The very best of 2018! 10 videos to get smarter, faster

From debunking flat-Earth theory to dissecting America's political woes, these are the must-watch videos of the year.

  • 365 days, 365 videos — it's been another huge year for big ideas.
  • We've tallied up the 10 most popular, as chosen by you, plus the most controversial and most talked about videos of 2018. Enjoy!

Jordan Peterson: The fatal flaw in leftist American politics

Superhumans: The remarkable brain waves of high-level meditators

Why Michio Kaku wants to avoid alien contact at all costs

Bored out of your mind at work? Your brain is trying to tell you something.

How to spot high-conflict people before it's too late

How religion turned American politics against science

Trump’s not the problem. He’s a symbol of 4 bigger issues.

From 300lbs to a Navy SEAL: How to Gain Control of Your Mind and Life

Pablo Escobar’s hippos: Why drug lords shouldn’t play God

Most controversial: Why “I’m not racist” is only half the story

Most talked about: How overparenting backfired on Americans

More playlists
  • Jordan Peterson has constantly been in the headlines for his ideas on gender over the last three years.
  • While on Joe Rogan's podcast, he explains his thoughts on the gender differences in society.
  • On another episode, Peterson discusses the development of character through competition.

Like many people, I first discovered Jordan Peterson on the Joe Rogan Experience. Since Episode 877, the Canadian professor has been on at least five more times, making him one of the more popular recurring guests.

Peterson is one of the most polarizing thinkers of our day. This is apparent from my own articles on him. When I criticized his ideas on gun control, I received numerous negative emails, tweets, and comments, most of them grammatical nightmares (as trolling goes). Yet when I shared his tips for better writing, liberals derided me for entertaining anything the man says. If nothing else, Peterson is a perfect example of how you simply can't make everyone happy (nor should you desire to).

More importantly, it is possible to appreciate certain aspects of a person's ideology while being critical of others. Many fans of Peterson seem to be "all in," while critics won't take seriously anything the man says. It makes you wonder how either "side" can be in any sort of relationship at all. If Kellyanne and George Conway can maintain a marriage, it is certainly possible to hold conflicting thoughts about a philosopher in your mind and still contemplate value.

Alas, Twitter demolishes all subtleties. Regardless, here are two moments from JRE worthy of discussion.

Jordan Peterson Explains the Gender Paradox - Joe Rogan

Jordan Peterson rose to prominence (and to some, infamy) for his ideas on gender-neutral pronouns. In the above clip, he discusses the "gender paradox" in depth, which he defines thus: "As societies become more gender-equal in their social and political policies, men and women become more different in certain aspects, rather than more similar."

Peterson is pulling data from the contested "Nordic paradox," which states that as societies promote gender rights, less gender balance is observed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers and upper management positions in certain sectors.

Peterson believes there are two types of equality you can pursue. The first is equality of opportunity. He notes that talent is distributed everywhere. Some differences between men and women have been minimized, while some industries, such as academia and health care, are now dominated by women. Though this might place stress on family structure, he concludes that one of the best indicators of economic health in developing countries is their attitudes toward equal rights.

The second is equality of outcome, or equity. Peterson claims the ultimate equity is utopia, but there's an issue. If you were to break down humans into twenty categories (he says there are many more) such as gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, attractiveness, and intelligence, it would be impossible to represent everyone equally everywhere.

"There's no way you can regulate a society so tightly that every single one of those groups is equally represented in every single one of those occupations at every single level of the hierarchy."

Are discrepancies between men and women socialization or biological? The relationship between biology and culture is culturally dependent, he continues, then offers a hypothesis: If the differences are primarily social, men and women will become more alike the more egalitarian the society. Yet that's not what happens, according to the Scandinavian research.

Men are more interested in non-animate things, such as technology, gadgets, and automobiles, while women are more interested in people. Societies are better off economically the more equal rights are emphasized, yet Peterson points to the Nordic research.

Interestingly, David Brooks points out a different phenomenon in America: Millennials are divided not by occupation but by political leaning. He attributes this to female mobilization and male backlash, given the 21-point gender gap between Democratic-voting women and GOP-leaning men under age 35.

Brooks does not claim war or even a paradox. He concludes the disparity is more the product of politics than gender:

"I have to say that this rising war between the sexes feels phony to me. Millennials seem to be in fundamental agreement on how to live. I detect less day-to-day difference between men and women than in earlier generations."

Not that Peterson's data are off, necessarily, but building an argument from one geographical region alone is suspect. As Nima Sanandaji, author of Nordic Paradox, points out, the discrepancy between male and female professional roles is attributable to welfare state policies, which, while well-intentioned, paradoxically hold women back from achieving many positions Peterson cite as evidence of gender discrepancies.

On this topic, it appears Peterson is picking and choosing studies to bolster his preexisting belief, which, of course, never makes for good science.

Joe Rogan - Jordan Peterson on the Importance of Competition

In this clip, Peterson points out that the world is "functioning unbelievably well, even though it has its problems." Joe Rogan has often pointed out that societies battled less upon realizing that trading with enemies is more beneficial. This obviously isn't always the case; populism is also reversing this trend. But Peterson is right. We are better off today than likely at any point in history, regardless of how terrible the news becomes—and we need to recognize climate change will greatly affect this upward trend.

Peterson also claims systemic prejudice is decreasing, which might not hold as much water. Nevertheless, developing economies are increasing rapidly thanks to access to clean water, medicine, and cellular technologies. Opportunities are spreading out globally.

Here Peterson dives into liberal notions of an equal playing field, opening the discussion of competition. To frame the argument, he points out many people that claim they want an equal playing field default to listening to a very limited range of music—they want the "best of the best" and don't invest time to discover a wide range of musicians. Thanks to streaming services' pro rata payment system, the best make more per stream than everyone else, which is not healthy from a competitive standpoint.

Competition, however, is healthy, and also necessary. It's encoded in our biology. Rogan mentions a favorite subject of his: participation trophies. Every child receiving a trophy for playing is a terrible way to teach them about life. Not keeping score, even when it's obvious one team has beaten the other, sets a dangerous precedent. Competition does not have to be brutal, but it does have to exist.

Peterson counters with an issue Paul Bloom brilliantly wrote about: Empathy can also be dangerous. Over-emoting often points to emotional lacking. No one argues for complete abstinence from empathy—it is arguably a quality that helped us ascend to the peak of the animal kingdom—but it also softens you. It blinds parents to the struggles existence demand. Enter snowplowing parents whose children can do no wrong.

Peterson then contemplates the idea that "it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game." The sentiment confuses children. Holding the idea that they're supposed to be a good sport who doesn't care about the outcome and try to win is illogical to a developing (and many developed) minds. Focusing on a single game instead of the bigger picture is what drives parents to miss the larger point.

Which is this: You could give the star player the ball every time if you want to win a game. A good coach, however, teaches the star how to make his teammates better. The goal is the championship, not a single game. Life, Peterson continues, is not a single game, nor even a single championship—it is a series of championships. The way to train to win the series is to develop your character.

That occurs by focusing on winning the largest number of games across the span of a lifetime, which Peterson claims by reciting the most fundamental kindergarten lesson imaginable: Play well with others. This means you want to win, but you want to train others to play well together. Then the kid becomes fun to play with, setting them up for a lifetime of teammates to play with and coaches to learn from.

"Don't forget, kid, that what you're trying to do here is to do well at life. And you need to practice the strategies that enable you to do well at life while you're in any specific game. And you never want to compromise your ability to do well at life for the sake of winning a single game."

Peterson recommends teaching this between the ages of two and four, but really, this applies to all of us at any age. And this lesson—play well with others—is one that we could all work on at this point in our history together.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Learn to collaborate within a team and identify "thinking talent" surpluses – and shortages.
  • Angie McArthur teaches intelligent collaboration for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.

Why is burnout such a widespread phenomenon in the workplace? Collaboration expert Angie McArthur argues that it's the result of a work culture that pressures everyone to excel in every area. The fact is that people vary drastically in their "thinking talents". Do you know what your thinking talents are? How about knowing how to map the thinking capital in any given room?

Subscribe to Big Think Edge and you'll learn from Angie McArthur, CEO of Professional Thinking Partners and co-author, of "Collaborative Intelligence", how to collaborate in a way that sustains you, your team, and leads to success. You'll also discover why you shouldn't hire someone you like over someone you need.

Master intelligent collaboration, with Angie McArthur

Angie McArthur teaches "Collaborate intelligently: Energize yourself and others" for Big Think Edge's Become a better manager learning path. Under her guidance, you'll uncover your thinking talents, identify your blind spots, and learn to map the minds around you in order to drive more successful team projects.

Whether you're managing a team, seeking a business or creative partner, or simply want to mentally click with the people around you and get great ideas going, Big Think Edge's Become a better manager lessons will get you there by placing you face-to-face with digital mentors from Harvard Business School, the Navy SEALs, NASA, and the upper echelons of business consulting.

Subscribe to Big Think Edge to become a better collaborator and manage all your life's projects without burning out.

Do it before we launch on March 30, and you'll get 20% off monthly and annual subscriptions.

Abraham Maslow was the 20th-century American psychologist best-known for explaining motivation through his hierarchy of needs, which he represented in a pyramid. At the base, our physiological needs include food, water, warmth and rest.


Moving up the ladder, Maslow mentions safety, love, and self-esteem and accomplishment. But after all those have been satisfied, the motivating factor at the top of the pyramid involves striving to achieve our full potential and satisfy creative goals. As one of the founders of humanistic psychology, Maslow proposed that the path to self-transcendence and, ultimately, greater compassion for all of humanity requires the 'self-actualisation' at the top of his pyramid – fulfilling your true potential, and becoming your authentic self.

Now Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Barnard College, Columbia University, believes it is time to revive the concept, and link it with contemporary psychological theory. 'We live in times of increasing divides, selfish concerns, and individualistic pursuits of power,' Kaufman wrote recently in a blog in Scientific American introducing his new research. He hopes that rediscovering the principles of self-actualisation might be just the tonic that the modern world is crying out for. To this end, he's used modern statistical methods to create a test of self-actualisation or, more specifically, of the 10 characteristics exhibited by self-actualised people, and it was recently published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology.

Kaufman first surveyed online participants using 17 characteristics Maslow believed were shared by self-actualised people. Kaufman found that seven of these were redundant or irrelevant and did not correlate with others, leaving 10 key characteristics of self-actualisation.

Next, he reworded some of Maslow's original language and labelling to compile a modern 30-item questionnaire featuring three items tapping each of these 10 remaining characteristics: continued freshness of appreciation; acceptance; authenticity; equanimity; purpose; efficient perception of reality; humanitarianism; peak experiences; good moral intuition; and creative spirit (see the full questionnaire below, and take the test on Kaufman's website).

So what did Kaufman report? In a survey of more than 500 people on Amazon's Mechanical Turk website, Kaufman found that scores on each of these 10 characteristics tended to correlate, but also that they each made a unique contribution to a unifying factor of self-actualisation – suggesting that this is a valid concept comprised of 10 subtraits.

Participants' total scores on the test also correlated with their scores on the main five personality traits (that is, with higher extraversion, agreeableness, emotional stability, openness and conscientiousness) and with the metatrait of 'stability', indicative of an ability to avoid impulses in the pursuit of one's goals. That the new test corresponded in this way with established personality measures provides further evidence of its validity.

Next, Kaufman turned to modern theories of wellbeing, such as self-determination theory, to see if people's scores on his self-actualisation scale correlated with these contemporary measures. Sure enough, he found that people with more characteristics of self-actualisation also tended to score higher on curiosity, life-satisfaction, self-acceptance, personal growth and autonomy, among other factors – just as Maslow would have predicted.

'Taken together, this total pattern of data supports Maslow's contention that self-actualised individuals are more motivated by growth and exploration than by fulfilling deficiencies in basic needs,' Kaufman writes. He adds that the new empirical support for Maslow's ideas is 'quite remarkable' given that Maslow put them together with 'a paucity of actual evidence'.

A criticism often levelled at Maslow's notion of self-actualisation is that its pursuit encourages an egocentric focus on one's own goals and needs. However, Maslow always contended that it is only through becoming our true, authentic selves that we can transcend the self and look outward with compassion to the rest of humanity. Kaufman explored this too, and found that higher scorers on his self-actualisation scale tended also to score higher on feelings of oneness with the world, but not on decreased self-salience, a sense of independence and bias toward information relevant to oneself. (These are the two main factors in a modern measure of self-transcendence developed by the psychologist David Yaden at the University of Pennsylvania.)

Kaufman said that this last finding supports 'Maslow's contention that self-actualising individuals are able to paradoxically merge with a common humanity while at the same time able to maintain a strong identity and sense of self'.

Where the new data contradicts Maslow is on the demographic factors that correlate with characteristics of self-actualisation – he thought that self-actualisation was rare and almost impossible for young people. Kaufman, by contrast, found scores on his new scale to be normally distributed through his sample (that is, spread evenly like height or weight) and unrelated to factors such as age, gender and educational attainment (although, in personal correspondence, Kaufman informs me that newer data – more than 3,000 people have since taken the new test – is showing a small, but statistically significant association between older age and having more characteristics of self-actualisation).

In conclusion, Kaufman writes that: '[H]opefully the current study … brings Maslow's motivational framework and the central personality characteristics described by the founding humanistic psychologists, into the 21st century.'

The new test is sure to reinvigorate Maslow's ideas, but if this is to help heal our divided world, then the characteristics required for self-actualisation, rather than being a permanent feature of our personalities, must be something we can develop deliberately. I put this point to Kaufman and he is optimistic. 'I think there is significant room to develop these characteristics [by changing your habits],' he told me. 'A good way to start with that,' he added, 'is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalise on your highest characteristics but also don't forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualisation … Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. I do think it's possible with conscientiousness and willpower.'

Christian Jarrett

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

  • Ghosting, or cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is not nice.
  • Growth-oriented people (who think relationships are made, not born) do not appreciate it.
  • Destiny-oriented people (who believe in soulmates) are more likely to be okay with ghosting.

Most folks who have been on the dating scene since the advent of smartphones are familiar with 'ghosting', the practice of suddenly cutting off all contact with a romantic partner: not responding to or sending texts, not picking up the phone, unfriending on social media, and so on. In essence, it's an effort to make your digital self disappear from the recently dumped person's life.

There are plenty of reasons why ghosting is an unsavory practice. For one, the ghosted party doesn't realize they've been dumped for quite some time. It also implies a disregard for the other person's feelings and conveys a sense that they don't matter all that much. However, not everybody feels the same way about this practice.

Ghosting is more popular with believers in romantic destiny

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

Recent research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships revealed that people's feelings and practices in regard to ghosting depend on which romantic camp they belong to: Those with destiny mindsets or those with growth mindsets.

Co-author Gili Freedman and colleagues write, "[People] with stronger destiny beliefs are more likely to believe that individuals within relationships are either meant to be together or they are not—that is, individuals have soulmates." People with destiny beliefs are love-at-first-sight people. They have a soulmate, and after they find them, they'll have the ideal relationship together.

In contrast, Freedman writes, "individuals with stronger growth beliefs think that relationships are malleable and can be improved upon through communication and overcoming hurdles in the relationship." Growth-oriented people believe that a relationship is made rather than born. It's important to remember that these two attitudes aren't exactly mutually exclusive, and people can have these attitudes in different degrees.

Freedman and colleagues were interested in how these two broad categories of people approached break-ups – specifically, what they thought of ghosting. To find this out, they conducted two studies; the first was to assess people's attitudes and practices towards ghosting, and the second was to replicate the results of the first as well as to uncover what people thought of ghosting in friendships as opposed to romantic relationships. In both studies, the participants were given a questionnaire designed to measure whether they had more of a destiny-oriented attitude or more of a growth-oriented attitude.

The results were striking. Compared to growth-minded participants, participants with destiny-oriented attitudes were 24.6% more inclined to think that ghosting was an acceptable way to end a relationship after two dates or less, 22% more likely to think that it was acceptable for ending a short-term relationship, and 63.4% more likely to think that ghosting was a fine way to end a long-term relationship. They were 23.6% less likely to think poorly of somebody who ghosted others, too. Interestingly, they also reported that they were 35.7% more likely to have been ghosted before, which lends credence to the idea that birds of a feather flock together.

The second study replicated these results, and also showed that people from both camps believed it was more acceptable to ghost friends, either short-term or long-term friends, than it was to ghost a romantic partner.

Why we feel differently about ghosting

There are a few explanations for this stark divide. First, people who believe in destiny, in soulmates, are more likely to believe that there's no changing a bad relationship; it either works or it wasn't meant to be. In contrast, growth-minded individuals are far more likely to put in work to improve relationships over time. This accounts for the huge divide in opinion over whether it's acceptable to ghost a long-term partner. Destiny-minded people were 63.4% more likely to think it was okay to ditch a bad relationship they had stayed in for too long. In contrast. Growth-minded people would consider it anathema; the longer a relationship had gone on for, the more work they had put into it, and the more likely that it was a loving, healthy relationship.

Another interesting finding was how growth-oriented people's opinions on ghosting changed over time. They believed that ghosting was more acceptable the earlier in a relationship it occurred, especially if it happened prior to physical intimacy. In contrast, destiny-oriented people felt that ghosting was acceptable pretty much any time. The authors speculated that this could be because a destiny-oriented individual is more likely to have a love-at-first-sight effect; once they begin contact with somebody, their relationship has begun because they are destined for one another. Growth-minded people are more likely to believe a relationship has begun after they've met a major milestone, like physical intimacy.

So, the next time somebody ghosts you, don't feel too bad; they might just see the world in a different way than you. And the next time you consider ghosting somebody else, maybe consider whether they'll take it as a sign that it "wasn't meant to be" or as a harsh rebuke.

  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!

Did Musk pick the wrong planet to die on?

Image: upload.wikimedia.org

Elon Musk has said he wants to die on Mars.

By 2024, Elon Musk wants to land humans on Mars – the billionaire entrepreneur has said that he himself wants to go to the Red Planet, and even wants to die there (just not on impact, he quips). But has SpaceX chosen the wrong planet to colonize? If the plan was to pick the closest planet: yes indeed.

While Mars looms large in human culture and imagination, most scientific sources refer to Venus as the planet that's the shortest distance away from Earth. NASA mentions Venus as our closest neighbor. But while it's true that no other planet comes closer – the shortest approach is 0.28 AU (1) or 25 million miles (41 million km) – it's not true that Venus is the closest planet (2) on average (even though that too is often erroneously asserted).

A faulty line-up of the solar system 

Image: Wikipedia

A line-up of the usual suspects. Only the sizes are to scale, not the distances. And they usually don't line up as nicely as this.

"As it turns out, by some phenomenon of carelessness, ambiguity or groupthink, science popularizers have disseminated information based on a flawed assumption about the average distance between planets," write Tom Stockman, Gabriel Monroe and Samuel Cordner in an article published by Physics Today.

They go on to explain the mathematical method they devised to prove that, when averaged over time, it is in fact Mercury – the first rock from the Sun – that is Earth's nearest neighbor.

Long story short: Mercury is closest to Earth on average because it orbits the Sun more closely. That also means – mind-blowingly – that Mercury is the closest neighbor of all planets in our solar system, including gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and snowball planets Neptune and Uranus on the freezing outer edges of the system.

Unbelievably cool or unbelievably obvious?

Image: Tomment Section

Simulation of Mercury (grey), Venus (orange), Earth (blue) and Mars (red) circling the Sun, and the calculation of average distances to Earth.

In Physics Today, the three scientists describe their method in great detail. For laypeople like (probably) you and (certainly) me, the YouTube video at the top of this post, narrated by Mr Stockman, is more illuminating. In 6 minutes 40 seconds, he had me convinced.

While some commenters agree ("a neat new way to think about it!"), one or two are irritated that the hoi polloi are only now clocking on to this ("Any idiot should have been able to point this out").

Either way, one has to feel for the one commenter who seems to have figured this out a long time ago, but didn't have this video to prove their point: "I told my school teacher many years ago that Mercury is nearest to Earth but they laughed at me."

Video found here on YouTube. If you like your math like Saturn likes its gravity (spoiler: heavy), here's the article in Physics Today.

Strange Maps #966

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.


(1) 1 Astronomical Unit (AU) is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun: 93 million miles (150 million km).

(2) Their name aptly derived from the Greek 'planetai' for "wanderers", planets orbit around the Sun, hence the immense variation in the distances between them.