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.

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I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.


It took me some time – I'm a classic late bloomer – but just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Mental health disorders are complicated. There are 22 sections of criteria and codes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – and that's just for anxiety. Meanwhile, the psychiatric literature on depression is enormous, with hundreds of scholarly articles and books published in the past two years alone.

One thing we seem to know for certain is that, somehow, anxiety and depression made it through the evolutionary process.

“Since antiquity," writes William Styron in “Darkness Made Visible: A Memoir of Madness," “in the tortured lament of Job, in the choruses of Sophocles and Aeschylus – chroniclers of the human spirit have been wrestling with a vocabulary that might give proper expression to the desolation of melancholia."

My first anxiety attacks happened early in life. By the time I was 13, I knew the signs: quickened breathing and an increased heart rate, blurry vision, sweaty palms, and sudden fight or flight impulses. Once, when on deck to bat in Little League, I became so panicked I dropped my bat and fled the ball field. I rode my bike all the way home, barely able to see five feet in front of me.

Growing up, I also spent countless hours drawing. I drew or scribbled on every scrap of paper I could find, and I copied those funny characters that appeared on the back of each week's issue of TV Guide. While I took one art class in high school, I was mostly self-taught. I always knew I loved to draw, but I never wondered why. It was just something I did.

As I grew older, I continued to suffer from panic attacks and depressive episodes, which I managed to hide from others. I eventually became a theater professor at Penn State University, where I still teach today. In addition to teaching history and literature, I make autobiographical solo performance pieces. But in 2014, my sister died after spending two years in a vegetative state due to a traumatic brain injury. It was as if the one thread capable of unraveling my entire life was pulled.

Drawing became almost an obsession.

'Sister Sam.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)

I did over 200 drawings of my sister and eventually created a play and solo performance piece titled “Drifting." I visually archived her journey to death. In the midst of this, I started what became the Anxiety Project, which now contains over 500 drawings and two performance pieces. I didn't really think too much about its purpose. I just knew I had to make drawings about anxiety and depression.

I made a lot of this work without any initial plans to share it. I was just trying to survive. As I slowly began to share some of the work, there was a strange mix of relief from sharing my feelings and dread that the work would ultimately fail to mean anything to others, or that people would think I was crazy for making this kind of work. (These same feelings have cropped up while writing this article.)

And then I pretty much crashed. I still couldn't emerge from my grief or separate it from my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression.

'Time Lies.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)

I was in trouble. And I knew I had to get help. So I started to tell my wife and family the truth – that this struggle went beyond the death of my sister, that for most of my life, I had been in an almost constant battle with anxiety and depression, and that I was afraid I was finally losing and might go crazy. I found an excellent therapist. I started doing the hard work of living with my anxiety and depression honestly and openly, which, for me, includes taking an antidepressant. Acknowledging and accepting the need for medication was perhaps the most difficult stigma to face. I felt like a failure. Getting past that feeling took some time.

'Dark/Light.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)

Living openly with my anxiety and depression has helped me better understand my drawing and creative work as efforts to make meaning out of the volcanic feelings of fear and despair – and the almost catatonic shutdowns that could happen inside me at any time.

This new understanding eventually led me to become intentional about drawing as a way to imagine myself as mentally healthy, rather than define myself by my mental illness. I drew upon the work of artists like Frederick Franck and his books “The Zen of Seeing" and “The Awakened Eye," which outline simple meditative approaches to drawing.

I work almost solely in ink- and water-based mediums because of the gestural and fluid ways I can translate feelings into lines and movement of color. I draw every day, and sometimes I'll simply draw what I see – birds, flowers, landscapes, people, myself – to stay grounded in the here and now.

'RoseHips Meditation.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)

Sharing what it's like to live with anxiety and depression feels like undressing in front of strangers, but I thought it might help decrease stigma, which nearly 90% of people with mental health problems say has a negative effect on their lives.

As I learned more about the connection between drawing, wellness and stigma, it turns out that I was onto something.

In 2016, psychologist Jennifer Drake and her team of researchers studied the benefits of drawing over four consecutive days, and discovered that the simple daily act has benefits. “You can get a positive effect with just 15 minutes of drawing," she concludes. “Drawing to distract is a simple and powerful way to elevate mood, at least in the short term." Meanwhile, researchers across many scientific fields have explored the ways art making can combat stigma about mental illness.

As Jenny Lawson writes in “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things," “When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive."

For me, it was the kind of shame that shepherds you right into the waiting arms of the stigma around mental illness. I needed to find a way through – for myself and, hopefully, for others.

Art became the way.

'17 million.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)

William Doan, Professor of Theatre, Pennsylvania State University.

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

  • A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
  • The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
  • The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.

Countless studies have been done on the health benefits of sex - from an orgasm giving you clearer skin and a boosted immune system, to the physical activity keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level. A lowered risk of heart disease, the ability to block pain, a lowered risk of prostate cancer, less stress which leads to improved sleeping patterns...all of these are proven benefits of sexual activity.

The health benefits of sex have been studied again and again, and yet, there are still new things we're learning about the benefits on the human body and brain.

    Study links sexual activity to higher cognitive function in old age

    concept of elderly brain cognitive function healthy brain

    The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men and a significant association between sexual activity in word recall in women.

    Image by Jirsak on Shutterstock

    Cognitive function has been associated with various physical, psychological, and emotional patterns in older adults - from lifestyle to quality of life, loneliness, and mood changes as well as physical activity levels.

    A 2016 joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher/better cognitive abilities in older age.

    This longitudinal study used a newly available wave of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to explore the connections between sexual activity in the older population (50+) with cognitive function.

    The study consisted of 6,833 participants between the ages of 50-89 years old.

    Two different cognitive function tests were analyzed:

    • Number sequencing, which broadly relates to the brain's executive functions.
    • Word recall, which relates to the brain's memory functions.

    The results of these tests were then adjusted to account for each person's gender, age, education level, wealth, physical activity, and mental health. The reason for this is that the researchers noticed there are often biases in other studies that examine the links between sexual activity and overall health.

    For example, in this scenario, without taking those things into account, healthy older Italian men with a continued interest in sex would score higher on these tests. Women, who are more likely to become widowed and lose their sexual partner, would score lower.

    The results...

    While studying the impact of sexual activity on overall health, there are not many studies that focus on the link between sexual activity and cognitive function, and no other study that focuses on sexual activity and cognitive function in older adults.

    The results of this one-of-a-kind study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.

    You can see the breakdown of this information here.

    Why were the results for males and females so different?

    old women drawing concept of cognitive ability in older women

    One of the highlights of this study was exploring the differences sexual activity has in cognitive function in older males and older females.

    Photo by Gligatron on Shutterstock

    Exploring the differences when it comes to the improved cognitive ability between the older males and the older females in this study was one of the highlights of the research.

    Testosterone versus oxytocin

    Testosterone, which is the male sex hormone, reacts very differently to the brain than oxytocin, which is released in females during sexual activity.

    Testosterone plays a key role in many different areas such as muscle mass, facial and pubic hair development, and mood changes. It also impacts your sex drive and your verbal memory and thinking ability.

    Testosterone belongs to a class of male hormones, and although the ovaries of a woman do produce minimal amounts of testosterone, it's not enough to compare the impacts on the male and female bodies.

    Oxytocin, on the other hand, is produced in the male and female bodies quite similarly, but ultimately the hormone reacts differently in the female body, triggering the portion of the brain responsible for emotion, motivation, and reward.

    These differences in testosterone and oxytocin may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.

    Women's ability for memory recall remains a mystery…

    Another study, this time back in 1997, looked at the relationship between gender and episodic memory. The results of this study proved that women have a higher level of performance on episodic memory tasks (for example, recalling childhood memories) than men. The reason for this was not further explored in this study and has remained something of a mystery, even now.

    The female brain deteriorates during menopause.

    Women very commonly struggle with memory-related problems during and post-menopause. This could be the reason why the original study proved older men had a higher cognitive ability in number sequencing than older women.

    Along with menopause-related cognitive decline, women are also at a higher risk for memory impairment and dementia compared to men.

    Lead researcher of the original 2016 study, Dr. Hayley Wright, from Coventry University, explains:

    "Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are and whether there is a 'cause and effect' relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people."

    • A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication.
    • Analyzing the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated over eight years, the team developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch.
    • The words people stretch are not arbitrary but rather have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out.

    What? whaat. WHAT? Whaaaattt?

    While all of the above are expressions of confusion, you understand them to mean slightly different things. That's based upon the way you imagine the word to sound signified by the repetition of or emphasis put on certain letters. The underlying meaning imbued within our vernacular, slang, and deliberately misspelled words is how we lace our digital communication with human emotion.

    Which has, coincidentally, proved to be one of the major challenges for language-processing artificial intelligence. But scientists are trying, and they're studying our Twitter lingo to bring computers up to speed on how humans really communicate.

    Balance and Stretch

    Photo credit: Dole777 / Unsplash

    Over the last two decades, social media has provided scientists with a trove of free information about human behavior and language. A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication. They created a method to essentially quantify the semantic nuances in between stretched words, like "right" vs. "riiiiiight," with the aim to teach future AI algorithms human digital colloquialisms.

    "Written communication has recently begun encoding new forms of expression, including the emotional emphasis delivered by stretching words out," said Chris Danforth, professor of Mathematics & Statistics in the Vermont Complex Systems Center and member of the research team behind the study.

    In their study, published last week in the journal PLOS One, the team analyzed the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated from 2008 to 2016. They developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch. For example hahahaha would be considered a stretched world high on balance while a term like wtffffff has stretch but little balance as only one letter, f, contributes to the stretchiness. This means to put emphasis on the world abbreviated by the letter "f".

    "With so much communication happening electronically these days, we're all trying to find ways to convey emotion through text. Emojis are helping, but the visual effect of 30 consecutive vowels in a curse word turns a bland profanity into a form of art," Danforth said.

    Interestingly, the use of elongated words was found across languages. For example, "kkkkkkk" signifies laughter in Brazilian Portuguese while "wkwkwkwkwkwk" expresses it in Indonesian, according to the researchers.

    Beyond the dictionary 

    Ultimately, this project could help artificial intelligence algorithms understand critical intrinsic meanings contained in the idiosyncratic variations in our communicative text or other linguistic symbols, such as punctuation and emojis.

    Dictionary definitions hardly reflect the way that we actually communicate with one another digitally. What the researchers found, though, is that the words people stretch out aren't arbitrary. Rather, they have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out. Colloquial digital language is, after all, a system of symbols and for it to transfer meaning we must all be "in" on the patterns.

    This research suggests that by gaining understanding into stretched words used on social media opens more doors to helping AI better understand our slang. Tools and methods were developed that could be useful in future studies, for example investigations of intentional mis-typings and misspellings.

    What benefits come from AI algorithms better understanding our digital lingo? For one, it's possible that new tools could be applied to improve natural language processing, search engines, and spam filters.

    "We were able to comprehensively collect and count stretched words like 'gooooooaaaalll' and 'hahahaha'," the researchers said in a press release, "and map them across the two dimensions of overall stretchiness and balance of stretch, while developing new tools that will also aid in their continued linguistic study, and in other areas, such as language processing, augmenting dictionaries, improving search engines, analyzing the construction of sequences, and more."

    • Asking kids 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' is a question that used to make sense, says Jaime Casap. But it not longer does; the nature of automation and artificial intelligence means future jobs are likely to shift and reform many times over.
    • Instead, educators should foster a culture of problem solving. Ask children: What problem do you want to solve? And what talents or passions do you have that can be the avenues by which you solve it?
    • "[T]he future of education starts on Monday and then Tuesday and then Wednesday and it's constant and consistent and it's always growing, always improving, and if we create that culture I think that would bring us a long way," Casap says.

    This video is part of Z 17 Collective's Future of Learning series, which asks education thought leaders what learning can and should look like in the midst and wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

    • Rare fossil evidence of dinosaur cannibalism among the Allosaurus has been discovered.
    • Scientists analyzed dinosaur bones found in the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in western Colorado, paying special attention to bite marks that were present on 2,368 of the bones.
    • It's likely that the predatory carnivore only ate their already-dead peers during times when resources were scarce.

    Rare fossil evidence of dinosaur cannibalism has been discovered by paleontologists in a large quarry near the Utah-Colorado border.

    According to a study published last week, May 27, in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists analyzed dinosaur bones found in the Mygatt-Moore Quarry in western Colorado. In their examination, the researchers paid special attention to bite marks that were present on the bones. While many bone-bites were identified as originating from theropod dinosaurs, a diverse group of bipedal dinosaurs, there were cases where it was found that the bite marks were from the same genus as the bitten. Specifically, it appears that the predatorial beast Allosaurus, a type of theropod, occasionally dined on its own kind, making this an exceptionally rare finding of dinosaur cannibalism.

    Desperate times call for cannibalism

    While scavenging and even cannibalism is relatively common among today's predators, the Allosaurus probably didn't eat their peers as a staple meal. According to Stephanie Drumheller, the study's lead author, they were likely driven to turn to cannibalism as a last resort when times were scarce in food supply.

    "Big theropods like Allosaurus probably weren't particularly picky eaters, especially if their environments were already strapped for resources.'' said Drumheller, a paleontologist in the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, in a statement. "Scavenging and even cannibalism were definitely on the table."

    The Mygatt-Moore Quarry is home to thousands of dinosaur bones dating back to the late Jurassic period, somewhere in the ballpark of 150 million years ago. When the quarry was at its prime, it was thriving with lush vegetation making it a cushy home for many large dinosaur species, including the long-necked lizard Apatosaurus. The new study suggests, however, that at some point this dino sanctuary fell on some hard times, which forced local carnivores to scavenge for bits of meat from the picked-over carcasses of dead dinosaurs.

    Study Findings

    Fig 4. Dry season at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry showing Ceratosaurus and Allosaurus fighting over the desiccated carcass of another theropod.

    Illustration by Brian Engh (dontmesswithdinosaurs.com)

    The researchers examined the bite marks on 2,368 dino bones from the quarry. Noting the width, depth, and pattern of the bite marks, the team was able to trace the chomp marks on the prey back to specific dinosaur species. Of those bones, 684, or 29 percent, were marked with at least one theropod bite. Many of those marks were imprinted by serrated teeth, suggesting to the researchers that Allosaurus (the most common theropod among the quarry's fossils) did a majority of the biting.

    Allosaurus tended to feast mostly on herbivores. Yet, 17 percent of their bite victims were other theropods. That included some fellow Allosauruses, making this the first solid chunk of evidence of cannibalism in the species; a deliciously novel discovery. Interestingly, however, most of the bite marks that the scientists examined didn't appear to be killing wounds. More than half of all bite-marks found on the victim were on bony parts with little meat like fingers, toes and spinal columns. Not exactly the cut of meat a hunter with first-dibs would choose, suggesting that they were scavenging for the bare scraps.

    Ultimately, these fossils tell a miserable story of dinosaurs down on their luck, left with no choice but to scrounge for measly scraps of meat off their own kin's rotting carcasses.