true rhetoric... sometimes you have to go beyond the rhetoric so you can see the real."
  • You cannot solve deep problems from the comfort of an echo chamber—it takes courage. The key to courageous collaborations is meeting your so-called enemy to ask: "What do we fiercely agree upon? And let's work like hell to make it happen."

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. 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.

Why free speech is sacred—even when it's dangerous

  • Suppression of free speech dooms democracy, says law professor Nadine Strossen. We should all be open to hearing dangerous and odious ideas rather than drive them underground.
  • "[P]eople will often say to me, as somebody who is Jewish and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor who barely survived the Buchenwald Concentration Camp: How can I of all people defend the Nazis?" says Strossen. She also says, "And mark my words I would be equally distraught at having voices on the right silenced for a whole lot of reasons, one of which is the indivisibility of all rights."

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. 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.

Ideology drives us apart. Neuroscience can bring us back together. 

  • How can we reach out to people on the other side of the divide? Get to know the other person as a human being before you get to know them as a set of tribal political beliefs, says Sarah Ruger. Don't launch straight into the difficult topics—connect on a more basic level first.
  • To bond, use icebreakers backed by neuroscience and psychology: Share a meal, watch some comedy, see awe-inspiring art, go on a tough hike together—sharing tribulation helps break down some of the mental barriers we have between us. Then, get down to talking, putting your humanity before your ideology.

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations

I worked in the prison system for 5 years. Here's what it does to a person.

  • Most people who go to prison are not incorrigible criminals - just normal people who made mistakes.
  • The prison system can become breeding ground for antisocial behaviors.
  • Bishop Jahwar worked with prisoners to help them retain the core of who they were and "take masks off".

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. 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.

How the marketplace of ideas went rogue

  • The marketplace of ideas is a better metaphor than it's intended to be, notes Eli Pariser. As any good economist will tell you, the best product doesn't always rise to the top.
  • The institutional gatekeepers and experts who once kept checks and balances on the marketplace of ideas have been replaced by social media algorithms that reward emotion and outrage over expertise and truth.
  • How can media institutions like Facebook make this right? By reevaluating the business model that serves advertisers instead of readers, and by clearly stating their values—even if that means losing some of those 2 billion users.

The Charles Koch Foundation is committed to understanding what drives intolerance and the best ways to cure it. The foundation supports interdisciplinary research to overcome intolerance, new models for peaceful interactions, and experiments that can heal fractured communities. For more information, visit charleskochfoundation.org/courageous-collaborations. 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.

Why you should tolerate intolerable ideas

How free speech deepens the quality of good ideas.

Why the U.S. is an anomaly among democracies

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  • 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 ...

L-Randall-Dark-Matter-FULL+FB
  • 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.


  • The central dogma of biology states that genetic information flows from DNA to RNA to proteins, but new research suggests that this may not be the only way for life to work.
  • A sophisticated computer analysis revealed that millions of other molecules could be used to function in place of the two nucleic acids, DNA and RNA.
  • The results have important implications for developing new drugs, the origins of life on Earth, and its possible presence in the rest of the universe.


Simply put, the so-called central dogma of biology asserts that genetic information flows from DNA to RNA to proteins, and once that information is passed to a protein, it cannot be returned as DNA or RNA again. It's dubbed the central dogma because it seems to be universal amongst all living organisms. There are some exceptions to the linear flow described in the popular version of the central dogma — information can be passed back and forth between RNA and DNA or between DNA and DNA or RNA and RNA, but the central players remain the same: DNA, RNA, and proteins.

But what if this didn't have to be the case? Could genetic information be stored in media other than the two nucleic acids of DNA and RNA? New research published in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling suggests that there might not be just a handful of alternative molecules for storing genetic information, but millions.

Millions of useful targets

Central dogma of biology

The central dogma of biology asserts that the genetic information is transcribed from DNA to RNA, which then translates that information into useful products like proteins. This new research, however, suggests that DNA and RNA are just two options out of millions of others.

Shutterstock

Analogues to nucleic acids exist, many of which serve as the foundation for important drugs for treating viruses like HIV and hepatitis as well as for treating cancers, but until recently, no one was sure of how many unknown nucleic acid analogues could be out there.

"There are two kinds of nucleic acids in biology," said co-author Jim Cleaves, "and maybe 20 or 30 effective nucleic acid-binding nucleic acid analogues. We wanted to know if there is one more to be found or even a million more. The answer is, there seem to be many more than was expected."

Cleaves and colleagues decided to conduct a chemical space analysis — in essence, a sophisticated computer technique that generates all possible molecules that adhere to a set of defined criteria. In this case, the criteria were to find compounds that could serve as nucleic acid analogues and as a means of storing genetic information.

"We were surprised by the outcome of this computation," said co-author Markus Meringer. "It would be very difficult to estimate a priori that there are more than a million nucleic acid–like scaffolds. Now we know, and we can start looking into testing some of these in the lab."

Though no specific analogues were targeted in this paper, it does present a long list of candidates to be explored for use as drugs for serious diseases like HIV or cancer. A more intriguing possibility suggested by the research is that life itself may have taken its very first steps using one of these alternative compounds.

Many scientists believe that before DNA became the dominant means of storing genetic information, life used RNA to code genetic data and pass it down to offspring. In part, this is because RNA can directly produce proteins, which DNA can't do on its own, and because it's a simpler structure than DNA. Over time, life likely started to opt for using DNA for storage due to its greater stability and to rely on RNA as a kind of middleman for producing proteins. But RNA on its own is still a very complicated compound and is fairly unstable; in all likelihood, something simpler came before RNA, possibly using some of the nucleic acid analogues identified in this study.

A galaxy of nucleic acid analogues

Not only does this shed light on how life may have started on Earth, but it also has implications for alien life as well. Co-author Jay Goodwin said, "It is truly exciting to consider the potential for alternate genetic systems based on these analogous nucleosides — that these might possibly have emerged and evolved in different environments, perhaps even on other planets or moons within our solar system. These alternate genetic systems might expand our conception of biology's 'central dogma' into new evolutionary directions, in response and robust to increasingly challenging environments here on Earth."

When we search for extraterrestrial life, often we're looking for signs of RNA and DNA, but this may be an excessively narrow scope. After all, if millions of alternatives exist, there would need to be something very special indeed for life to universally favor using just DNA and RNA.

  • Globally we are adding about 3 million people to urban areas each week. Over the course of the year, this number can be equated to roughly 50 Chicagos.
  • This influx of people could make everyday life in urban areas more chaotic than ever. We will need a new playbook for how cities can better handle this massive influx of people.
  • With such population surges, we can use citizen-centric data—computational power—to make the infrastructure of cities run smoother and more efficiently.
  • Heliogen, a startup backed by Bill Gates and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, announces a solar energy breakthrough.
  • The company's array of mirrors generated heat of 1,000 degrees Celsius, nearly twice as much as before.
  • The startup aims to utilize the technology in industrial processes, significantly reducing gas emissions.


Heliogen, a solar-energy company backed by the the world's richest man, Bill Gates, claims to have made a renewable energy breakthrough. The company's array of mirrors generated a tremendous heat of 1,000 degrees Celsius, showing promise in replacing fossil fuels in major industrial processes.

The company is gearing its tech towards plants that manufacture cement, petrochemicals or steel. The replacement of fossil fuels in such industries could potentially lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that have been linked to climate change. Re-powering cement production alone with solar could wipe out up to 7% of carbon dioxide emissions around the world.

The way Heliogen's mirrors work is by concentrating light towards a point on a liquid-filled tower. This heats up the tower, creating thermal energy that can fuel a heat engine. Previous solar thermal systems would only go to 565 degrees, not producing enough power for many industrial operations that have achieved the required heat by burning up fossil fuels.

The company's system of mirrors is also noteworthy for its AI backend, supported by computer vision software that can align the large mirror array with precision to reflect sunlight onto a target. Of course, one wonders if this is going to have military applications.

Heliogen was founded by its CEO – the entrepreneur Bill Gross, who also founded Idealab. He called what Heliogen achieved "a technological leap forward" that can address about 75% of the world's energy demand that is currently not being served by clean energy.

"The world has a limited window to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions," said Gross, adding "With low-cost, ultra-high temperature process heat, we have an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to solving the climate crisis."

Bill Gates, who invested into the company, said in a press release he was "pleased to have been an early backer of Bill Gross's novel solar concentration technology. Its capacity to achieve the high temperatures required for these processes is a promising development in the quest to one day replace fossil fuel."

Based in Pasadena, California, the startup is staffed by scientists and engineers from top technical insinuations like Caltech and MIT. Among its other investors is the billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong and the venture capital firm Neotribe.

Explore Energy Innovation, with Michio Kaku

What's next for the startup? Having cracked 1,000 degrees, Heliogen aims to achieve temperates of up to 1,500 degrees Celsius. That amount of heat is necessary to make 100-percent fossil-free fuels like hydrogen or syngas. "If you can make hydrogen that's green, that's a gamechanger," explained Gross to CNN. "Long term, we want to be the green hydrogen company."