Why great thinkers balance optimism and pessimism
Leaning too far in either direction is a recipe for stagnation and perhaps even failure.
MICHIO KAKU: Leadership is understanding the challenges of the future, to working on scenarios of the future. Now, President Eisenhower, when he was a general, he was asked about his attitude toward victory, toward fights and toward war and he basically said that pessimists never win wars, only optimists win wars. And optimists what separates them from the pessimists? You see, the optimists see the future, the bright side of the future, the future that has opportunities, not the pessimists who simply says ah, I can't do it, not possible, end of story. That's it folks. So, you have to have not just optimism but you have to have one eye on the future.
LAWRENCE KRAUSS: I'm a pessimist, but that's no reason to be gloomy. And that's become our mantra in some sense, and it seems perfectly appropriate when you think about the universe because the universe first of all isn't here to make us happy, it isn't here to please us and it doesn't give a damn what happens to us. In the far future of the universe is likely to be miserable as I talked about in my last book and I point out in my new book could be even more miserable. So, in a purposeless universe that may have a miserable future you may wonder well how can I go about each day? And the answer is we make our own purpose. We make our own joy.
JASON SILVA: And I've fallen in love with this idea of feedback loops. One of the things that Rich Doyle, who wrote "Darwin's Pharmacy," talks about is finding ways to become aware, to learn to perceive the feedback loops between our creative and linguistic choices and our consciousness and our experience. In other words, the extraordinary capacity that we have to sculpt and mold our lives. The spaces we inhabit, the people we surround ourselves with, by curating spaces, by curating circumstance we essentially co-author our experience. A lot of people go through life thinking that they don't have any control, that life is just happening to them but that's not true. We have a lot more control than we realize and this extraordinary control comes from the power of feedback loops. You literally can decide, can almost author an afternoon into being by planning to meet in a certain place with a certain person, listening to certain music, drinking a certain kind of wine. I've decided that I'm going to see the world through rose colored lenses, I'm going to be optimistic, I'm going to look for the beautiful in every possible experience. That intention, that agency coupled with action, with editorial discernment and saying okay I'm going to do this, I'm going to hang out with this person, it creates a self-amplifying feedback loop, in other words the intention to be optimistic makes me stumble upon all these things that make me feel more optimistic and so on and so forth.
KEVIN KELLY: Over almost 200 years every year has gotten a little bit better when we look at the scientific evidence. And while it's possible that next year everything could change, everything could collapse and fall to the ground, statistically, probabilistically it won't it will continue because 200 years has gone and next year it probably will continue. But if you look at the kind of current political regime around the world and the factors of pressures, environmental pressures, the pressures of distraction that we have from the new media then I think you have to resort to hope. In the long term optimists decide the future. It's the optimists who create all of the things that are going to be most important in our life because it was the optimists who built and invented all the things that are now important in our current lives. And I think people behave better when they're optimistic. There's absolutely a need to be critical and doubtful and skeptical and even pessimistic just like if you have a car you have to have brakes, you can't have a car no matter where it is without brakes. But it's the engine, the optimistic engine that keeps going and going and refuses to stop and it's only concerned about going forward that really drives a car, but you certainly need breaks to steer it.
WILLIAM MAGEE: Is it itself a form of stratification? Is there something about optimism that's a resource that we can understand as a psychological good like happiness? So if it's stratified in a population how is it associated with other kinds of stratification, income and so forth, education? And so, you're saying well class, the real interesting one is class. Everyone wants to know pull yourself up by your bootstraps, think positively you'll be successful, if you're optimistic you'll be successful. But of course, if you're successful you're going to be optimistic so there's the reverse causality thing and so taking class and looking at class is a really interesting part that I'll want to get to. And I think that's an interesting question because there's a lot of theory around sociology and emotions, around the idea that expectations are created, the ability to meet expectations generates energy, that energy is what allows people to do things, that emotional energy, and then it replicates itself. So, people are convinced to be optimistic, especially the middle classes, and if they're not able to achieve those expectations then their energy goes down and they become dissatisfied.
SILVA: There's always going to be the wildcard, there's always going to be the circumstances you can't plan for, there's always the unexpected the relevance and the serendipity, but just like that book "The Power of Pull" talks about we can funnel the serendipity or we can channel the serendipity funnel, we can help engender and engineer serendipity by the choices that we make every moment. And so, by cultivating rich social networks, by cultivating weak ties, not just close ties but the weak ties, by becoming connectors and by connecting others so that they connect us we create a world in which these self-amplifying feedback loops feed on top of each other. So, good circumstances lead to other good circumstances which lead to other good circumstances and each one of them encourages us to then live more openly and participate in that creative flow space and you can go on and on. But that requires a boldness of character as well because the realization of the dizzying freedom we have to compose our lives, if I can do anything it can be paralyzing, but I think that if we are able to courageously embrace the uncertainty of that freedom and then exercise discerning and smart and refined creative and linguist choices every step of the way we do have the capacity to turn our lives into a work of art.
KAKU: When I was a kid, when I was a child I had two role models. The first was Einstein. I read that he couldn't finish his greatest work and as a child I said to myself I want to help you finish it. I want to help finish it because it's the fundamentals of physics. But the other role model I had was, well, I used to watch "Flash Gordon" on TV every Saturday morning and he kind of like blew my mind away. Ray guns, cities in the sky, invisibility shields, monsters from outer space. And then I begin to realize that the two loves of my life were actually the same thing, that if you want to understand the future you have to understand science. You've got to pay your dues. That's where leadership will take you because you can see the future. That's what Eisenhower could do he could see the future of a war because he understood the mechanics of the war and how the war would progress. Seeing the future is the key to success in life, I think it's the key to intelligence and it's also the key to leadership as well. Now, you might say to yourself now wait a minute, I thought IQs were a good predictor of the future? Wrong. If you take a look at people with high IQs, yeah some of them do win the Nobel Prize, but a lot of them wind up as marginal people, petty criminals, people that are failures. And then you wonder why? Why is it that some people with high IQs never get anywhere? Well, the Air Force had this problem, you see the Air Force devised a test: what happens if your airplane is shot down over enemy territory in Vietnam and you were captured by the Vietnamese? Do something. What are you going to do? It turns out that the people with high IQs got paralyzed, flummoxed, they didn't know what to do they were paralyzed. What? You're captured behind enemy lines? What are you going to do? Give up? The people who came up with the most imaginative, the most creative ideas they were the ones who did not score so high on the IQ exam but they were creative, they saw the future. They came up with all sorts of schemes in which to escape. Now, I like to think of it this way: let's say you get a bunch of people, kids, and you ask them to rob a bank. That's your job: rob a bank. How would you do it? I think the people with high IQs would get all embarrassed, flummoxed, they wouldn't know what to do. Even people who want to become policemen of the future they would get all flummoxed. But, criminals they're constantly thinking about the future, master criminals now not the ones who are petty and just steal things off the grocery shelf, but the master criminals are the ones who constantly simulate the future. How do you rob this bank? How do you nail down the police? How do you get away? Where is your getaway car? These are the ones who have high intelligence. These are "the future leaders."
KELLY: If you have only brakes you don't go anywhere. And I think what we have right now is we have an imbalance between pessimism and optimism and we really need a lot more optimism about the future in order to have an engine keep going. And I think that one of the reasons why we maybe have an imbalance right now is because we have been burned so often by the promises of the optimists about how technology is going to bring us a kind of utopia. And I think nobody believes in utopia anymore, I certainly don't. But dystopia is actually not any better, and that's actually the only vision that we have of the future, which is really sort of made by Hollywood in some science fiction, which is of a dystopia that collapses. And I think that while we can't believe in a utopia I think a better vision of the future is protopia, this idea that we have incremental progress, that we're working and creeping very, very steadily but slowly towards betterment. So, every year is a little tiny better than the year before, not much but a little tiny better and that kind of incremental progress is really only visible when you turn around and look back behind you. Because half or even a one percent difference is really something we can't see every year and it's not going to be seen in the news. If you look at the news the news is about outliers, it's about unusual things, it's not about the slow evidence of progress, which is not seen in the news. So, if you want to see what's really happening in the world you can't look at the news you have to look at the scientific evidence, which is going to register a very small delta that is really not visible unless you turn around and look behind you and then you can see oh, 20 years this is real.
KRAUSS: We make our own purpose and it seems to me life is more precious because it's temporary and accidental and we should take advantage of that. And we have evolved brains and that allows us to ask questions not just about how the universe works but how we should behave. Now, it's a long philosophical debate about whether you can get ought from is and maybe you could never get ought from is and maybe the reason is the slave of passion, but one thing seems clear to me that without knowing what it is you can never get to ought or if you do the ought that you get to is silly. If you don't know the consequences of your actions, which is really what science tells us, then you can't assess how to behave. And so, understanding empirical phenomena plays a central role in leading a better life it seems to me and it should play a central role in public policy so that we as a society can make sound decisions about how to act in the common good.
KELLY: Civilization is not monumental heroic enterprise, it's the small creep of one percent betterment through centuries. And I think if we believe that progress is real then we can actually behave better. If we believe that progress is real we can still dream about making these new things because we know that even through the new technologies are going to introduce as many new problems as they solve and that most of the problems that we'll have in the future will come from new technology, you'll still go forward and make and invent those new things even though they will create new problems because those new problems themselves will birth new solutions, which will have new problems, but that circle and cycle keeps going round and round and there's a one percent net gain for each revolution and that's what we get out of this.
- When it comes to thinking about the future, is it best to assume the best or the worst? Like with most things, it's actually a little column A and a little column B. This video features theoretical physicists, futurists, sociologists, and mavericks explaining the pros and cons of both.
- "In the long term optimists decide the future," argues Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick for Wired and the magazine's founding executive editor. "It's the optimist who create all of the things that are going to be most important in our life." Kelly adds that, while every car runs on an optimistic engine, "you certainly need breaks to steer it."
- Finding a balance between the optimism that fuels innovation and a grounded pessimism is the key to a better future.
- Is There Such a Thing as an Intelligent Optimist? - Big Think ›
- The Pessimistic Brain: Wired to Be Negative? - Big Think ›
- Optimism Is a Skill That Can Be Learned - Big Think ›
- Optimistic Versus Pessimistic Brains - Big Think ›
Nazi supporters held huge rallies and summer camps for kids throughout the United States in the 1930s.
- During the 1930s, thousands of Americans sympathized with the Nazis, holding huge rallies.
- The rallies were organized by the American German Bund, which wanted to spread Nazi ideology.
- Nazi supporters also organized summer camps for kids to teach them their values.
A Bund parade in New York, October 30, 1939.
Credit: Library of Congress
1930s AMERICAN FASCIST BUND CAMP HOME MOVIE BERGWALD NEW JERSEY<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="69d54b175b0d317cf9bfd688e4fa04f3"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gOPeDaDcw3w?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.
Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
- A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
- This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
- The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.
Maybe you should enjoy this article with a cup of coffee or tea.<p> The <a href="https://drc.bmj.com/content/8/1/e001252?T=AU" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">study</a> involved 4,923 type 2 diabetics living in Japan. The average participant was 66 years old. All of the participants were taken from the rolls of the Fukuoka Diabetes Registry, a study geared at learning about the effects of new treatments and lifestyle changes on the health of diabetics. <br> <br> The participants filled out questionnaires concerning their health, diet, habits, and other factors. Among the questions were two focused on determining how much green tea or coffee, if any, the participants consumed over the course of a week. The health of the participants was recorded for five years. During this time, 309 of the test subjects died from a variety of causes. <br> <br> Subjects who drank more than one cup of tea or coffee per day demonstrated lower odds of dying than those who had none. Those who consumed the most tea and coffee, more than four and two cups a day, respectively, enjoyed the most significant reductions in their risk of death. This level of consumption was associated with a 40 percent lower risk of <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201020190129.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">death</a>. </p><p>Most interestingly, the effects of drinking tea and coffee appear to combine to reduce risk even further. Those who reported drinking two or three cups of tea a day and two or more cups of coffee were 51 percent less likely to die during the study, while those who drank a whopping four or more cups of tea and two or more cups of coffee had a 63 percent lower risk of <a href="https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/diabetes-coffee-and-green-tea-might-reduce-death-risk" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">death</a>. </p>
So, should I start swimming in a vat of coffee and green tea?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/LY0E-JQxeoY" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Not quite. </p><p> The primary takeaway from this study is that Japanese adults with type 2 diabetes who drink a lot of green tea and/or coffee die less often than similar people who do not. If this effect is caused by something in the drink, lifestyle choices people who drink that much tea all make, or something else remains unknown. The finding must be considered an association at this point. <br> <br> The eye-popping reductions in mortality rates are compared to the risk of death of others in the study. The people who died reported drinking less tea and coffee than those who lived. Unless you have several demographic and conditional similarities to the subjects of this study, you probably won't suddenly be at a two-thirds lower risk of death than your peers because you drink green tea. </p><p> Like all studies that depend on self-reporting, it is also possible that people misstated how much they consumed any one item. The study also did not look into other factors like socioeconomic status or education level, also known to impact death rates and potentially linked to coffee and tea consumption. </p><p> However, it is yet another study in the pile that suggests that <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-13-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coffee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">coffee</a> and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-green-tea" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">green tea</a> are good for you. That much is increasingly <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/health-benefits-linked-to-drinking-tea" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">agreed</a><a href="https://www.rush.edu/health-wellness/discover-health/health-benefits-coffee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> upon</a>. This study also suggests the benefits are additive, which is a new development.</p><p><br> So, while it isn't time to start the IV drip of green tea, a cup or two probably won't <a href="https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/news/20201022/coffee-green-tea-might-extend-life-for-folks-with-type-2-diabetes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hurt</a>. </p>
Logic puzzles can teach reasoning in a fun way that doesn't feel like work.
- Logician Raymond Smullyan devised tons of logic puzzles, but one was declared by another philosopher to be the hardest of all time.
- The problem, also known as the Three Gods Problem, is solvable, even if it doesn't seem to be.
- It depends on using complex questions to assure that any answer given is useful.
The Three Gods Problem<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UyOGZk7WbIk" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> One of the more popular wordings of the problem, which MIT logic professor George Boolos <a href="https://www.readersdigest.ca/culture/hardest-logic-puzzle-ever/" target="_blank">said</a> was the hardest ever, is:<br> <br> "Three gods A, B, and C are called, in no particular order, True, False, and Random. True always speaks truly, False always speaks falsely, but whether Random speaks truly or falsely is a completely random matter. Your task is to determine the identities of A, B, and C by asking three yes-no questions; each question must be put to exactly one god. The gods understand English, but will answer all questions in their own language, in which the words for <em>yes</em> and <em>no</em> are <em>da</em> and <em>ja</em>, in some order. You do not know which word means which."<br> <br> Boolos adds that you are allowed to ask a particular god more than one question and that Random switches between answering as if they are a truth-teller or a liar, not merely between answering "da" and "ja." <br> <br> Give yourself a minute to ponder this; we'll look at a few answers below. Ready? Okay. <strong><br> <br></strong>George Boolos' <a href="https://www.pdcnet.org/8525737F00588A37/file/31B21D0580E8B125852577CA0060ABC9/$FILE/harvardreview_1996_0006_0001_0060_0063.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">solution</a> focuses on finding either True or False through complex questions. </p><p> In logic, there is a commonly used function often written as "iff," which means "if, and only if." It would be used to say something like "The sky is blue if and only if Des Moines is in Iowa." It is a powerful tool, as it gives a true statement only when both of its components are true or both are false. If one is true and the other is false, you have a false statement. </p><p> So, if you make a statement such as "the moon is made of Gorgonzola if, and only if, Rome is in Russia," then you have made a true statement, as both parts of it are false. The statement "The moon has no air if, and only if, Rome is in Italy," is also true, as both parts of it are true. However, "The moon is made of Gorgonzola if, and only if, Albany is the capitol of New York," is false, because one of the parts of that statement is true, and the other part is not (The fact that these items don't rely on each other is immaterial for now).</p><p> In this puzzle, iff can be used here to control for the unknown value of "da" and "ja." As the answers we get can be compared with what we know they would be if the parts of our question are all true, all false, or if they differ. </p><p> Boolos would have us begin by asking god A, "Does "da" mean yes if and only if you are True if and only if B is Random?" No matter what A says, the answer you get is extremely useful. As he explains: <br> </p><p> "If A is True or False and you get the answer da, then as we have seen, B is Random, and therefore C is either True or False; but if A is True or False and you get the answer ja, then B is not Random, therefore B is either True or False… if A is Random and you get the answer da, C is not Random (neither is B, but that's irrelevant), and therefore C is either True or False; and if A is Random...and you get the answer ja, B is not random (neither is C, irrelevantly), and therefore B is either True or False."<br> <br> No matter which god A is, an answer of "da" assures that C isn't Random, and a response of "ja" means the same for B. </p><p> From here, it is a simple matter of asking whichever one you know isn't Random questions to determine if they are telling the truth, and then one on who the last god is. Boolos suggests starting with "Does da mean yes if, and only if, Rome is in Italy?" Since one part of this is accurate, we know that True will say "da," and False will say "ja," if faced with this question. </p><p> After that, you can ask the same god something like, "Does da mean yes if, and only if, A is Random?" and know exactly who is who by how they answer and the process of elimination. </p><p> If you're confused about how this works, try going over it again slowly. Remember that the essential parts are knowing what the answer will be if two positives or two negatives always come out as a positive and that two of the gods can be relied on to act consistently. </p><p> Smullyan wrote several books with other logic puzzles in them. If you liked this one and would like to learn more about the philosophical issues they investigate, or perhaps if you'd like to try a few that are a little easier to solve, you should consider reading them. A few of his puzzles can be found with explanations in this <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/11/obituaries/smullyan-logic-puzzles.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interactive</a>. </p>
But most city dwellers weren't seeing the science — they were seeing something out of Blade Runner.
On Sept. 9, many West Coast residents looked out their windows and witnessed a post-apocalyptic landscape: silhouetted cars, buildings and people bathed in an overpowering orange light that looked like a jacked-up sunset.