Is empathy always good?

Research has shown how important empathy is to relationships, but there are limits to its power.

  • Empathy is a useful tool that allows humans (and other species) to connect and form mutually beneficial bonds, but knowing how and when to be empathic is just as important as having empathy.
  • Filmmaker Danfung Dennis, Bill Nye, and actor Alan Alda discuss the science of empathy and the ways that the ability can be cultivated and practiced to affect meaningful change, both on a personal and community level.
  • But empathy is not a cure all. Paul Bloom explains the psychological differences between empathy and compassion, and how the former can "get in the way" of some of life's crucial relationships.
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What are the limits of free speech?

7 scholars and legal experts dissect what you can and can't say in America.

  • The free speech debate typically happens at either end of a spectrum — people believe they should be able to say whatever they want, or they believe that certain things (e.g. hate speech) should be censored. Who is right, and who gets to decide?
  • While they acknowledge that speech is a powerful weapon that can cause infinite good and infinite harm, former ACLU president Nadine Strossen, sociologist Nicholas Christakis, author and skeptic Michael Shermer, and others agree that the principle should be defended for everyone, not just for those who share our views. "I'm not defending the Nazis," says Strossen, "I'm defending a principle that is especially important for those of us who want to have the freedom to raise our voices, to protest the Nazis and everything they stand for."
  • However, as Strossen and attorney Floyd Abrams point out, there have always been boundaries when it comes to free speech and the First Amendment. There are rules, established by the Supreme Court, meant to ensure that speech is not used to inflict "imminent, specific harm" on others.
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Study: Personal anecdotes are more effective at bridging divides than facts

Most people believe you can win an argument with facts - but when "facts" are so often subject to doubt, are personal experiences trusted more?

Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images
  • A new study has found that people are more likely to get respect from others in moral and political conversations when sharing personal experiences instead of facts.
  • The research group conducted 15 separate experiments to test this theory in order to learn more about tolerance in specifically political arguments.
  • The effectiveness of facts in these conversations (even when proven true) is unclear because facts themselves are now subject to doubt, especially surrounding controversial and polarizing topics such as gun control and political beliefs.
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Why large groups of people often come to the same conclusions

Study confirms the existence of a special kind of groupthink in large groups.

Credit: Kaleb Nimz/Unsplash
  • Large groups of people everywhere tend to come to the same conclusions.
  • In small groups, there's a much wider diversity of ideas.
  • The mechanics of a large group make some ideas practically inevitable.
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Can you step in the same river twice? Wittgenstein vs. Heraclitus

Imagine Heraclitus spending an afternoon down by the river...

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash
'I am not a religious man,' the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once said to a friend, 'but I cannot help seeing every problem from a religious point of view.'
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