The Science, Philosophy, and Psychology of the Mind

Sponsored by the Hope & Optimism Initiative


Want to Be More Optimistic? Consider the Triumph of Human Reason

For once, an optimistic worldview is the one sparking controversy. Paul Bloom thinks humans are not prisoners to their emotions, but have great capacity for rationality and reason. This makes him an anomaly among his fellow psychologists, and philosophers and neuroscientists, who often argue that we’re fundamentally and profoundly irrational. Paul Bloom is the author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Paul Bloom's most recent book is Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.

What It's Like to Be a Muslim-American Woman in the US Today

When she was nine years old, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh heard her first racial slur, from the mouth of one of her classmates. It was 2001, and 9/11 had just shocked and shattered the US's sense of safety. "I grew up through the worst forms of bullying, through an extremely low self-esteem, and it was very difficult for me to formulate who I was and what my identity meant to me," she says. So what was it like, 15 years later, being an American-Muslim woman in New York the day after President Trump was elected? Braced for the worst, Al-Khatahtbeh left her home and under the grey mood and matching skies of the day, was surprised by warm smiles and kind gestures from strangers in New York City. Even compliments on her headscarf. They were tiny exchanges that signified to her that there was a common understanding, and that hope was where it always has been — in other people.


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh's book is Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age.

America’s Next Moonshot: Cut Poverty 50% by 2030

Optimism, as defined by economist Jeffrey Sachs, is more than just a translucent, faraway wish. It means having bold goals and acting on them—even if you have no plan or existing knowledge of how you'll get there. The US was once good at this: In May 1961, President Kennedy stood before Congress and announced that the US would land a man on the moon and bring him back safely before the decade was out. In the summer of 1969, that mission was achieved. If American politicians, scientists, engineers and the public could unite for the space race, then the same is unquestionably possible for the urgent humanistic causes of poverty, inequality, and curbing global warming, which will create millions of climate refugees this century. Optimism doesn't just require vision and determination—it needs a deadline, as JFK showed. By 2030, let's mobilize our optimism to cut poverty in half in America, and make a decisive move to renewable energy.


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Jeffrey Sachs is the author of Building the New American Economy: Smart, Fair, and Sustainable.

How Going Blind Showed One Man the Light

If Isaac Lidsky had not gone blind by the age of 25, would he have graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude, or clerked for two Supreme Court Justices, or created a technology company worth hundreds of millions of dollars? It is impossible to say. But it is difficult to imagine his life being any better with the supposed gift of sight. Indeed Lidsky says losing his sight was the true gift he received in life. Why? Because it showed him how literally everyone creates their own reality — even seeing the world, says Lidsky, is an act of creation. Once you learn that reality is yours to create, you will only want to create a better one for yourself.


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Isaac Lidsky is the author of Eyes Wide Open: Overcoming Obstacles and Recognizing Opportunities in a World That Can't See Clearly

Optimism Is the Engine That Moves Society Forward

The news certainly doesn't portray it this way, but every year the world becomes a better place, says Kevin Kelly. There is currently an imbalance in our optimism and pessimism levels, because we feel that things are catastrophic, despite most scientific evidence pointing the other direction. In this inspiring stream of thought, Kelly reminds us that society is constantly making progress, and that innovation is the direct result of optimism. Civilization is not a sweeping, heroic enterprise, he says, it’s a constant creep forward, and you only have to look behind you to see how far we've come.


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Kevin Kelly's most recent book is The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

The Universe May Not Have a Purpose — But You Do, Thanks to Science

The universe doesn't care about you, and the future is miserable. So begins theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss' guide to optimism. Optimism? You heard us right. We may never find meaning or purpose in the universe, but to assume that our purpose is interlinked with that of the universe is what Krauss calls the height of solipsism. Life is beautiful precisely because it's so temporary, and if anything helps us to be optimistic in a morally neutral universe, it's science. Asking questions and understanding what something is helps us realize the consequences of our actions. Armed with knowledge, we can make decisions for the common good. If that's not hope, what is?


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Lawrence Krauss' most recent book is The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far: Why Are We Here?.

Whether You Believe You Can or Believe You Can't, You're Right!

Life advice is awesome under one condition only: when it's being given by someone who has truly lived. That's Kyle Maynard defined. At 26 years old, Maynard became the first quadruple amputee to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro without the aid of prosthetics. He's an award-winning mixed martial arts athlete, best-selling author, and Arnold freakin' Schwarzenegger has described him as "the real deal." But Maynard didn't always believe he would have a life like this. He talks us through two key moments in his youth where he felt a sense of hopelessness, and shares how he shook fear and doubt, and found the mindset that has been his path to success.


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Kyle Maynard is the author of No Excuses: The True Story of a Congenital Amputee Who Became a Champion in Wrestling and in Life.

Is Hope for Weak People? One Man's Journey through Life with MS

When Richard M. Cohen visited the Big Think studio, he came in carrying a quote by Virginia Woolf. It was printed in large font, which seems an odd choice unless you know that Cohen is legally blind, one of the many consequences of the multiple sclerosis he was diagnosed with at 25 years old. Another is his fluctuating voice, a neurological symptom of the disease. Unable to read the quote, we promised to place it here:


"...how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul…" — Virginia Woolf, 'On Being Ill' (1926)

For Cohen, there is an unspoken element to the somber terrains that Woolf describes: the country of hope, which he only recently came to fully understand. Richard M. Cohen's new book, Chasing Hope, which chronicles his personal relationship with hope and faith, will be released in early 2018.

This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

"Us vs. Them" Thinking Is Hardwired—But There’s Hope for Us Yet

Robert Sapolsky has a bone to pick with oxytocin, or rather the public's perception of oxytocin. It is the love hormone, we've surely all read by now. It helps us bond to our parents, then to our lovers and later to our own children. An extra dose can increase empathy, goodwill, and understanding. But it's not all sunshine and rainbows, here's the catch: those warm fuzzy feelings are only generated for people you already favor. Oxytocin, represented more honestly, is the hormone of love and violence. Its effect in the presence of people you consider "others" is preemptive aggression, and less social cooperation. It creates distance as often as it bonds love, and we are hardwired for those social dichotomies.


Humans invent "Us" and "Them" groups wherever they look, whether it's on the basis of sex, race, nationality, class, age, religion, hair color—there's nothing we won't discriminate against, and we do it within a twentieth of a second of seeing someone. Are they an "Us" or are they a "Them"? The flaw in this hardwired thinking reflex is also its silver lining: it is ridiculously easy to manipulate. A racial bias can be duped by something so simple as putting a cap with your favorite sports team's logo on someone's head, for example. You can overthrow your brain's most primal reactions in this way but, as history shows, other people can also get in your head and manipulate the Us versus Them reflex to tragic and catastrophic results.

Robert Sapolsky is the author of Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.

The Science of Optimism: How Your Outlook Predicts Your Lifespan

Optimistic people tend to live longer than pessimistic people. That's true whether you're rich or poor, young or old, and no matter your race, says sociologist William Magee. As part of a five-year study on hope and optimism—a collaboration between the Templeton Foundation and Notre Dame, Cornell, and the University of Pennsylvania—Magee looked at what personal characteristics overlap with having an optimistic worldview. Are the well-educated naturally more optimistic? What about those who have a financial advantage in life? As Magee explains, reverse causality can obscure the relationship between education, class and optimism (does good education produce optimism, or vice versa?), but more immutable factors such as age, race, and gender paint a more realistic picture.

The Truth About Optimism, and How to Manage Your Biases

Think you’re not an optimist? Neuroscience begs to differ. Dr. Tali Sharot explains that 80% of people globally present with the optimism bias—even if they describe themselves as pessimists or realists. In a nutshell, the optimism bias is the tendency to think that the future will be better than the past or present, and to underestimate negative experiences, and overestimate positive ones. This is neither a good nor bad thing, but rather it's both: we evolved to be optimistic because our primordial ancestors needed to think that there was something better out there, beyond the cave, in order to survive, migrate, and evolve. Optimism is a powerful motivator and has proven health benefits, but it also has downsides. Here, Sharot explains that delicate balance, and how understanding the nature of our cognitive biases can help us better protect ourselves against failure.


This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.

Tali Sharot's newest book is available for pre-order: The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals about Our Power to Change Others.

Want the Benefits of Faith without Believing in God? Try Hope.

If faith is what bolsters the believers, could hope be a form of secular prayer? What is the difference between faith and hope, anyway? Philosophy professor Sam Newlands explains that while the two occupy the same categorical space, they are fundamentally different philosophical mindsets. Faith is fueled by a sense of certainty about an outcome, even if that conviction outstrips the evidence. Hope on the other hand can be cognitively inconsistent and still escape scrutiny: you can think something is highly improbable and still hope for it to be true. Here, Newlands discusses the intersection of hope and faith in a religious context: is religion without faith possible? Can hope manifest religious belief?


This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Sam Newlands, head to samnewlands.com.

Cornel West: Hope Is an Action We Can All Take

Institutions—governmental, religious, financial, even revolution itself—have a way of turning stale and sour. "Thank God for the history of the heretics and the blasphemers. That's my crowd," says Dr. Cornel West. Quoting from some of history and literature's greatest thinkers and doers, West presents a poetic lecture on the role of hope in America's past and its future, and how to make your voice matter.


This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Dr. Cornel West, head to cornelwest.com.

Cornel West: Hope Is Spiritual Armor for Fighting Righteous Battles

There is a spiritual war happening in the United States, and to be silent is to be complicit, says Dr. Cornel West. He takes his starting point at the elimination of arts programs under Reagan in the 1980s, and traces how that lack of spiritual nourishment has created a society of solitary nomads where once there was community. It has created consumers where once there were citizens. What must fill that emptiness is hope, West suggests—and hope not as a wistful wish for a better future, but as an enactment of a better future through action. Quoting from some of philosophy and music's greatest thinkers and doers, West presents a lyrical lecture on the role of hope in the battle over the soul of Americans, and American democracy.


This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. For more from Dr. Cornel West, head to cornelwest.com.

What Hope Actually Meant to Martin Luther King Jr.

Here's an exercise: If there's someone near you right now, ask them to define hope. Quickly. What did they say: was it motivational? Did it deal with future ambition, expectation, and desire? Historically, hope has not always had such sugary connotations, and at one point—not so long ago, actually—it was more about confronting suffering in the present than mentally projecting yourself forward to a time where you have overcome your suffering. Drawing from an 1886 painting by George Frederic Watts called 'Hope', which inspired Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1959 sermon 'Shattered Dreams', Andre C. Willis presents a view of deep hope, a method of facing adversity that is woven together from the African American Protestant tradition.


This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.

Addressing Racism Means Educating Our Children Differently

There's no getting around it: we're all a little bit biased. But when do harmful implicit biases, like racial judgements, form? Developmental psychologist Lori Markson and her colleagues have identified racial bias in preschool children aged three to six years old. Despite learning that kids this age—both black and white—prefer white teachers, or that white kids trust black adults less, Markson is not pessimistic about the future of race relations—in fact she's the opposite. The more data we can collect on racial bias, the more information we have to develop strategies to close social divides. Based on the research she presents here, Markson outlines three strategies—diversity exposure, bias intervention, and cross-race friendships—that can help to end racist behavior in the next generation, and hopefully in the current one. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism.


Prison Dehumanizes the Incarcerated—The Prison Project Brings Them Back

In the last 35 years, California has built approximately 22 new prisons, and the state has one of the highest recidivism rates in the country. The US's prison industrial complex has been called America's human rights crisis. So is it possible for prisoners have hope for their future? How do you retain your humanity in an inhumane system? Ten years ago, actor Sabra Williams had an experimental idea: she wanted to bring The Actor's Gang Theatre Company into prisons to work with non-actors, and offer them the emotional tools needed to heal from the trauma of being incarcerated, and all the events of their lives before that. That was the start of the Prison Project, and a decade later it is operating in 10 prisons across California. How well has it worked? It has transformed prison yards. It has built bridges between gangs. Participants have just a 10% recidivism rate and in-prison infractions have dropped by 89%. Engaging in the safe and playful space of theatre is a way for incarcerated people to engage with their emotions, often for the very first time. The entire prison community is deeply interwoven and affected by each other, so the Prison Project is developing a program for correctional officers too, who are often highly traumatized by their experiences, and have highest suicide rate of any job. Sabra Williams runs us through the Prison Project, and introduces former-inmate and student Chris Bingley to share his personal story of reconnecting with his humanity while in prison. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. The Actors’ Gang conducts weekly and seven-day intensive programs inside the California prison system, a weekly re-entry program in the community, as well as a program in juvenile facilities, and soon to be a program designed for correctional officers. Head here for more information on The Actors' Gang Prison Project.


Optimists Do It Longer: How a Positive Outlook Will Boost Your Longevity

It's not considered ultra-cool to be an optimist in today's culture. Too much pep comes off as naïveté and we're just one motivational poster away from self-implosion. But do you know what is cool? Living for a long time, with mobility, good circulation, and all your cognitive faculties. Numerous scientific, long-term studies have shown that this goes hand in hand with an optimistic outlook on life. The core difference for why optimists consistently outlive pessimists has to do with how each type copes with adversity. The former engages with their stress and takes action, while the later is less likely to seek positive change, and more likely to disengage with or deny problems. It's not just psychological either, your outlook on life is evident on a cellular level. In this talk for Hope & Optimism, Professor Michael Scheier describes some of these health-damaging and health-promoting behaviors, and provides a (frankly terrifying) list of ways pessimism can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. Optimism is something you can learn, and knowing it can keep you in good health for longer is all the motivation you need to break negative thinking patterns. This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism, a three-year initiative which supported interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored.

A Philosophical Guide to Coping with Life, Death, and Sour Grapes

Life throws us curveballs that test our ability to cope, but perhaps none is more curvy than the end of life itself. Philosopher Luc Bovens examines the idea of secular hope, the forms it takes, and the function of it. He asks: what does it mean to live a meaningful life, and is it possible to die as well as you lived?

This video was filmed at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. For more on Luc Bovens, go here.


What Psychiatric Wards Teach Us About the Nature of Reality

Novelist and author Yiyun Li tells deeply felt stories from her stay in a psychiatric hospital, after two suicide attempts. The patients Li shared space with taught her a great deal about living in a world that is sometimes lacking in apparent meaning, and how close reality and unreality truly are. For anyone who has ever felt that "patients running the asylum" is an apt analogy for human society, Li shares the stories behind individuals too readily dismissed or forgotten about. Whether in the field of psychology or politics, tension between orthodoxy and imagination will continue to exist. But if we can find ways to keep our imagination alive, we can thrive in a world that is calling out for answers. Yiyun Li's newest book is Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life


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How to increase your will power? Make a Ulysses pact with yourself

The only thing between you and your better self is your brain. Programmed to maximize short term reward, we often find ourselves struggling between what we want in the moment and what we'll gain in the long term if we forgo immediate gratification. As neuroscientist David Eagleman reveals, the ancient wisdom of Ulysses remains useful today as a way to contextualize current scientific research. Before temptation strikes, it pays to have a plan for when it arrives. By making a contract with your future self—as Ulysses did with his crew—you can avoid occasions of indulgence. And when you do give into immediate satisfaction, you can build in supports to keep it from wreaking havoc on your life.


This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which supports interdisciplinary academic research into significant questions that remain under-explored. The three-year initiative will provide over $2 million for philosophers, philosophers of religion, and social scientists to generate original, high-quality, collaborative research on topics related to optimism and hopefulness. Discover the public components of the Hope & Optimism project, and how you can contribute, at hopeoptimism.com.

Hope and Despair Exist on a Spectrum—Here's How to Move Toward Hope

Hope's reputation is so good, it's bad. People hear the word and dismiss it as Hallmark, doe-eyed, emotional fluff. But hoping is not the same as dreaming or wishing: it is constrained by rationality, and unlike fantasy the possibility has to exist, even if the odds are slim. As Professor Andrew Chignell explains: you can wish the weather had been nicer yesterday, but you can't hope it. Hope is a spectrum of how you react to possibility, and it runs all the way to despair. Here, Chignell explains his latest research in philosophy, mindfulness, and uses The Shawshank Redemption to illustrate how closely hope and despair are related. This video is part of a collaborative series with the Hope & Optimism initiative, which has supported interdisciplinary academic research into under-explored aspects of hope and optimism. Discover more at hopeoptimism.com.

Stop Negative Emotions from Defining You: Welcome to The Actors' Gang

Ten years ago, actor Sabra Williams had an experimental idea: she wanted to bring The Actors' Gang Theatre Company into prisons to work with non-actors, and offer them emotional training to recover from the trauma of incarceration, and the events of their lives that landed them there in the first place. With an incredibly low recidivism rate of just 10% among her students, Williams' experimental idea has proven its worth and now operates in ten prisons across California, which is where Sabra Williams met former inmate and Actors' Gang student Wendy Stag. Wendy recently shared her personal story of learning to cope with trauma and negative emotion at the Los Angeles Hope Festival, a collaboration between Big Think and Hope & Optimism. The Actors’ Gang conducts weekly and seven-day intensive programs inside the California prison system, a weekly re-entry program in the community, as well as a program in juvenile facilities, and soon to be a program designed for correctional officers. Head here for more information on The Actors' Gang Prison Project.

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  • Shares of Beyond Meat opened at around $200 on Tuesday morning, falling to nearly $170 by the afternoon.
  • Wall Street analysts remain wary of the stock, which has been on a massive hot streak since its IPO in May.
  • Beyond Meat faces competition from Impossible Foods and, as of this week, Tyson.


Shares of Beyond Meat soared Tuesday after the company announced plans to sell a ground-beef product called 'Beyond Beef' in grocery stores nationwide.

On Tuesday morning, Beyond Meat (BYND) opened at about $200, but by the afternoon fell to $170. The drop was partly fueled by Wall Street analysts saying the company is overvalued. (For context, the highest price target among analysts is currently $123.) Still, Beyond Meat is trading far above its initial public offering price of $25, and analysts seem generally optimistic about the company over the long term.

"Despite the valuation considerations, we continue to expect significant growth potential in the plant-based meat category and believe that Beyond Meat is well positioned as one of the frontrunners leading the new wave of plant-based meat products," said Bernstein, the Wall Street research and brokerage firm.

"Come be among the first to try this delicious new product that delivers the versatility, meaty texture and juiciness of ground beef with less of the baggage!" the company wrote in an Instagram post.

Beyond Meat says its new product is "versatile enough to use in any ground beef recipe," and that it will tenderize and marbelize just like real meat. Last week, the company debuted a new burger patty that contains cocoa butter and coconut oil, which create a marbling effect when cooked. Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown told CNN Business his company will probably continue to issue new products and improve upon existing ones.

"It's part of our philosophy and our approach to innovation that we're going to be constantly iterating," he said.

Brown echoed similar thoughts on a call with analysts following Beyond Meat's first-quarter earnings results.

"I am maniacally focused on driving this business forward through innovation," he said. "I have no distraction with an incumbent business, no concerns about upsetting my existing supply chain."

The alternative meat war

But Impossible Foods – Beyond Meat's chief competitor – is also vying to dominate the alternative meat industry.

"They've both publicly stated that their goal is to really reach every single person," Zak Weston, a food service analyst at the Good Food Institute, told Marketplace.

What's more, Impossible Foods might be more popular.

"Based on our search volume data, it is clear that the Impossible Burger is much more popular among consumers than the Beyond Meat burger," Olga Andrienko, head of global marketing at SEMrush, told MarketWatch. "While search volume cannot determine causation, the significant difference in consumer interest for one of its main competitors, the Impossible Burger, points to a larger long-term risk for Beyond Meat in addition to its recent losses on Wall Street."

Tyson – the world's second largest processor – also debuted new alternative meat products this week under the Raised & Rooted brand. Ultimately, the winner of the alternative meat war will likely come down to which company can better mimic the taste, texture and appearance of real meat. After all, these companies aren't advertising primarily to vegans or vegetarians – they're going after carnivores.

  • The study estimated psychopathy prevalence by looking at the prevalence of certain traits in the Big Five model of personality.
  • The District of Columbia had the highest prevalence of psychopathy, compared to other areas.
  • The authors cautioned that their measurements were indirect, and that psychopathy in general is difficult to define precisely.


A new study estimated the prevalence of psychopathy in the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia.

How can you identify psychopaths? It's difficult, but research provides a few clues, such as that psychopathic tendencies are more common in:

  • Men
  • Younger people
  • Professions such as CEOs, lawyers and politicians

Psychologists have used different diagnostic tools to measure psychopathy over the decades. Today, the leading tool is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), which measures traits such as pathological lying, impulsivity, parasitic lifestyle and lack of remorse or guilt. But psychopathy can be measured in other, more indirect ways, too.

One example is the triarchic model of psychopathy, which says the disorder stems from a combination of the personality traits disinhibition, boldness and meanness. In the recent study, the researchers used that triarchic definition of psychopathy, but mapped it onto the Big Five model of personality, which includes the traits conscientiousness, openness, neuroticism, extraversion and agreeableness.

"Boldness corresponds to low neuroticism and high extraversion, meanness corresponds to low agreeableness, and disinhibition corresponds to low conscientiousness," the researchers write.

To measure psychopathy across the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C., the researchers used state-level Big Five data from a previous study. The results consistently showed that people in rural areas tended to be less psychopathic, while urban areas were more psychopathic. Scoring highest in psychopathy, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the District of Columbia.

"The District of Columbia is measured to be far more psychopathic than any individual state in the country, a fact that can be readily explained either by its very high population density or by the type of person who may be drawn to a literal seat of power," the researchers wrote.

Regionally, psychopathy was clustered in the Northeast, with Maine as the most psychopathic state. Some psychologists have described the Northeast as "Temperamental and Uninhibited." In terms of the Big Five personality traits, the researchers wrote that this translates to "low extraversion, very low agreeableness and conscientiousness, very high neuroticism, and moderately high openness."

The researchers also compared the Big Five data to four variables that relate to psychopathy: homicide rate, violent crime rate, property crime rate and percentage of residents living in an urban area. Only the share of residents living in an urban area had a significant relationship with the personality data.

Ultimately, the researchers cautioned that their methodology was indirect, and that "some amount of noise will inevitably be captured in the results."

"The meaningfulness of the results found here is contingent on both the translation of Big Five personality traits into psychopathy and that psychopathy is something that can be conceptualized as a statistical aggregate across people," they wrote. "And if the estimates are conceptually meaningful, the question remains of whether the size of the differences across regions is practically significant. The weak relationships found in the data can themselves be interpreted as support for skepticism, but whether that interpretation is correct requires further research beyond the scope of the presentation of this methodology and results."

What's more, psychopathy lies on a spectrum. The researchers note that "a very small percentage of individuals in any given state may actually be true psychopaths." According to the Hare checklist, about 1 percent of the general population qualifies as psychopathic.

Here's how the recent study ranked the 48 contiguous states:

1. Maine

2. Connecticut

3. New York

4. Maryland

5. Massachusetts

6. Delaware

7. Wyoming

8. New Jersey

9. California

10. Nevada

11. Virginia

12. Rhode Island

13. Illinois

14. Ohio

15. Wisconsin

16. Arkansas

17. Pennsylvania

18. Arizona

19. Louisiana

20. Idaho

21. Colorado

22. South Dakota

23. Texas

24. Kansas

25. Iowa

26. New Hampshire

27. North Dakota

28. Florida

29. Washington

30. Kentucky

31. Michigan

32. Alabama

33. Oregon

34. Minnesota

35. Utah

36. Indiana

37. Missouri

38. Vermont

39. Montana

40. New Mexico

41. West Virginia

42. Oklahoma

43. Georgia

44. South Carolina

45. Nebraska

46. Mississippi

47. Tennessee

48. North Carolina

  • Composed of massive filaments of galaxies separated by giant voids, the cosmic web is the name astronomers give to the structure of our universe.
  • Why does our universe have this peculiar, web-like structure?
  • The answer lies in processes that took place in the first few hundred thousands years after the Big Bang.


Looking up at the night sky, it seems as though the stars and galaxies are spread out in a more or less random fashion. This, however, isn't really the case. The universe isn't a random jumble of objects; it has a structure composed of galaxies and gas. Cosmologists call this structure the cosmic web.

The cosmic web is composed of interconnecting filaments of clustered galaxies and gases stretched out across the universe and separated by giant voids. The largest of these filaments that we have found to date is the Hercules–Corona Borealis Great Wall, which is a staggering 10 billion light years long and contains several billion galaxies. As for the voids, the largest is the Keenan, Barger, and Cowie (KBC) void, which has a diameter of 2 billion light years. Within a segment of the spherical KBC void lies the Milky Way galaxy and our planet.

Altogether, these features give the universe a foamy appearance. However, once you zoom out far enough, this pattern disappears, and the universe appears to be a homogeneous chunk of galaxies. Astronomers have a delightful name for this sudden homogeneity — the End of Greatness. At smaller scales, however, we can see that the universe does indeed have a rather magnificent structure. This begs the question: How did this structure come to be?

It starts with a bang

Space itself has fluctuating energy levels. Incredibly small pairs of particles and anti-particles are spontaneously coming into existence and annihilating each other. This "boiling" of space was happening in the early universe as well. Normally, these particle pairs destroy each other, but the rapid expansion of the early universe prevented that from happening. As space expanded, so too did these fluctuations, causing discrepancies in the density of the universe.

Wikimedia Commons

A visualization of quantum fluctuations.

Because matter attracts matter through gravity, these discrepancies explain why matter clumped together in some places and not others. But this doesn't fully explain the structure of the cosmic web. After the inflationary period (roughly, 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang), the universe was full of primordial plasma clumping together due to the aforementioned discrepancies. As this matter clumped together, it created pressure that counteracted gravity, creating ripples akin to a sound wave in the matter of the universe. Physicists call these ripples baryon acoustic oscillations.

Simply put, these ripples are the product of regular matter and dark matter. Dark matter only interacts with other things through gravity, so the pressure that causes these ripples doesn't affect it — it stays at the center of ripple, not moving. Regular matter, however, is pushed out. A little under 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the universe has cooled enough such that the pressure pushing the matter out is released through a process called photon decoupling.

Zosia Rostomian, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

An artist's illustration of the rings formed by baryon acoustic oscillations.

As a result, the matter is locked into place. Some regular matter finds its way back to the center of the ripple due to the gravitational attraction of the dark matter. The result is a bullseye: Matter in the middle and matter in a ring around the middle. Because of this, physicists know that you're more likely to find a galaxy 500 million light years away from another galaxy than you are to find one 400 or 600 million light years away. Simply put, galaxies tend to be found at the outer rings of these cosmic bullseyes.

Altogether, these processes produced the gigantic web of stuff that compose our universe. Of course, there are many other processes that go into producing the cosmic web, but these fall outside the scope of this article. For those of you interested in observing what this structure would look like, you're in luck: astronomer Bruno Coutinho and colleagues developed an interactive, 3D visualization of the universe's structure, which you can access here.

The Cosmic Web, or: What does the universe look like at a VERY large scale?

The Millennium Simulation featured in this clip was run in 2005 by the Virgo Consortium, an international group of astrophysicists from Germany, the United K...

  • A new study asked hundreds of participants what advice they would give their younger selves if they could.
  • The subject matter tended to cluster around familiar areas of regret.
  • The test subjects reported that they did start following their own advice later in life, and that it changed them for the better.

Everybody regrets something; it seems to be part of the human condition. Ideas and choices that sounded good at the time can look terrible in retrospect. Almost everybody has a few words of advice for their younger selves they wish they could give.

Despite this, there has never been a serious study into what advice people would give their younger selves until now.

Let me give me a good piece of advice

The study, by Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord at Clemson University and published in The Journal of Social Psychology, asked several hundred volunteers, all of whom were over the age of 30, to answer a series of questions about themselves. One of the questions asked them what advice they would give their younger selves. Their answers give us a look into what areas of life everybody wishes they could have done better in.

Previous studies have shown that regrets tend to fall into six general categories. The answers on this test can be similarly organized into five groups:

  • Money (Save more money, younger me!)
  • Relationships (Don't marry that money grabber! Find a nice guy to settle down with.)
  • Education (Finish school. Don't study business because people tell you to, you'll hate it.)
  • A sense of self (Do what you want to do. Never mind what others think.)
  • Life goals (Never give up. Set goals. Travel more.)

These pieces of advice were well represented in the survey. Scrolling through them, most of the advice people would give themselves verges on the cliché in these areas. It is only the occasional weight of experience seeping through advice that can otherwise be summed up as "don't smoke," "don't waste your money," or "do what you love," that even makes it readable.

A few bits of excellent counsel do manage to slip through. Some of the better ones included:

  • "Money is a social trap."
  • "What you do twice becomes a habit; be careful of what habits you form."
  • "I would say do not ever base any decisions on fear."

The study also asked if the participants have started following the advice they wish they could have given themselves. 65.7% of them said "yes" and that doing so had helped them become the person they want to be rather than what society tells them they should be. Perhaps it isn't too late for everybody to start taking their own advice.

Kowalski and McCord write:

"The results of the current studies suggest that, rather than just writing to Dear Abby, we should consult ourselves for advice we would offer to our younger selves. The data indicate that there is much to be learned that can facilitate well-being and bring us more in line with the person that we would like to be should we follow that advice."

  • Stephen Hawking predicted virtual particles splitting in two from the gravitational pull of black holes.
  • Black holes, he also said, would eventually evaporate due to the absorption of negatively charged virtual particles.
  • A scientist has built a black hole analogue based on sound instead of light.

While black holes may well be points in space into which everything falls and from which even light can't escape, the image many of us have of an ever-growing nonstop universe-eater may not be so. Stephen Hawking didn't think it was. He theorized that black holes eventually evaporate as a byproduct of the gradual release of tiny bits of radiation now known as "Hawking radiation". Such emissions are too faint for us to observe from so far away, but now the behavior of an artificial, lab-created black hole of sorts has lent support to Hawking's theory. There's nothing about this story that isn't interesting. For one thing, this man-made "black hole" is made of sound. It's also formed inside some always-bizarre Bose-Einstein condensate.

What Hawking predicted

Photo: Bruno Vincent/Getty

Physicist Stephen Hawking.

While it's known that photons can't escape the pull of a black hole, Hawking's equations, intolerant of absolute nothingness, suggested "empty" space is actually full of virtual quantum matter/antimatter pairs that blink into existence, and immediately annihilate each other thanks to their opposite electrical charges, quickly blinking out again.

Hawking proposed that when virtual pairs pop into existence near a black hole, though, they're torn apart by the pull of the black hole, with the antimatter being sucked in while the matter shoots off into space — at this point, they're no longer virtual, but real, particles. The negative charge belonging to the antimatter particles reduces the energy and mass of the black hole that's absorbed it by a tiny amount — however, when a black hole ingests enough of these, it evaporates. The positively charged particles fly away as what's now called "Hawking radiation." It would be very weak, but nonetheless there.

Hawking also predicted that the radiation emitted would exhibit a continuous thermal spectrum rather than discreet light wavelengths preferred by individual escaping photons. The temperature of the spectrum would be determined instead by the black hole's mass.

Part of the problem in testing Hawking's theories was summarized by physicist Silke Weinfurtner, who has written:

"The temperature that is associated with Hawking radiation, known as the Hawking temperature, is inversely proportional to the mass of the black hole. And for the smallest observed black holes, which have a mass similar to that of the Sun, this temperature is about 60 nanokelvin. Hawking radiation therefore produces a tiny signal, and it would seem that the phenomenon cannot be verified through observation."

The analogue black hole in Haifa

Image source: Technion–Israel Institute of Technology

Physicist Jeff Steinhauer.

Experimental physicist Jeff Steinhauer of Technion–Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, has been working alone in his lab for years creating sonic "black holes" that suck in and trap sound waves. (He's a drummer, too.) Physicist William Unruh of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, first proposed the creation of a sound-wave black-hole replica in 1981 as a safe way of observing the behavior of the stellar version. (After all, creating a real black hole in a lab or anywhere nearby could lead to The End of Life as We Know It.)

Steinhauer's black-hole replica was "constructed" within a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), an extremely strange form of matter in which atoms are cooled to a temperature vanishingly close to absolute zero. At this temperature, there's so little energy available that atoms barely move at all in relation to each other, and thus the entire superfluid begins to behave as one big, unified atom. Within such a frigid condensate, weak quantum fluctuations occur, and these produce pairs of entangled phonons, compressional waves that can create the air-pressure changes we perceive as sound.

Working with a cigar-shaped trap just a few millimeters long, Steinhauer cooled some 8,000 iridium atoms into a BEC. Inside it, the speed of sound, the rate at which the condensate flowed, dropped from 343 meters per second to an almost stationary half a millimeter per second. Reducing the density of one area of the BEC to allow atoms to travel at 1 millimeter per second, though he created a supersonic region — at least compared to the lower speed in the rest of the condensate, that is. Its comparatively rapid current overwhelmed and pulled in any high-energy phonons that came near its event horizon, thus trapping them.

In August, Steinhauer published a paper in Nature that documented his observation of phonons emerging from his artificial black hole in line with Hawking's predictions. Steinhauer reports entangled phonon pairs popping into existence together equidistant across the condensate's event horizon and behaving much as Hawking predicted: One pulled over the supersonic waterfall and trapped in the supersonic region, and the other escaping outward, away from it, just as Hawking radiation would do. The symmetry in the number of phonons inside and outside the event horizon further supported their entangled beginnings and eventual separation, as in Hawking's prediction.

On top of that, the aggregate radiated phonons did indeed produce a thermal spectrum determined by the system's analogue to gravity/mass, which in this model's case was the relationship between the speed of sound and the flow of the BEC, and not individual phonons' sonic wavelengths.

Analogies are usually imperfect

Image source: Alex Farias/Shutterstock

While the behavior of Steinhauer's phonons in his black hole analogue certainly supports the plausibility of Hawking's hypothesis, it doesn't constitute proof. His experiment deals with sound and phonons instead of light and photons, and obviously operates on an entirely different scale than a real black hole — and scale does matter in quantum physics. Still, it's fascinating.

Theoretical physicist Renaud Parentani enthuses to Live Science, "These experiments are a tour de force. It's a very precise experiment. From the experimental side, Jeff Steinhauer is really, at the moment, the world-leading expert of using cold atoms to probe black hole physics." Other aren't as impressed. Speaking with Nature, physicist Ulf Leonhardt says that while, "For sure, this is a pioneering paper," he considers it incomplete, however, in part because Steinhauer was only able to correlate phonons of high energy across the event horizon, and didn't find that low-energy phonons also behaved as Hawking predicted. In addition, Leonhardt is concerned that what was inside the trap wasn't a true BEC, and that it could be producing other forms of quantum fluctuation that just look like Hawking radiation.