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Amaryllis Fox
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Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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What Does Liberty Mean to You?

Words like "liberty" and "freedom" represent big ideas that are about as amorphous as they are valued.

Below you'll find some words of wisdom from Abraham Lincoln, 16th U.S. president and familiar $5 facade man. The words are derived from a speech Lincoln gave in Baltimore in April 1864, less than a year before the end of the bloody Civil War (and, consequently, about a year prior to the president's grim assassination). The idea: We Americans like to make a huge hullabaloo about big concept words like "freedom" and "liberty" despite the fact we've never really bestowed upon those monikers any semblance of a thorough definition. What is liberty? Back in Lincoln's time, two sets of Americans claimed to fight for it. Liberty meant slavery should be extinguished; liberty meant the right to own slaves. 


While contexts may change, major existential dilemmas have a biting tendency to stick around much longer than anyone would like. Does anyone really believe we have a useful definition of "liberty" to hang our hats on in 2015? If Congress were in session, we'd have Democrats and Republicans arguing about this concept right now, posturing until their voices run dry. The issues they'd be arguing are hardly analogous to slavery — it's one thing to argue about liberty in a debate about human bondage; a whole other when talking about charter schools or food stamps — but the core debate still remains rooted in our fundamental disagreement over the word.

Here's Lincoln's take: 

"The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing."

Sound familiar?

We hardly have answers here at Big Think regarding what we're going to eat for breakfast, let alone how to define the foggiest, yet most fundamental value of American democracy. Still, it's interesting when attempting to pinpoint the source for Washington's tedious brand of do-nothingness to lay eyes on the word "liberty" and not be able to formulate a coherent meaning — or at least a coherent meaning the person next to you would also agree with. If we understood what the word really meant to us as a whole, perhaps governing would be much easier.

Of course, if we all agreed, then there wouldn't be much use for democracy.

Is the universe a graveyard? This theory suggests humanity may be alone.

Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?

According to the Great Filter theory, Earth might be one of the only planets with intelligent life. And that's a good thing (NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team [STScI/AURA]).
Surprising Science

Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.

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The key to better quality education? Make students feel valued.

Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.

Future of Learning
  • Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
  • One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
  • "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Personal Growth

Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

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