The science behind ‘us vs. them’

Humans may have evolved to be tribalistic. Is that a bad thing?

  • From politics to every day life, humans have a tendency to form social groups that are defined in part by how they differ from other groups.
  • Neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky, author Dan Shapiro, and others explore the ways that tribalism functions in society, and discuss how—as social creatures—humans have evolved for bias.
  • But bias is not inherently bad. The key to seeing things differently, according to Beau Lotto, is to "embody the fact" that everything is grounded in assumptions, to identify those assumptions, and then to question them.

The power of conformity: How good people do evil things

Many people believe that in the face of profound evil, they would have the courage to speak up. It might be harder than we think.

Credit: ANTHONY WALLACE via Getty Images
  • After World War II, many psychologists wanted to address the question of how it was that people could go along with the evil deeds of fascist regimes.
  • Solomon Asch's experiment alarmingly showed just how easily we conform and how susceptible we are to group influence.
  • People often will not only sacrifice truth and reason to conformity but also their own health and sense of right and wrong.
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Why the world is going crazy—and how to win back our minds

Why are rapture ideologies exploding?

  • The speed at which civilization is progressing has become overwhelming for modern humans and has caused what Jamie Wheal (author of Recapture the Rapture, founder of the Flow Genome Project, and host of the Collective Insights Podcast) calls a "collapse of meaning."
  • For many, Meaning 1.0 (organized religion) and Meaning 2.0 (modern liberalism) no longer provide the structure and guidance that they used to. "It does feel like the handrails, the things we used to look to for stability and security, have evaporated," says Wheal. "If we've experienced a collapse of meaning, how do we go about restoring it?"
  • In order to reach Meaning 3.0—which Wheal says is a blend of traditional religion and modern liberalism without the promise of an escape—we need to focus on mending trauma, reconnecting with inspiration, and connecting better with one another.
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Retrain your brain for long-term thinking

Escaping the marshmallow brain trap.

  • Roman Krznaric, philosopher and author of the book "The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking," says that there are two parts of the human brain that are driving our decisions and ultimately determining what kind of legacy we leave behind for future generations.
  • Short-term thinking happens in the marshmallow brain (named after the famous Stanford marshmallow test), while long term thinking and strategizing occurs in the acorn brain. By retraining ourselves to use the acorn brain more often, we can ensure that trillions of people—including our grandchildren and their grandchildren—aren't inheriting a depleted world and the worst traits that humankind has to offer.
  • "At the moment we're using on average 1.6 planet earths each year in terms of our ecological footprint," says Krznaric, but that doesn't mean that it's too late to turn things around. Thinking long term about things like politics and education can help "rebuild our imaginations of what a civilization could be."

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How art and design can rebuild a community

MIT professor Azra Akšamija creates works of cultural resilience in the face of social conflict.

Credit: Memory Matrix
In the spring of 2016, a striking art installation was constructed outside MIT's building E15.
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