Your mind thinks in stories. Tell better ones to get ahead.
Knowing how to tell a good story is like having mind control. Alan Alda shares some incredible tips for captivating a crowd—or nailing your next job interview.
Alan Alda has earned international recognition as an actor, writer and director. In addition to The Aviator, for which he was nominated for an Academy Award, Alda's films include Crimes and Misdemeanors, Everyone Says I Love You, Flirting With Disaster, Manhattan Murder Mystery, And The Band Played On, Same Time, Next Year and California Suite, as well as The Seduction of Joe Tynan, which he wrote, and The Four Seasons, Sweet Liberty, A New Life and Betsy's Wedding, all of which he wrote and directed. Recently, his film appearances have included Tower Heist, Wanderlust, and Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies.
He helped found the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University where he is a Visiting Professor, helping to develop innovative programs that enable scientists to communicate more effectively with the public. He originated The Flame Challenge, a yearly international competition for scientists in which they compete to explain complex scientific concepts so that 11-year-olds can understand them. Since 2008, he has worked with physicist Brian Greene in presenting the annual World Science Festival in New York City, attended since its inception by over a million people. He has won numerous awards for communicating science from the National Academy of Sciences, the American Chemical Society, and the National Science Board.
Alda was born in New York City, the son of the distinguished actor, Robert Alda. He began acting in the theater at the age of 16 in summer stock in Barnesville, Pennsylvania.
During his junior year at Fordham University, he studied in Europe where he performed on the stage in Rome and on television in Amsterdam with his father.
After college, he acted at the Cleveland Playhouse on a Ford Foundation grant. On his return to New York, he was seen on Broadway, off-Broadway and on television. He later acquired improvisational training with "Second City" in New York and "Compass" at Hyannisport. That background in political and social satire led to his work as a regular on television's "That Was the Week That Was."
His wife, Arlene, is the author of nineteen books, including her latest, Just Kids from the Bronx. An award winning professional photographer, her work has appeared in a number of magazines and books. They have three daughters and eight grandchildren.c
Alan Alda: I met a nanoscientist at Cornell University who had a really interesting story. He had discovered, with his graduate student, how to make the world’s thinnest glass—it was only one atom thick. The top of it was the same atom as the bottom of it, and he called it “two-dimensional glass.” It was an amazing thing, nobody had ever found a way to make glass this thin before, and it was picked up by one scientific journal.
And it seemed like a more interesting subject than one that would just get that much attention. And a couple of months later he was taking our workshop when we were up at Cornell, and in the course of talking about his discovery we realized that he had discovered how to make the world’s thinnest glass by accident. It wasn't something he was trying to do, an accident happened.
And I said, "You know, this is fascinating. People like us, on the outside, in the public, it's an interesting story to us to know that something so groundbreaking, that helped you understand the structure of glass and might have new uses for glass, that you discovered such a thing by accident. What an interesting story that is."
And also in the meantime he had been cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as having discovered the world's thinnest glass. So now he had two things that would interest the public.
And the next time he gave an interview he started off with the story of how it had been an accident that he discovered this. This human story now led into the technical story about what was the world's thinnest glass, how was it made, and that kind of thing. It became a story that was interesting to other people who don't know the technical details with that familiarity.
And now his story about discovering the glass was picked up by websites and newspapers all over America, all over Great Britain, and venture capitalists started calling him, asking him if they could commercialize this process—just starting with a human story that people on the outside of your work are interested in, because we're all human and we all think in stories. And every experiment has a story. Every life and science has a story and it's so common to hear people, when you say to them in a workshop, “Tell me your story.” They say, “Oh, I don't have a story.” Yes, you do! What's fascinating to you, when you really think about it, about how you got from here to there?
And the most important thing about a story, it turns out—to me, anyway—is the obstacle that you found yourself facing as you were trying to get to your goal. The story is not, “I wanted to get to Toledo, and I went and I got there.” That's okay. It's not much of a story. The story is, “I was headed toward Toledo and the airplanes were shut down, the cars were shut down, the railroad—how was I going to get to Toledo?” That's an interesting story and I want to listen to that. If in the course of that it turns out you discovered a new way to get to Toledo, I want to hear it.
The glass of water exercise is something that I figured out on the way to giving a talk. I wanted to give a talk to writers about what's the essential ingredient of a dramatic story. And I'm in the car with my wife and I said, "I don't know how to start this thing."
She said, "Well, why don't you start with some image." I said, "An image, okay." So an image of a story, a dramatic story, I decided in that moment was: carrying a glass of water across the stage, filled to the brim. So when I got there I said, "Is there somebody relatively brave in the audience? Come on up. Carry this empty glass across the stage."
And it's a little awkward. The audience titters a little bit, but nothing much is happening. She puts the glass down on the table over there. Then I take a pitcher and I fill it all the way to the brim, there's hardly a molecule of water left before it starts to spill, and she's holding the glass and I say, "Okay, now carry the glass carefully across the stage and put it on the table over there, but don't spill a drop or your entire village will die."
Now she's got an obstacle she has to overcome, and she carries it so carefully, so carefully that the audience is riveted to the glass, and if a bead of water goes down the side of the glass you can hear them gasp. Now, everybody knows there's no village, nobody is going to die, but just the imaginary situation that she has this important obstacle makes this an engaging sight, and that happens in every story that has a dramatic obstacle in it. The attempt to get past the obstacle, to get where you're going, to achieve what you're trying to achieve, makes it an interesting story.
So my guess is instead of leaving out your mistakes, instead of leaving out the problems you have in achieving something, whether it's science or whether it's an interview where the prospective boss says, “Tell me about your greatest achievement,” don't just tell them about your greatest achievement, tell them about the problems you had in solving the issue you were dealing with so you could get to something you could call an achievement. That makes it an interesting story. It makes it a more human story and it doesn't make you a braggart, it shows you had something really tough to work on, here's what you thought you might do to make it better. It's engaging, and what you want to do is engage that new employer. You don't want to just give them the facts. “Here are the facts, you ought to hire me.”
He's going to work with you. He's going to work with a person. Give him the person, and if the scientist gives the audience the person and how they felt and what they went through as they were accomplishing this important discovery, we're going to take it in better, we're going to understand it better, and we're going to remember it.
People who are natural storytellers make it look easy, but cut to the moment you're in the hot seat—at an interview, a conference, or even in a social setting—and suddenly the suave-ness is not so forthcoming. So what is the key to telling a story that grips a crowd, and takes them emotionally from point A to point B? This has been a point of focus for actor and author Alan Alda throughout his career, and here he draws on two examples from his life: the first about a brilliant nano-scientist who couldn't get anyone to care about his breakthrough invention until he let slip that it was a total accident; and the second is a simple but astounding demonstration that involves a person carrying a glass of water across a stage. Not exactly riveting? Watch and learn, young grasshopper. Alan Alda's most recent book is If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.