David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

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.

Hulu's original movie "Palm Springs" is the comedy we needed this summer

Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.

  • Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
  • As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
  • The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Keep reading Show less

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less

Our ‘little brain’ turns out to be pretty big

The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.

Image source: Sereno, et al
Mind & Brain
  • A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
  • The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
  • This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.

Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

A neural crêpe

A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.

So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.

The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."

Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum

Image source: Sereno, et al.

A complicated map

Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."

That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.

It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."

This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."

Bigger and bigger

The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.

"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."

As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."

Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Economists show how welfare programs can turn a "profit"

What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
  • It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
  • The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Keep reading Show less