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The Supergenius: Inside the genius brain

Michio Kaku: If you watch the "Big Bang Theory" on CBS television you see these clueless nerds who are doormats when it comes to the opposite sex, right. And you realize is there any basis in reality? First of all none of my friends are like that and all my friends are physicists, right.

Well there is a kernel of truth and that is some of these individuals may suffer from something called Asperger’s Syndrome which is a mild form of autism. These people are clueless when it comes to social interactions. They don’t look you in the eye, for example. And yet they have fantastic mental and mathematical capabilities. We think, for example, that Isaac Newton had Asperger’s. The greatest scientist of all time was very strange. He had no friends to speak of. He could not carry a decent conversation and yet here he was spitting out some of the greatest theories in the history of science. Calculus. The Universal Law of Gravitation. The Theory of Optics. And we think he had Asperger’s Syndrome.

Now Asperger’s Syndrome is a mild form of autism and in autism we have what are called savants. That is people that have an IQ of maybe 80 but have incredible mathematical and musical abilities. In fact, some of these individuals can hear one symphony and just play it by memory on a piano. Other people could be in a helicopter, have a helicopter ride over Manhattan, see the entire New York harbor and then from memory sketch the entire harbor. In fact, if you want to see it go to JFK Airport in New York City and you will see it as you enter the international terminal. So what is it about these people? Well, first of all a lot of them had injuries to the left temporal lobe. One individual had a bullet as a child go right through the left temporal lobe. Another person dove into a swimming pool and injured very badly the left temporal lobe. And these people wound up with incredible mathematical abilities as a consequence. And so what is it about their brains?

Well Einstein’s brain has actually been preserved. Einstein when he died had an autopsy in which case the pathologist stole the brain without permission of the family. He just realized that he was sitting next to something historic, took the brain, took it home with him, and it was sitting in a jar in his home for decades. He even drove across the country with the jar inside his trunk. And there’s even a TV special where you can actually see the cut up brain of Albert Einstein. And you realize first of all the brain is a little bit different. You can’t tell by looking at it that it’s so remarkably different but you realize that the connections between the prefontal cortex and the parietal lobe – a connection that is accentuated in people that do abstract reasoning is thickened. So there definitely is a difference in the brain of Einstein. But the question is did it make Einstein or did Einstein make this change of the brain?

Are champions born or are they made? That still is not known because people who exercise mental abilities, mathematical abilities, they can thicken that part of the brain themselves. So we know that people who do well in mathematics, brain scans clearly show that their brains are slightly different from the average brain. So in conclusion, we’re still children with regards to understanding how this process takes place. Tonight don’t go home and bang yourself on the left temporal lobe. We don’t know how it works. We just know that in a tiny fraction of these cases people with injury to the left temporal lobe, some of the become super geniuses.

Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler and Dillon Fitton

 

Michio Kaku on what makes a supergenius.

Why it’s hard to tell when high-class people are incompetent

A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."

Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
  • Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
  • However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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Mother bonobos, too, pressure their sons to have grandchildren

If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.

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Surprising Science
  • Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
  • The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
  • Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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