Hive mind: The good, the bad, and the viral

What is the hive mind? Turns out there are antisocial and prosocial dimensions to it.

SARAH ROSE CAVANAGH: The hive mind is a couple of different things. It is firstly the idea that we are a collective as much as we are individuals and that we can enter this frame of mind where we're sharing attention and we're sharing goals and we're sharing emotions. You can feel this most often if you think about your own experiences in attending rock concerts or sporting events, singing together in a choir where we seem to meld together a bit and share these experiences. But the hive mind is also the extent to which our understanding of the world is sourced collectively from each other, from our social others rather than just through independent decisions and experiences. So much of what we think is acceptable, what we think is fashionable and even what we think is true is sourced from other people and not ourselves.

We are tremendously influenced by the people that we admire and the people that we feel close to. Without even realizing it we can be shaped by these ideas. A good example of that I think is the ice bucket challenge which was a really odd thing if you stop to think about it. It's wonderful that we raised all that money for ALS but this impulse to do this thing just because everyone else is doing it and to do something so uncomfortable and strange as pour a bucket of ice over your head just spread like wildfire. And you can see this with most things that go viral. They don't always make complete sense. People aren't always thinking through. They just do it because we're influenced by each other so profoundly.

We are such an individualistic society that we tend to focus more on the bad aspects of the collective. We talk a lot about conformity. We talk a lot, especially since the 2016 election people are focusing a lot on echo chambers, on group polarization which refers to the fact that when we talk to only people who agree with us we not only become more entrenched in our views but we move more extreme. And we've been focusing a lot of our discussion on those dangers of collective thinking and I absolutely believe that there are many dangers of collective thinking. But at the same time we can source that collective thinking in powerful ways. So some of the best approaches to disinformation that I have seen involve relying more on the hive mind. Not expecting every individual person to go through every step of digital literacy and to evaluate each piece of information, but rather to source broadly and look for things that other people have already done. Not recreate the wheel but see if this idea has been debunked by other reputable sources at the same time. And so I think that there are ways that we can tap into the collective that are positive and prosocial as well as negative and antisocial.

If we believe that we're complete individuals and that all of our opinions and all of our thoughts are clearly our own, then we're more susceptible I think to those dangers of the hive mind. If we question – and this is something I do with my students all the time is to try to get both them and me into a place where we can question our own beliefs, where we can ask where are these coming from. What's the source of these beliefs. To think carefully and to think rationally about those things I think can get us to a safer place.

  • The hive mind is a shared intelligence or consciousness between groups of people. It determines what we think is culturally acceptable, what we think is fashionable, and even what we think is true. We source most of our information and beliefs from other people and not from ourselves, says psychology professor Sarah Rose Cavanagh.
  • The hive mind often comes under fire in the U.S. because it is a highly individualistic culture that frowns upon things like mindless conformity, echo chambers, and group think. Those are the antisocial aspects of collective thinking.
  • There are also prosocial features, explains Cavanagh. The hive mind allows us to draw on collective knowledge in positive ways, without needing to reinvent the wheel each time.

China's "artificial sun" sets new record for fusion power

China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.

Credit: STR via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.

But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.

Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.

If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.

Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.

According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.

The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.

But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.

Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.

Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.

We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.

Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).

With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.

The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession

The symbol for love is the heart, but the brain may be more accurate.

Videos
  • How love makes us feel can only be defined on an individual basis, but what it does to the body, specifically the brain, is now less abstract thanks to science.
  • One of the problems with early-stage attraction, according to anthropologist Helen Fisher, is that it activates parts of the brain that are linked to drive, craving, obsession, and motivation, while other regions that deal with decision-making shut down.
  • Dr. Fisher, professor Ted Fischer, and psychiatrist Gail Saltz explain the different types of love, explore the neuroscience of love and attraction, and share tips for sustaining relationships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.

U.S. Navy controls inventions that claim to change "fabric of reality"

Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

Credit: Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
  • Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
  • While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
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There never was a male fertility crisis

A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.

Sex & Relationships
  • A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
  • The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
  • The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
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