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Hey Bill Nye! Do You Believe in Ghosts and the Afterlife?

Bill Nye tackles a tough question that every person alive has been hung up on – what happens after we die? Where does our life energy go?

Marsalina: Hi Bill Nye. My name is Marsalina. This is my son Ohenu. And we have a question about your perspective on ghosts and also what do you think happens to your life energy that ceases after you die? Is it just pushing daisies? Thank you.

Bill Nye: Marsha. Greetings. People have wondered about life after death since there have been people. It goes way, way back. We started with ghosts. I’ll tell you I don’t think there’s any such thing. I don’t think there’s anything to be afraid of when it comes to ghosts. I’m a member of both the skeptics and the counsel for scientific inquiry and we have looked and looked for haunted houses, for ghosts in cemeteries, for psychics who believe they’re in touch with people who are dead. And there’s absolutely no credible evidence. There’s no reason to believe that there are ghosts or life after death. People have tried and tried. And you may know that Houdini the famous magician said if anybody can come back from the dead it’s me man. I’m coming. And he never got in touch with anyone. No one ever heard from him. He had a secret word between he and his mother that he said I’ll give you the secret word when I come back. And do you know what the secret word is? Nobody knows, it was secret and he never came back.

But what happens to humans our brains are so active. We imagine so many things and we’re always looking for cause and effect. That is to say when you hear a bump in the night you want to know what caused it. You want to know what brought it on. And the first thing you might imagine is that there’s somebody or some entity out there causing this effect, the bump but you can’t see it. So then we intuitively or instinctively for ancient reasons put a pattern on it. We imagine it has an agent as we call it but there’s something out there, some agent is causing this. But it could be the wind blew and knocked the candle over and there’s no ghost and just get over it. Don’t be afraid of that. Now when it comes to life after death I’ve thought about this quite a bit and what happens, what are you like when you’re dead? If you watch people age like my grandmother, my beloved grandmother. She was so smart when I was a little kid. She collected wildflowers. She was very skilled as an artist. She could draw landscapes and she was like a naturalist.

Traditionally she would draw detailed pictures of flowers depicting their very detailed parts, petals, stamen, pistols and so on. But as she got older she got dementia. She could not remember things. She didn’t recognize me. And so she eventually died of old age. And I just don’t see any evidence that she would suddenly be a young person as an after dead ghost entity. It looks like to me this life is all you get. This is it. There’s nothing afterwards. So what you’ve got to do is live this life as best you can. That’s the way to go. And if it does turn out there’s an afterlife and we all turn young again and can play rugby or whatever it is we want to do so much the better. But I see no evidence for it. And for your son there are no ghosts, sorry. And your friends who believe in ghosts you can outwit them. You’ll be ahead of them because you will not waste energy running around looking for ghosts. Instead you’ll close the window to keep the candle from blowing over or whatever made your friend believe in a ghost. Carry on. I’m sorry but it seems to be apparently this is all you get.

Bill Nye tackles the big question, a little apologetically it seems. As much as Nye would probably like to believe in heaven, messages from the ghosts of your loved ones, and an afterlife where you return to your peak and share eternity with your favorite people, he is bound by truth and science, and admits that there has been no evidence for it.


Ghosts and supernatural occurrences usually have explanations in science. A candle that blows out spookily may logically be due to a draft of wind. A feeling of being unsettled and on edge can be due to infrasound – sound at levels so low that humans can’t hear it but whose vibrations cause distinct physiological discomfort. There's also the fact that many of us want to believe in supernatural dimensions, so we create symbols and meaning where there isn't any. 

Nye cites the famous magician Harry Houdini, who said if anyone could come back from the dead in ghost form, it was him. But, he never got in touch. He had the determination, but if the laws of nature don't provide an option, it may simply not be possible to come back. It’s not quite evidence against ghosts and the afterlife, but Houdini seemed pretty intent on it, so it’s something of a nail in the coffin of ghost theory.

It might seem like grim news that Nye is delivering, but the upside is that you can pour all your energy, creativity, and love into the life you’re living now. There’s no need to save anything in your reserve engines for the afterlife. Nye advises that you live the best life you can while you’re conscious – do as much good, travel all you can, learn and make those around you happy. If our human life span is all we have, it makes living even more precious and more of a gift than ever before.

Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

Live today! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT today.

Two-thirds of parents say technology makes parenting harder

Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.

Sex & Relationships
  • Today's parents believe parenting is harder now than 20 years ago.
  • A Pew Research Center survey found this belief stems from the new challenges and worries brought by technology.
  • With some schools going remote next year, many parents will need to adjust expectations and re-learn that measured screen usage won't harm their children.

Parents and guardians have always endured a tough road. They are the providers of an entire human being's subsistence. They keep that person feed, clothed, and bathe; They help them learn and invest in their enrichment and experiences; They also help them navigate social life in their early years, and they do all this with limited time and resources, while simultaneously balancing their own lives and careers.

Add to that a barrage of advice and reminders that they can always spend more money, dedicate more time, or flat-out do better, and it's no wonder that psychologists worry about parental burnout.

But is parenting harder today than it was, say, 20 years ago? The Pew Research Center asked more than 3,600 parents this question, and a majority (66 percent) believe the answer is yes. While some classic complaints made the list—a lack of discipline, a disrespectful generation, and the changing moral landscape—the most common reason cited was the impact of digital technology and social media.

A mixed response to technology

children using desktop computer

Parents worry that their children spend too much time in front of screens while also recognizing technologies educational benefits.

(Photo: Chris Hondros/Getty Images)

This parental concern stems not only from the ubiquity of screens in children's lives, but the well-publicized relationship between screen time and child development. Headlines abound citing the pernicious effects screen time has on cognitive and language development. Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, issue warnings that too much screen time can lead to sleep problems, lower grades, weight problems, mood problems, poor self-image, and the fear of missing out—to name a few!

According to Pew's research, parents—which Pew defines as an adult or guardian with at least one child under their care, though they may also have adult children—have taken these warnings to heart. While 84 percent of those surveyed are confident they know how much screen time is appropriate, 71 percent worry their child spends too much time in front of screens.

To counter this worry, most parents take the measured approach of setting limits on the length of time children can access screens. Others limit which technologies children have access to. A majority of parents (71 percent) view smartphones as potentially harmful to children. They believe the devices impair learning effective social skills, developing healthy friendships, or being creative. As a result, about the same percentage of parents believe children should be at least 12 years old before owning a smartphone or using social media.

But a deeper concern than screen time seems to be what content those screens can access. An overwhelming 98 percent of those surveyed say parents and guardians shouldered the responsibility of protecting children from inappropriate online content. Far less put the responsibility on tech companies (78 percent) or the government (65 percent).

Parents of young children say they check the websites and apps their children use and set parental controls to restrict access. A minority of parents admit to looking at call and text records, tracking their child's location with GPS, or following their child on social media.

Yet, parents also recognize the value of digital technology or, at least, have acquiesced to its omnipresence. The poster child for this dichotomy is YouTube, with its one billion hours played daily, many before children's eyes. Seventy-three percent of parents with young children are concerned that their child will encounter inappropriate content on the platform, and 46 percent say they already have. Yet, 80 percent still let their children watch videos, many letting them do so daily. Some reasons cited are that they can learn new things or be exposed to different cultures. The number one cited reason, however, is to keep children entertained.

For the Pew Research Center's complete report, check out "Parenting Children in the Age of Screens."

Screens, parents, and pandemics

Perhaps most troubling, Pew's survey was conducted in early March. That's before novel coronavirus spread wildly across the United States. Before shelter-in-place laws. Before schools shuttered their doors. Before desperate parents, who suddenly found themselves their child's only social and educational outlet, needed a digital lifeline to help them cope.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led many parents to rely on e-learning platforms and YouTube to supplement their children's education—or just let the kids enjoy their umpteenth viewing of "Moana" so they can eke out a bit more work. With that increase in screen time comes a corresponding increase in guilt, anxiety, and frustration.

But are these concerns overblown?

As Jenny Radesky, M.D., a pediatrician and expert on children and the media at the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital, told the New York Times, parents don't always need to view screen time as a negative. "Even the phrase 'screen time' itself is problematic. It reduces the debate to a black and white issue, when the reality is much more nuanced," Radesky said.

Radesky helped the American Academy of Pediatrics craft its statement about screen time use during the pandemic. While the AAP urges parents to preserve offline experiences and maintain limits, the organization acknowledges that children's media use will, by necessity, increase. To make it a supportive experience, the statement recommends parents make a plan with their children, be selective of the quality of media, and use social media to maintain connections together. It also encourages parents to adjust their expectations and notice their own technology use.

"We are trying to prevent parents from feeling like they are not meeting some sort of standard," Radesky said. "There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don't be on it all day."

This is good advice for parents, now and after the pandemic. While studies show that excessive screen time is deleterious, others show no harm from measured, metered use. For every fear that screens make our kids stupid, there's a study showing the kids are all right. If we maintain realistic standards and learn to weigh quality and quantity within those standards, maybe parenting in the digital age won't seem so darn difficult.

How meditation can change your life and mind

Reaching beyond the stereotypes of meditation and embracing the science of mindfulness.

Videos
  • There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment.
  • "Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience," explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects.
  • "I think we're looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution," says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. "Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you." Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you'd like.
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No, the Yellowstone supervolcano is not ‘overdue’

Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.

Image: USGS - public domain
Strange Maps
  • The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
  • Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
  • The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
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Spiders lace webs in toxins to paralyze prey

Just what every arachnophobe needed to hear.

Luciano Marra from São Paulo, Brasil - Aranha de Teia (Nephila clavipes), CC BY-SA 2.0
Surprising Science
  • A new study suggests some spiders might lace their webs with neruotoxins similar to the ones in their venom.
  • The toxins were shown to be effective at paralyzing insects injected with them.
  • Previous studies showed that other spiders lace their webs with chemicals that repel large insects.
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