How listening to the universe can help quiet your self-doubt
Dr. Michelle Thaller is an astronomer who studies binary stars and the life cycles of stars. She is Assistant Director of Science Communication at NASA. She went to college at Harvard University, completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif. then started working for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Spitzer Space Telescope. After a hugely successful mission, she moved on to NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), in the Washington D.C. area. In her off-hours often puts on about 30lbs of Elizabethan garb and performs intricate Renaissance dances. For more information, visit NASA.
MICHELLE THALLER: I often get questions about what it's like being a woman in science, which has traditionally been a field dominated by men. And the interesting thing is the complexity of that to me because I grew up in the 1980s. I went to college in the 1990s. And that certainly was after the era, at least for the most part, where women were just told point blank, you shouldn't be here. You can't be a scientist. You don't belong here. That never happened to me. I never had anybody say to my face, in terms of a teacher, you're not welcome here. You don't belong here. And, in fact, when I was in college, some of the highest-performing students in my physics classes were women. They were certainly in the minority in terms of numbers. There were fewer of them in class compared to men, But they were doing very well. One of the things that's most surprising to me, and I've talked to a lot of my women colleagues about this is that I really didn't expect some of the biggest barriers to come from inside myself.
From the very start of my scientific career, and I'm talking about undergraduate, being a physics major. I grappled with almost crippling self-doubt. It was really hard to get myself into the class. I mean sometimes, I actually had to work myself up into a character. I'd sort of stand outside a classroom and think about how a physics student should feel or how they should behave. I felt very deeply that I didn't belong there, but that was coming from me. That didn't seem to be coming from anything external. Through most of my career in science-- and I'm talking about my education-- I was too scared to ask a single question. I spent my entire undergraduate and most of my graduate classes in the back of the class terrified. I was copying the notes. The teacher was deriving something on the blackboard. I was copying it down, but it could have been in a foreign language. I didn't understand it. And I was so embarrassed to admit that I was that lost and that far behind. I spent my entire scientific education being scared. And I look back and I think, why? It turns out-- I now have a doctorate in physics-- I can learn that. I can do physics. I can be successful at that. I'm not an idiot. So why was I so crippled and held back by my own fear and by my own shame at how I wasn't understanding this very quickly.
I've heard people use the term imposter syndrome. That for some reason, you're absolutely sure you don't belong here, and, in fact, you must have fooled people into letting you be here. I've had it pointed out that if you can pass comprehensive exams in physics, which I have, it probably means you belong here, probably means you learned the material. But it never felt that way. It always felt like maybe I had sort of pulled the wool over people's eyes, or I shouldn't be here and I've fooled people into thinking I belong here. And there was this sense of shame. And I'm going to admit this to you, I still feel that today. I feel that every single day I go to NASA, and I'm with these brilliant people all around me.
Every single day, I still feel like I don't belong, and it's been some kind of mistake that they let me in. Imagine your whole career being like that. Never feeling like you belong, and I'm not saying this is something that only happens to women. I'm sure this happens to men, too. But I've had to ask myself, why? It's true that society as a whole gives you lots of very subtle messages that you don't belong. As a woman, it's remarkable that you're a scientist. And why is it difficult being a woman in science? Even those questions begin to put you apart as something different. And there's all of these tiny little messages that you're not right. My wonderful, gifted, and talented counselor in high school I loved said, but you don't have a scientist personality. You can't be a scientist. You're not that cold, logical person. Everything about me has been wrong and been defined as being wrong since I was a child. And I internalized that, and I have not found a way to get beyond it. The thing that has sustained me, of course, is that I have some wonderful colleagues. Some of them are women. Many of them are men.
The first person that really encouraged me was my research advisor in college. Shout out to David Latham, who saw this very scared, nervous girl who loved astronomy. And he took me under his wing, and he said, you can be an astronomer. There's nothing magical about it. You don't have to be brilliant. There's not a specific personality you have to have. If you love astronomy, you can do this. He was absolutely right. I do need encouragement. I do need people to say, we're happy to have you in our group. We're glad you're here. I wish I didn't need that encouragement, but I do. That really, really helps me. You may not realize the people around you are struggling with that self-doubt, almost that self-sabotage, that they just sort of want to run away at any time. But if I'm experiencing it, I think it's a good chance the people around you are as well. Take some time to appreciate each other.
Take some time to take care of each other. And think about what it's like to be a woman in general. I often give people this example, picture yourself in a world where the roles were reversed. Where every person who walked on the moon was a woman. Where every president of the United States was a woman. Where every major religious figure, and philosopher, and artist, and musician, and all the top chefs, and all the authors, they were all women. And, yeah, OK, there's an occasional man here and there. We call them out, and encourage them, and make examples of them. But you're in this whole world where the right way to be is to be a woman. And a lot of people, I think, need to put themselves in that and really think about, what is like being told subtly that everything about you is wrong? And somehow less from the moment you're born. The universe has inspired me since I was a child. This was nothing faked. I wanted to look at the stars when I was a little kid. As soon as I could walk, my mom would find me out there trying to look at the stars.
The universe picks people to be fascinated by it. It can be any gender, or ethnic group, or socioeconomic group. I've met people from so many different walks of life who love stars, and they can't even tell you why. That's my tribe. I belong to a group of people that, for some reason, love astronomy and are inspired by space and by the universe. And nothing can change that. Nothing can ever take that away, even my self-doubt. So I've lived a life steeped in fear. But I've also found such beauty and such inspiration. It's complicated. I'm still kind of a mess, but I'm moving forward. And I have that inspiration, that connection to the universe that will never go away.
- We all experience self-doubt — sometimes called 'imposter syndrome'.
- NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller explains how the universe itself has been a salve for her fears.
- The universe chooses people to be interested in, she says. What has the universe chosen you for?
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.