Big Think

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Big Think is the leading source of expert-driven, actionable, educational content -- with thousands of videos, featuring experts ranging from Bill Clinton to Bill Nye, we help you get smarter, faster. We aim to help you explore the big ideas and core skills that define knowledge in the 21st century, so you can apply them to the questions and challenges in your own life.

How Pakistan's Violence Against Women Center is fighting a deadly cultural norm | Hafsa Lak

Approximately 5,000 women die at the hands of domestic violence in Pakistan each year, and thousands more are maimed or disabled. In the socially conservative country, justice is heavily compromised as the reporting of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence carries a social stigma, the prosecution process is biased and fragmented, and the conviction rate is just 1-2.5%. In 2014, global conflict advisor Hafsah Lak asked herself: what can we do to provide survivors a real and effective justice delivery system? While working at the chief minister’s Special Monitoring Unit (Law and Order) in Punjab, Pakistan, she co-drafted the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act of 2016 and Punjab Women Protection Authority Ordinance 2017. The Act was passed into law but was hit with heavy conservative backlash. Recognizing that reform cannot be carried out by people who do not share the vision, Lak worked to create Pakistan's first-ever Violence Against Women Center (VAWC), which opened on March 25, 2017, and has successfully resolved over 800 cases of violent crimes against women thus far. The VAWC has streamlined the case file process all under one roof (removing all roadblocks to reporting crimes) and is staffed by 28 female police officers, 5 female medical officers, plus dedicated prosecutors and psychologists who were hired for their commitment to protecting women, and to providing a real deterrent for perpetrators of gender-based violent crimes. For more information, go to Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: I am Hafsah Lak and for the past three years I’ve been working with the Strategic Reforms Unit at the Punjab Chief Minister's Office in Pakistan on violence against women and women involvement reforms. The existing case file process to give justice to these victims is so fragmented and disconnected. The victim first has to go to a police station to register a crime, then a medical treatment facility to get first aid treatment or medical examination conducted. The medical examination has to be conducted within 48 hours so that the evidence can actually be used in the court to prove that the violence has been taking place. They don’t have access to these medical facilities, and because they don’t have that there is no proof that the crime actually took place. Then there’s forensics, then the prosecution, then court and so forth. So the victims fail to actually go ahead and prosecute crimes. Reporting decreases tremendously because of the fragmented case process. I mean back in those days—this is the summer of 2014—we were hearing reports of how female victims were dousing themselves with petrol and then setting themselves on fire in front of police stations just to gain attention from the media and other stakeholders to get their voices heard, to get their cases registered in the police station in the first place, let alone an investigation into the case and getting the perpetrator to justice, but just getting a first information report, a police report registered. And that got us thinking: what can we do to facilitate the victims as much as possible, to provide them a comprehensive justice delivery system? And back then they decided to have discussions on our commitment to a violence against women center and what it should look like. Back in the summer of 2014 this was just an idea: providing all the victims justice delivery services under one roof to streamline the case and process to make sure that they’re getting justice—and then by providing them justice and increasing the conviction rate, creating a deterrence in society to prevent such crimes in the first place. And since 2014—we’ve been working on it since 2014—we launched our pilot Violence Against Women Center on March 25, 2017, and we’ve received more than a thousand victims in these last six months, and we’ve been providing them all sorts of services and we’ve actually successfully resolved more than 800 of these cases. That just shows the need for such centers and reforms in a conservative society like Pakistan or in regions like Pakistan where there is a high prevalence of gender-based violence crimes and there is a pertinent need to have a comprehensive strategic solution to address those issues.While we were in consultation deliberations of how to make the reform comprehensive we also decided to give the centers a legislative cover, and that’s when we started drafting the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act in 2016. Now, this act is the first of its kind in Pakistan because it provides civil remedies to the victims, and it’s not just a provision of civil remedies—which I’ll talk about in a bit

1 day ago

How the Billboard Hot 100 explains the rise of Donald Trump | Derek Thompson

As soon as Derek Thompson's book Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction came out, he started fielding one particular question over and over: Does your book explain the unforeseen popularity of President Donald J. Trump? Thompson looked through the historical ledger of popularity and found the perfect analogy: the Billboard Hot 100 music charts. From its inception in 1958 to 1991, the Billboard Hot 100 rankings were rigged, controlled from the top-down by studio execs, paid DJs, and record store owners who wanted to move certain stock. Then, in 1991, something changed: record sales and radio play data were tracked for the first time. "Immediately, taste in music changed overnight," says Thompson. Hip-hop boomed, as did country music—genres ignored by the white men on the coast. "Music went from being dictated top-down to being generated bottom-up. The exact same thing is happening in politics," explains Thompson. A similar technological disruption—social media, a notoriously bottom-up platform—meant the gatekeepers of political power could no longer control which presidential candidate became the party nominee. Republican leaders wanted establishment candidate Jeb Bush, but the disgruntled voters made their taste known: they wanted Donald J. Trump. The same phenomenon that transformed the music charts is now transforming politics—only in this instance, the stakes are much higher. Derek Thompson's latest book is Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: The first question I got about my book when it came out in February, as I was going around the country talking about it, was, “Does your book explain Donald Trump?” So I had to come up with some sort of answer that addressed that issue. And the answer that I have is: Yes, the story of Donald Trump is the story of the Billboard Hot 100. So the Billboard Hot 100, invented in the 1950s, is the official register of popularity in music. And for a long time, it was essentially fake—it was fake news. They didn’t have live records of what albums and what vinyl was selling week by week, so instead what they did is they surveyed the DJs and the record store owners, and both parties would lie. The DJs would lie because they were being paid by the studios and the labels, and the record store owners would lie because they had scarcity. And once you’ve sold, say, all of your Bruce Springsteen and you have a lot of AC/DC, then it doesn’t make any sense to tell Billboard that Bruce Springsteen is selling, you need to sell more AC/DC so you tell them that that album is now number one in the charts. So the charts were biased toward the taste of the white man at the labels and toward churn. And then in 1991 all of that changed. Billboard introduced new technology to measure point of sales data of records and to measure radio play, and immediately taste in music changed overnight. Hip-hop and country, overlooked by white guys on the coast, soared up the charts and the churn of the Billboard Hot 100 slowed down dramatically—such that I think that 20 songs that have been in the Billboard Hot 100 for the longest period of time have all come out in the last 25 years. So essentially you could say that taste in music went from being dictated top-down to being generated bottom-up. The exact same thing is happening in politics. For a long time there was this theory of politics called “the party decides”. And this said that the way that we choose presidential candidates or presidential nominees with the parties is not that the public dictates who will be the party nominees, but rather that elites at the party level decide, and they distribute their messages through scarce media channels like television and radio and the public eats it up. Not altogether unlike the way the labels could dictate music popularity and then radio listeners would just eat it up and like those songs because of familiarity. But what happened with Donald Trump and Jeb Bush? The establishment candidate that all of the party people liked did terribly, and Donald Trump—who had basically no elite party support—did terrifically within the Republican Party. And so I think within the party structure you could also say that tastes, which used to be dictated top-down, are now being dictated bottom-up. And I think we are seeing a groundswell of the bottom across the entertainment and political landscape that, because of the distribution of media channels, is too difficult now for any gatekeeper to control the flow of information from a group of elite people to the masses. Instead, everybody has a blow horn, everybody can be a broadcaster, and as a result what you have instead is chaos.

2 days ago

Political Extremism in America: Don’t blame Russia, blame Facebook and Twitter | Niall Ferguson

"I think the Facebook and Twitter have been configured to incentivize the expression and sharing of extreme opinions. It isn’t just fake news that we have to worry about, but we do have to worry about that, it’s also extreme views. Both are in fact incentivized by the structure of the network platforms as they existed. And I think looking back on 2016 the correct analysis of that election is not that the Russian network interfered and that’s why Trump won, I don’t think the Russian contribution was nearly big enough for that statement to be valid. What is true is that without the existence of Facebook and Twitter it would’ve been very hard for an outlier outside a candidate like Donald Trump to win." Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: I don’t think the history of the 2016 election will be correctly written until it is clearly stated 'no Facebook, no Trump.' Anybody who expected a wonderful happy global community to form on the Internet in which everybody would share cat videos has been gravely disappointed. In fact, what’s happened has been an already quite polarized political scene has become even more polarized. Why? Well, remember rule number one of the networks, birds of a feather flock together, homophily operates. So people have naturally gravitated into two rival clusters if you want to put it this way, a liberal cluster, and a conservative cluster. But what’s fascinating is the way that peculiarities of today’s network platforms exacerbate this problem. For example, we now know that a tweet is 20 percent more likely to be read tweeted for every moral or emotional word that it uses. If you want to get retweeted you, therefore, are incentivized to use strong language. We can see that the legislators in the House of Representatives and the Senate who have the most Facebook followers are the most ideologically extreme according to their voting patterns. So I think the Facebook and Twitter have been configured to incentivize the expression and sharing of extreme opinions. It isn’t just fake news that we have to worry about, but we do have to worry about that, it’s also extreme views. Both are in fact incentivized by the structure of the network platforms as they existed. And I think looking back on 2016 the correct analysis of that election is not that the Russian network interfered and that’s why Trump won, I don’t think the Russian contribution was nearly big enough for that statement to be valid. What is true is that without the existence of Facebook and Twitter it would’ve been very hard for an outlier outside a candidate like Donald Trump to win. But those network platforms created opportunities for a populist that really had not existed before and his campaign knew how to use them and continues to know how to use them. Remember the algorithms are designed to give you more of what you engaged with before. You may not even notice it but as you like thing, as you share them you’re signaling two of the network platforms your preferences and it’s set up to give you more of that because the more engaged you are the more advertising they can sell. That’s how they make their money. So I think it’s time to kind of dial back our addiction, not only for political reasons but also because it’s addictive and addictions are bad for you. The more time you spend, and we all spend crazy amounts of time on our smartphones using these platforms, the less time you have to read Tolstoy or my book. And I think the books are actually much the best way for human beings to get high-level information. I think it’s better for your peace of mind and it will be better for our body politic if we all spend much less time on our smartphones using Facebook and Twitter and much more time reading books.

3 days ago

Loneliness kills: How to fight depression with social support | Johann Hari

Thanks in no small part to the digitization of our social lives, depression is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in western societies. In the space of just one generation, we've closed ourselves off and now spend more time in front of screens — on average, 10 hours a day according to a Neilsen report — than we do with our loved ones. New York Times journalist and author Johann Hari explains that this isn't at all how the human species is supposed to behave. He suggests more actual face time with people, more community, and above all: becoming the social creatures that we have been for millennia. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: There’s a really heartbreaking study that asked Americans, “How many close friends do you have that you can call on in a crisis?” And when they started doing it decades ago the most common answer was five. Today the most common answer is none. It’s not the average but it’s the most common answer. And I thought a lot about that in so many of the places I’ve been in the United States. I interviewed and got to know an incredible man called Professor John Cacioppo, a world expert on loneliness. He’s at the University of Chicago. And Professor Cacioppo explained to me, you know, if you think about the circumstances where human beings evolved, right, we evolved—the reason why you’re able to watch this through your laptop or wherever you’re watching it, the reason why we exist is because our ancestors on the savannahs of Africa were really good at one thing. They weren’t bigger than the animals they took down but they were much better at cooperating than them. Every human instinct human beings have is to be part of a cooperative tribe, right. Bees need a hive. Humans need a tribe. And if you think about the circumstances where human beings evolved, if you were separated from the group you would become depressed and anxious for an incredibly good reason. You were in terrible danger. You were probably about to die. Those are the instincts we still have. Yet we’ve told ourselves a story that we can live without tribes. We are the first human beings ever to try to live without communities, to imagine that like some cowboy on the horizon—and even the cowboys didn’t do it this way—we can live alone, we can be alone. That’s not the species we are. And it’s causing, and Professor Cacioppo has proven that this loneliness epidemic is one of the key causes of the epidemic of depression and anxiety that we have across our society. And I was really interested to find out well, who has acted on that? Who has tried to find an antidepressant for the loneliness crisis? I met an incredible man, one of the heroes of my book Lost Connections called Sam Everington. Sam is a doctor in East London, one of the poorest parts of East London actually where I lived for many years. And Sam was really uncomfortable because he had loads of patients coming to him who were depressed and anxious. And he had been told in his training even though he knew the science was much more sophisticated than this to tell people, “Well you feel this way because you’ve got a chemical imbalance in your brain,” and just give them drugs. Like me, Sam is not opposed to those drugs. He’s in favor of them but he just thought this is not enough. This isn’t solving the reason why these people are depressed and anxious. He could see how lonely and cut-off they were. So he pioneered a different approach. And I’ll tell you about it through one of the patients of his that I got to know. A woman called Lisa Cunningham came to Sam, and Lisa has been shut away in her home for seven years with crippling anxiety and depression. She came to Sam and Sam said to her, “Don’t worry Lisa, I’ll give you the drugs, whatever you need. I’m also going to prescribe something different. I’m going to prescribe for you to take part in a group. There was an area behind the doctor’s surgery that was known as “dog crap alley”, right. Because you can sense what it was like, they didn’t really use the word “crap,” I’m being polite. Just an area of scrubland.

4 days ago

How we'll find humanity's next home planet | Michio Kaku

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku doesn't just hope that humanity finds its way onto other planets... he's even picked out the ones we should be moving to — Proxima Centauri B, in the Alpha Centauri triple star system. He's even suggested that the next great space exploration could happen on a spaceship the size of a postage stamp, traveling 20% the speed of light, sent by using high-powered lasers. It sounds like a wild theory, but if anyone's wild theories could come true in the next 100 years, it's probably Michio Kaku. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: We’ve been brainwashed into thinking—by Hollywood—that a starship has to be huge and gigantic, the size of the Enterprise. However, the laws of physics make possible sending postage stamp-sized chips to the nearby stars. So think of a chip perhaps this big on a parachute, and have thousands of them sent into outer space energized by perhaps 800 megawatts of laser power. By shooting this gigantic bank of laser energy into outer space, by energizing all these mini parachutes you could then begin to accelerate of them to about 20 percent the speed of light. This is with doable technology today; it’s just a question of engineering. It’s a question of political will and economics, but there’s no physics, there’s no law of physics preventing you from shooting these chips to 20 percent the speed of light. That means Proxima Centauri, part of the Alpha Centauri triple star system, could be within the range of such a device. Now think about that, that means that within 20 years, after 20 years of launch we might be able to have the first starship go to a nearby planet. And it turns out that Proxima Centauri B is an Earth-like planet that circles around the closest star to the planet Earth. What a coincidence. It means that we’ve already staked out our first destination for visitation by an interstellar starship and that is Proxima Centauri B, a planet that goes around one of the stars in the triple star system. And so this could be the first of many different kinds of starship designs. In my book The Future of Humanity, I go through many of the possible design including fusion rockets, ramjet fusion rockets, including antimatter rockets. Some of these rockets, of course, or technologies won’t be available till the next 100 years, but remember we’re talking about the future of humanity, and the future of humanity I think could be in outer space.

5 days ago

Amazing astronomy: How neutron stars create ripples in space-time | Michelle Thaller

Michell Thaller, the Assistant Director of Science Communication at NASA, wanted to talk to us about a heavy subject matter. Specifically, super-dense neutron stars that are so dense that they're only the size of New York City but carry the weight of the sun. And when they circle each other in orbit for long enough, they collide with enough force to send ripples in both space and time. Those ripples alone are strong enough to alter the course of light. In fact, just a few years ago a rare astronomical event occurred where you'd have seen a star "blink" for a few minutes on and off before disappearing for good. Scientists are able to detect these gravitational ripples thanks to a LIGO, or a Laser Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which measures the refraction of light based on gravity waves. Oh, and one more thing: Albert Einstein correctly deduced that this phenomenon years before it was ever recorded. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: A few decades ago we actually saw explosions in the sky somewhere out in space that we really didn’t understand at all. They gave intense bursts to something called gamma rays. And gamma rays are the highest energy kind of light that is possible. Now you probably heard of, you know, ultraviolet rays from the sun, they give you sunburn. And then there are things like x-rays. Gamma rays are even more energetic and more dangerous to us than that. But gamma rays are only created in the universe by things that are naturally in the billions of degrees. And we saw these little gamma ray pops going off in space. At first we wondered well are they nearby? Could they be in our own galaxy or are they very far away? We really didn’t know. And a few decades ago we actually realized that these gamma-ray bursts were coming from very, very distant galaxies. Galaxies that in most cases were billions of light-years away. A light-year is about six trillion miles, the distance that light travels in one year. So billions of light-years away. And so something was creating a lot of gamma rays because they were bright enough to measure from that distance. And incredibly some of these explosions were so intense – there was one I believe it was in 2007 that NASA observed. There was a little flash of visible light that came with the gamma rays and it was actually visible with the naked eye for a couple of minutes. If you were actually in the southern hemisphere on that night you would have seen a little star turn on and off for a couple of minutes and then it would have been gone. And that explosion happened about seven billion light-years away. Something blew up seven billion years ago on almost the other side of the observable universe and it was bright enough to see with the unaided eye. We had discovered something unbelievable. What could possibly be that bright? What could possibly be that violent? That little explosion for a few minutes outshone the rest of the observable universe. Just one thing. So we really didn’t know what could possibly create that much energy. And the theoretical physicists got to work and they started just kind of guessing. I mean what could explode that could make that much energy? And it turns out that if you have these things called neutron stars. Neutron stars are the leftover compressed cores of dead stars. They are amazing monsters. They’re about ten miles across and they have a density that if you had about a teaspoonful of the material that that would be about as much as the mass as Mount Everest crushed into a teaspoonful. They’re amazing things and we observe hundreds, thousands of these things in space. And so people sort of theorize that if two of these things spiral together and collided you would actually be able to get that much energy out. It seemed unlikely but, you know, maybe that does happen sometime in the universe, the two of these things collide. Now Einstein came up with this wonderful idea that space and time is almost kind of like a fabric that connects everything in the universe. And what gravity is is gravity is kind of a pulling and a stretching on that fabric. And if you have two really massive things moving around each other very fast before they collide.

6 days ago

The Second Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy | Kurt Anderson

The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Anderson reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it’s the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: We all now know about the Second Amendment. We hear about it all the time. It is a huge driver of our politics on the Right. What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment. Here’s the Second Amendment: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state—“ Let me repeat that: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Well, first of all: what did that mean, the Second Amendment, back in the 1780s and 1790s when the Constitution and its first amendments were written? It meant, because the new United States would have no standing army, that any armed defense of the States or the United States would depend on militia who would be mobilized to fight the fights they needed to fight. So there’s that. Another important fact about the state of play when this amendment was written was the nature of arms themselves, of guns. A really good shooter could fire three or four rounds a minute—and that’s a really good one with these poorly aimed muskets and early rifles that they had. So that was what was being regulated. It was, “Oh, let’s have a militia and they can use these guns,” which were the state of the art, but compared to many, many, many rounds per second firearms that we have today, it’s the same word but virtually a different machine. So fast forward—or slow forward. For centuries of the Second Amendment didn’t really come up. People had guns; they hunted. Not everybody, but that’s what happened, they used them for protection in rare cases, but it wasn’t a big deal until starting in the 1960s when suddenly in a matter of months and a few years a presidential candidate, the great leader of African America and freedom Martin Luther King were killed, and other people attacked by assassins. Suddenly it seemed to reasonable people that, “Oh, we should have some controls on who can get guns how easily.” So we enacted some very modest regulations about registrations and limiting certain kinds of cheap weapons and so forth. And back then in the late '60s and even in the early ’70s the National Rifle Association was reasonable, was fine. Okay yeah they negotiated these laws but they were okay. Then, as so many things were going haywire in the national discourse in the late '70s, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby more generally went out of its mind, to be blunt, and decided to be absolutists, that there would be no regulation of guns and we would fight any regulation of guns, and, moreover that was all driven by a fantasy that the Federal Government was about to confiscate all of our guns that every individual had. So suddenly the Second Amendment became a thing that people were aware of and it was driving this passionate, fervent political faction. The NRA, by the way, changed its motto from one about safe sporting and so forth to quoting the Second Amendment. But still for a while, for 20 years, the courts weren’t buying this idea that the Second Amendment meant that we could not regulate the ownership of guns or the sales of guns. And by the way, we'd allowed: ”Oh, you can’t buy machine guns, you can’t have a sawed-off shotgun.” Those things happened over the course of the 20th century, and nobody said boo.

1 week ago

The upside of rejection: How hearing “no” can lead to success | Matt Dixon

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1 week ago

Embracing awkwardness: How to defeat social anxiety and embarrassment | Melissa Dahl

Why is it awkward to listen to a recording of your own voice? What makes us cringe? For the last few years, Melissa Dahl, co-founder of's popular social science site Science of Us, has been digging for answers. The culmination of her research is 'cringe theory'—a psychological explanation of why we find awkward moments so painful. A central part of that theory is what psychologist Philippe Rochat at Emory University calls the irreconcilable gap. Dahl explains: "What makes us cringe is when the 'you' you think you’re presenting to the world clashes with the 'you' the world is actually seeing, and that makes us uncomfortable because we like to think that we’re coming off in a certain way." Are you not as suave as you thought? Did your voice just pop? Did you just sit on a whoopee cushion—or worse still, was there no whoopee cushion? It shatters our sense of certainty about who we are, and what others think of us. These experiences may seem devastating, but Dahl says we can train ourselves to think of an awkward moment as a piece of useful information that can help us better understand ourselves, and see the funny side of our bruised egos. Here, she explains how she challenged herself to get on stage and live out one of her social nightmares, and how she came out the other end more confident and connected to other people than before. Melissa Dahl's new book is Cringeworthy: A Theory of Awkwardness. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Most of the time it’s like we kind of have social scripts to follow; you come in here, you say hello, and then if something goes out of the ordinary it shakes us up and makes us feel uncertain. And there is a long stretch of scientific literature on this dating back to the 1960s. There’s this classic study where they shocked people with these little electric shocks and they asked people if they preferred shocks when they knew they were coming or if they preferred shocks that just came out of nowhere, and people would rather know when the little painful shock was coming. Which seemed interesting to me because you would think that the expectation might make it worse, but we like predictability, I guess. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s interesting that sometimes we call awkwardness painful or excruciating—it adds an interesting layer to that. So a big part of my “cringe theory”—that's kind of what I’m calling it—is that there is a difference—we don’t like to pay attention to it very much, or I don’t—but there is a difference often between the way that you see yourself and the way that you think you are presenting yourself to the world, and the way that the rest of the world is perceiving you. And something that really helped unlock this for me was the idea—it’s almost like a clichéd thing—that people hate the sound of their own voices or people don’t like looking at recordings of themselves. In particular, the thing about people hating the sound of their own voices is a great example of this because your voice really does sound different to you than the way everyone else is hearing you. So when we hear somebody talk you’re kind of hearing somebody else through the air, but when I’m hearing myself talk I’m hearing myself through the air and through the bones of my own skull, which actually transmit the sounds differently and makes my voice sound lower than it actually is. So it’s a really common complaint, people are like—they listen to their own voices and they’re like, “Oh my gosh it’s so much higher than I thought it was!” That’s always what I think about when I hear my own voice played back. And I think that this is a central part of my theory about what makes us cringe is when the 'you' you think you’re presenting to the world clashes with the 'you' the world is actually seeing, and that makes us uncomfortable because we like to think that we’re coming off in a certain way and it’s just like, “Oh no, that’s what you think of me? That’s how you see me?” And I think that’s never going to go away. There’s always going to be—there’s this psychologist Philippe Rochat at Emory University who has a name for this, he calls this the “irreconcilable gap”. And so he really thinks this, it’s even in the name—it’s never going to go away, there’s always going to be this gap between the way you perceive yourself and the way others perceive you. And I think that’s at the heart of what we call awkward moments or awkwardness—kind of that uncomfortable feeling that you’re cringing at yourself or at somebody else. It takes a while but you can start to train yourself to think of that as a useful piece of information. If you try to negotiate a raise or negotiate a promotion at work or something, it makes us uncomfortable

1 week ago

What the best science really says about depression | Johann Hari

For almost the past 100 years, mental health professionals have told us that that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. However, there's a much more realistic theory that depression happens due to an imbalance happening outside of your cranium. New York Times journalist Johann Hari believes that depression these days stem from societal issues. Johann offers some staggering statistics showing that antidepressants seem to be doing much more harm than good — among them, that one out of every four middle-aged women in the United States is taking a chemical antidepressant in any given year. If we want to get rid of modern-day depression, he says, we have to change society. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: I kept learning intellectually about what causes depression and anxiety. And that it’s much deeper than the story I’d been told by my doctor—that it’s just a missing chemical in your brain. But I think it really emotionally fell into place when I went and met an incredible South African psychiatrist called Derek Summerfield. So Derek was in Cambodia when chemical antidepressants were first introduced there. And the Cambodian doctors didn’t know what they were, right? They’d never heard of it. So he explained it to them and they said, “Oh, we don’t need them. We’ve already got antidepressants.” And Derek said what do you mean? He thought they were going to talk about some kind of herbal remedy or something. Instead they told him a story. There was a farmer in their community who one day, a rice farmer, who one day had stood on a landmine and had his leg blown off. And so they gave him an artificial limb and he went back to work in the fields. But it’s apparently very painful to work in water when you’ve got an artificial limb. And I imagine it was quite traumatic—He’s going back to the fields where he was blown up. And he started crying all day. He didn’t want to get out of bed. Classic depression, right? And so they said to Derek, “Well we gave him an antidepressant.” Derek said what did you do? They explained that they sat with him, they listened to his problems, they realized that his pain made sense. He was depressed for perfectly good reasons. They figured if we bought him a cow he could become a dairy farmer then he wouldn’t be so depressed. They bought him a cow. Within a few weeks his crying stopped, he felt fine. They said to Derek, “You see, Doctor, that cow was an antidepressant.” Now if you’ve been raised to think about depression the way that we’ve been indoctrinated to, that it’s just the result of – there are real biological factors but it’s just the result of a chemical imbalance in your brain—that sounds like a joke, a bad joke. They gave the guy a cow as an antidepressant and he stopped being depressed? But what those Cambodian doctors knew intuitively is what the World Health Organization has been trying to tell us for years. Depression is a response to things going wrong deep in our lives and our environments. Our pain makes sense. As the World Health Organization put it, mental health is produced socially. It’s a social indicator. It requires social as well as individual solutions. It requires social change, right? Now that is a very different way of thinking about depression and anxiety but it happens to fit with the best scientific evidence. And it really required me to reassess how I’d felt about my own pain and how I tried to deal it unsuccessfully and open up a whole different way of responding to my depression and anxiety that worked for me. And I think as the World Health Organization says and the UN says, if we talk less about chemical imbalances and more about power imbalances we will get more at the heart of depression and anxiety and we’ll find better solutions. This was a—this was such a personal and difficult journey for me. There were these two mysteries that were really kind of haunting me, and it’s a sign of how afraid I was to look into them. I wanted to start doing this seven years ago and I figured it would actually be easier to do a book that required me to go and spend time with the hitmen for the Mexican drug cartels instead, which I then did. And the first was: why was I still depressed? I’d gone to my doctor when I was a teenager and I’d explained I had this feeling like pain was kind of leaking out of me. I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t regulate it. I was very afraid of it. I was very ashamed of it.

1 week ago

How Navy SEAL Hell Week builds indestructible teams | Brent Gleeson

Becoming a Navy SEAL isn't exactly easy. First, you have to get through 18 months of training. About a month or so into that, you have to get through Hell Week. With an 80% attrition rate, Hell Week lives up to its name. But former Navy SEAL and current business consultant Brent Gleeson will tell you that the only way to get through it is similar to how teams of any kind get through hard times: by putting the team before the individual. Brent talks with us about his experience going through training, and the moment he realized that great teamwork — both in the business world and on the battlefield — is built on trust and respect. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: When I think about how critical internal and external trust are to the success of any business organization I first go back to how important this principle was from day one of SEAL training. We talk about discipline, we talk about trust, accountability, mental fortitude, but I had a unique experience happen to me, which is pretty rare during SEAL training. SEAL training is 18 months long—very, very high attrition rate—for my class only about ten percent ultimately graduated of the original class. But the first six months of that 18-month training pipeline is called BUDS, which stands for Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL. And the first three weeks of BUDS are leading up to Hell Week. And those three weeks are no joke either; they’re just as bad as Hell Week, but you get to sleep a couple hours a night. But then Hell Week is where you’re going to weed out the rest of your class. By the end of Hell Week 80 percent of your class is gone, the rest will be dropped or rolled for performance issues or what not. But one of the things that I write about in the book was the first time I learned about the pain of loss and sacrifice, and what I was really going to be experiencing as a member of Naval Special Warfare community. It was an interesting time because this was right before 9/11 so it was peacetime, but long story short we were in Hell Week. Hell Week starts on a Sunday; ends on a Friday afternoon. And the great thing about that Sunday is the class will report to one of the main classrooms with only a couple required items in their possession and we don’t allow them to know when Hell Week will commence, when breakout starts, and it’s pure chaos; guys will quit minutes into breakout. And so the anguish, the anxiety is just killing you. It’s a fascinating thing to watch—not a fascinating thing to be a part of. So that afternoon our class leader, who was the highest ranking officer in the class, he read us—one of the things he did to motivate us was to read us the speech, the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech from William Shakespeare’s Henry V. And a great excerpt that many people know from that speech is, “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers: For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” John died four days later. So we were four days into Hell Week, only about 30 of us left. We were in full gear, no fins, and in an Olympic sized swimming pool doing relay races, and we were performing an evolution called the Caterpillar Race, which is not as cute as it sounds. Your boat crew of seven guys will be in the water on your backs in a line swimming backwards like this, except my legs would be wrapped around the waist of the guy in front of me, his legs wrapped around the waist of the guy in front of him, and so on and so forth. And even fresh this is a very difficult evolution to execute properly and keep your head above water, much less beat the other boat crew to the other side of the pool. Everything in Hell Week is a race. Four days into Hell Week you’re just a hallucinating blob of a person, so it's very... it’s hard to even keep your head above water. Long story short, obviously those reports were not released, but he had a massive heart failure and drowned in the pool next to us. And we were all so out of it nobody knew what was really going on, so about a couple hours later they assembled us in the classroom and the commanding officer walks in, and he basically announces the passing of our class leader, immediately turned over command to the second highest ranking officer in the class—did it very candidly.

1 week ago

The Black List: The incredible innovation that led to 48 Oscar wins

Can't watch another generic Hollywood film? Here, marketing expert Nilofer Merchant tells the incredible story of former data analyst Franklin Leonard who shook up the repetitive Hollywood formula with a single innovation: The Black List. In 2005, when Leonard was working as a development executive for a film production company and lamenting the same-old, same-old scripts that were being turned into movies, he came up with the idea to email 75 fellow producers to get a list of the scripts they absolutely loved that year, but that were skipped over for production. From that annual list of rejects come films like Moonlight, Juno, The Revenant, Argo, American Hustle, Slumdog Millionaire, The Descendants. Sound familiar? That's because they're all Oscar winners. The 331 films from The Black List that have been produced to date have led to 241 Academy Award nominations and 48 subsequent Oscar wins. Merchant lays this out as a practical lesson in innovation: what can you or your company gain by inviting ideas in from innovators people on the fringe? What happens when you stop asking, "How can we make money?" and start asking people, "What do you love?" Nilofer Merchant is the author of The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: Franklin Leonard is this relatively young man as we pick him up in the story, and relatively powerless in Hollywood standards. And he keeps imagining that Hollywood could find more original scripts, scripts that reflected this range of humanity instead of these trite scripts that were coming across his desk. And so he thought: one day I’m just going to see if I can do this better. He was embarrassed, however, to actually ask that question because he thought, if I was good at my job shouldn’t I already be seeing those scripts? But he went through his Rolodex, found the 89 people he had met during the course of his first year in Hollywood—mind you, his job was like schlepping coffee as one of his roles—but he thought, I’ll just ask these people to help me. And he created an alias because he was worried his boss might find out that he was doing this, and he sent out a note saying: "Send me the scripts you’ve seen in the last year that you’ve loved but haven’t been put into production." And people did that and he said, “In return I will roll up,”—he turned out to be a McKinsey analyst in his prior life—“I will roll up all that data and send it back to you as the sort of give-get mix.” It turns out that this thing that he created, which is called The Black List, ended up finding really novel and new ideas that didn’t fit the prototype of what Hollywood kept creating over and over again. They found really fresh and unusual ideas. 'Juno', the story of a young, pregnant teenager actually wanting to keep the baby. I’m trying to think of some of the other scripts. 'Moonlight', which was a really original idea. 'Lars and the Real Girl', which was about a boyfriend relationship with a sex doll. It was just some really unusual ideas. And I asked Franklin, “What did he do, and what did he do right?” He said, “Well, I just shone a bigger light onto a problem or opportunity.” And as I was listening to him I was thinking, no, actually that’s not what you did. And I don’t mean to offend you, Franklin, but I think you actually did something much fresher than that: you asked a brand-new question and then you gave people the permission to join in your purpose, which is to find original fresh ideas. And that tilt was drastically different than how Hollywood was sorting it already. Hollywood was sorting by this question, which is: How do we make money? And Franklin, by asking the question he did—which is: “What do you love? And in the anonymity of this email process I will basically shield you from the repercussions of not picking what your boss might want,"—actually got people to surface their own original interests, their own passions, and then gather it together in that nice distributed network way to actually be able to do something with it. And the numbers are unbelievable in terms of how many awards those movies have received and recognition. But I think the best part about it is it showed the power of an individual connected in meaning with others having that ripple effect to actually change an industry. And that’s what I think the profound impact of any of us are, however young or powerless we are by society standards, we can raise our hand and say, “I have a different question I want to ask,” and how do I actually mobilize other people around those questions that I think matter?

2 weeks ago

How virtual reality can make every kid a capable scientist | Jeremy Bailenson

The most amazing thing about virtual reality isn't necessarily the technology behind it, but the way it makes us feel. When you bring virtual reality learning into classrooms, that feeling matters more than ever. Stanford University's Jeremy Bailenson explains how well-designed VR programs like EcoMUVE and River City boost kids' intellectual confidence and show students who think they're not "science-minded" just how capable they truly are. That's a wonderful thing. So why don't we just teach every subject in VR? Gains in learning aren't that automatic across all subjects, says Bailenson. "You shouldn't use VR for everything. There are a lot of things that work beautifully by the written word and by video, and you shouldn't just shove everything into [VR] goggles needlessly." What propels deeper learning is finding the right fit for immersive learning, beyond the surface novelty. Jeremy Bailenson is the author of Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: The gold standard for VR in education is a gentleman named Chris Dede. He's a professor at Harvard and he doesn't do goggles-based VR, he does desktop VR—although he's moving toward goggle VR. And what Chris has built is two amazing experiences: one is called EcoMUVE and one called River City. His virtual learning scenarios are organic; you're moving an avatar around and you talk to other avatars, you get to run experiments and the science content responds to what you do. It's engaging and you can play it for a long time. It's a very detailed environment to learn in. He's put it in thousands of schools, hundreds of thousands of students have used this and he's got great data showing that it works. In particular what Chris and his colleagues have shown is that students who typically have a hard time doing well in science—for example, someone who says, 'I can't be a scientist. That's not what I do,' whether it's due to your race or your gender or for whatever reason you can't see yourself as a scientist—when you're in River City you have an avatar; you're a scientist, and you're doing science and it helps those who have a hard time imagining that they can do science. And he's got great data showing that those who struggle typically with science, River City and EcoMUVE typically help them. The challenge now is when you go from that type of amazing learning content to putting the virtual reality goggles on. And that's what I've been studying, for about 15 years I've been working in this area, and it's a challenge. One of my philosophies that should come across very clearly in this book is: you shouldn't use VR for everything. There are a lot of things that work beautifully by the written word and by video and you shouldn't just shove everything into the goggles needlessly. So what I do in my lab when I design learning content is I think: well, what's going to be uniquely awesome in VR? And it turns out it's things where you actually have to look around, right? So one of the key signals you can use to decide whether something doesn't deserve to be in VR is if you're watching a user and she's just staring forward the entire time for five minutes. Well, then why are you in VR? That should just be a high-res screen right in front of you and you can have more pixels. What I've been doing for the last few years is trying to really understand what types of learning and learning transfer are uniquely suited for virtual reality. When I began this learning research I just assumed that the immersive aspects of VR were going to automatically cause a gain in learning, and we're finding it's more nuanced than that.

2 weeks ago

Why saying "I don't know" is a key to success | Poker champion Annie Duke

In the earliest stages of our education, it gets drilled into us that certainty is good, and phrases like "I don't know" or "I'm not sure" are lesser ways of thinking. That's a shame, says former World Series poker champion and self-professed "uncertainty evangelist" Annie Duke: being uncertain is a much more accurate representation of the world than concrete certainty—there is just too much blind luck in the mix. Most often we're dealing with probability, not premonition, but the more accurate you make your worldview, the better your predictions will turn out. Embracing what you don't know can help you make surer bets on the future. Here, Duke gives an eye-opening lesson on how to recalibrate your beliefs, the difference between confidence and certainty, and how to use uncertainty to cultivate flexible thinking, smarter decision-making, and more productive collaboration. Annie Duke is the author of Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don't Have All the Facts. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: I like to think of myself as an uncertainty evangelist. I’m just shouting it from the rooftops: we should all be embracing uncertainty. And one of the most common things that people are saying to me is: isn’t uncertainty a barrier to success? I think there’s a couple of things. I think that, first of all, this idea of “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” or “it could turn out a lot of different ways” or all the different ways we might express uncertainty: “I believe this thing to be true, but I’m like 60 percent on it.” I think that we’re taught from the earliest stage, as we walk into preschool, that “I’m not sure” and “I don’t know” are strings of dirty words or something. I mean, last time you put “I don’t know” on a test what happened to you? I’m pretty sure you got marked wrong. But the thing is that that’s really a shame. Certainly it’s a much more accurate representation of any kind of prediction of the future. If I say to you, “Well I think that we should implement this business strategy because here’s how it’s going to turn out…” Well I hope that you’re not saying: “I know for sure it’s going to turn out that way,” because that’s just not an accurate representation of the world. Too many things can intervene. There’s too much luck involved in the way that things turn out. Even if I know for sure what the mathematics are; even if I’ve got a coin, I’ve examined it, I know it’s a fair coin with a heads and a tail, so I know it’s going to land heads or tails 50 percent of the time—I still don’t know how it’s going to turn out on the next flip. So if you ask me: "If I flip this coin what’s it going to land on?" There’s one sense in which I can tell you something with some certainty; I can say, “Well, if I had done my homework, I can say that 50 percent of the time it will land heads.” And if you say to me, “Well, no that’s not what I want you to tell me. What’s it going to land?” My answer has to be: I don’t know. I mean, how could I? So A: uncertainty is a more accurate representation of the world and I’d like to argue that the more accurate your representation of the world the better your decisions are and the better you’re going to propel yourself to success. So that’s number one. But we’re taught that it’s a bad thing. I think the other problem is that we really confuse confidence with certainty. And there’s a difference. One of the things that I used to say in poker when people would ask me about it—they’d say, “Don’t you need to be like super confident to be a great poker player?” And I would say, “Well it kind of depends on what you mean by confidence.” There’s one thing, which I would sort of view as hubris in the face of the game: it's thinking that you know much more about the game than you actually do. Because the game is incredibly complicated. The more that you learn about it, the more you figure out that you don’t know very much about the game. So there’s this expansion of your knowledge of what you don’t know as you go through and how little you really know. That’s even as you’re getting better at it, you’re sort of un-peeling it, and there’s just more and more layers underneath it.

2 weeks ago

The Social Brain: Culture, Change and Evolution | Bret Weinstein (Full Video)

In this wide-ranging talk, controversial professor Bret Weinstein covers several topics: politics, technology, and tribalism, just to name a few. But ultimately the former Biology professor at Evergreen College talks with us about why this particular decade is so interesting. Given the explosive growth of the 20th century, he argues that we've come to the end of that particular boom and have just started searching frantically to keep the pace that we've come to expect. When that change doesn't come, Weinstein posits that we search for scapegoats, turn inwards, and start to attack ourselves. And that's paraphrasing just some of the half-hour talk we have for you. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: We’re heading into a very dangerous phase of history; human beings being addicted to growth are constantly looking for sources, so when we feel austerity coming on we tend to become more tribal. Unfortunately a perfectly free market will not allow benevolent firms to survive in the long run. My argument is not an argument for centrism. I regard utopianism as probably the worst idea that human beings have ever had. We find ourselves unfortunately stuck in an archaic argument about policy; frankly the left and right are both out of answers and they should team up on the basis that they agree at a values level about what a functional society should ideally look like. — Human beings, like all creatures, are the product of adaptive evolution, but they are highly unusual amongst evolved creatures. In order to understand them it is very important to recognize certain things that make us different from even the most similar creatures, like chimpanzees. The most important difference is something I call the omega principal. The omega principal specifies the relationship between human culture and the human genome. The most important thing to realize about human beings is that a tremendous amount of what we are is not housed in our genomes; it’s housed in a cultural layer that is passed on outside of genes. Culture is vastly more flexible, more plastic, and more quickly evolving in an adaptive sense than genes, which is why in fact cultural evolution came about in human beings. It allows human beings to switch what they are doing and how they are doing it much more quickly than they could if all information that was adapting was stored in DNA. One of the very important benefits of understanding this relationship between the genome and the cultural attributes of human beings is that it frees us to engage in an analysis of the evolutionary meaning of behaviors without having to know where exactly the information is stored. This is especially important with complex phenomenon, which may be partially housed in the genome and partially housed in the cultural layer—something like human language, for example. Human language as a capacity is obviously genetically encoded, but individual human languages are not. And so if we are to talk about the adaptive utility of human language, being obligated to specify what is housed where could put off that discussion for generations, whereas if we recognize that the cultural aspects of language—as well as the genomic aspects of language—are all serving a united interest then we can begin to understand the meaning of something like language in rigorous, adaptive terms. The hypothesis of cultural evolution, which has now has been sufficiently tested to be regarded as a theory—of human cultural evolution, is the invention of Richard Dawkins, who in 1976 in The Selfish Gene coined the term ‘meme’ as an analog for gene; it’s a unit of cultural evolution. The genome creates a brain that is capable of being infused with culture after an individual person is born. If culture was evolving to do things that were not in the genome’s interest they would effectively be wasting the time and resources that the genetic individual has access to on frivolous things at best. So the genome would shut down frivolous culture were it a very common commodity. So the theory of memes tells us that there is a process, very much like the one that shapes our genomes, at work in the cultural layer. That does not mean, however, that the cultural evolving layer is free of obligation to the genome. In fact, the cultural layer is downstream, and one of the things that we have repeatedly gotten wrong is we have attempted to just simply extend the rules of adaptive evolution as we have learned them from other creatures and apply them to human beings, and it leads to some unfortunate misunderstandings.

2 weeks ago

"Never Again?" How fascism hijacks democracies over and over | Rob Riemen

Rob Riemen — founder and president of the Nexus Institute — posits that the type and level of toxicity in today's political climate is a breeding ground for fascism. He argues that most people in fully democratic Germany in the early 1930's didn't think that by decade's end they'd be a fully fascist country, and goes further to say that perhaps history will look back on the 2016 American election in the same way. Is he correct? You be the judge. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Rob Rieman: Why is it difficult to identify fascism? Well the first, the main reason I think, is that it’s bad news. And with bad news, with inconvenient truths the natural response is denial, right? The most famous form of denial related to inconvenient truth was the report of the Club of Rome in 1972 limits to the growth, which was the first scientific report to make clear for the whole world that an ongoing economic growth in a industrial society will have devastating consequences for the planet. And the denial was enormous for decades. Now the denial is no longer possible and, you know, governments try to do what they do, and Greenpeace and other organizations—But imagine how the world, how the planet would have looked like if at that time people would have realized yes, it’s an inconvenient truth but they are right. We wasted time. So the first part and to say look, the return of fascism is an inconvenient truth. The second thing is… it’s very embarrassing, you know. After World War II, especially in my part of the world where fascism came from, Europe, at our commemoration day we will say, “never again”. That’s what we said all the time: “Never again.” And so the whole idea that this terrible, terrible thing of fascism could be back was, you know, out of the question. The third element is the phenomenon of we do not know our history anymore. There is a kind of political amnesia. And so we are, we have forgotten some extremely important warnings which the warnings did not come from the political scientists. The warnings came from important artists. Novelists like Albert Camus and Thomas Mann, two great artists who lived through the era of fascism. And in 1947, independent of each other, said “Don’t make the mistake. World War II is over but fascism did not disappear.” Camus even wrote a very important novel about it, La Peste, The Plague, trying to explain “Look, this phenomenon of fascism is there to stay because it’s the dark side of every democracy. In every democracy it is possible that at the very moment the spirit of democracy is gone then you’ll get a society (which we now call a mass society) which is no longer cultivating the high ideals of a democracy, but you get the kind of society which is dominated by our lowest instincts – greed, fear, resentment, hatred, propaganda, stupidity. And that’s where the demagogues and the populists will move in and they will present their own version of fascism. But we don’t recognize it, again because the idea is – well we know fascism is a bad thing, but in our, you know, media, Hollywood-oriented visual culture... look, in a visual culture, evil has to be very visible. Look at Batman, right? Batman, handsome guy. And who’s the evil guy? The Joker, and you immediately see that is an evil man, right?

2 weeks ago

What people just don't get about abuse | Rose McGowan

It's hard to put a bio of Rose McGowan into one sentence. She is one of the whistle-blowers behind the anti-sexual-harassment movement sweeping the nation, and she is also one of the most visible voices of the #METOO / #TIMESUP movements. Rose McGowan is part people's champion, part feminist orator, and, in our wide-ranging interview with her (of which is this part 1 of several), she is part cool-aunt that gives you incredibly solid life advice. Here, she talks with us about the myths behind sexual abuse. It's not just a women's issue, she says, it's a people issue. And certain kinds of people seem to propagate the idea that it's somehow O.K. to put other people into boxes. She posits, this is part of the abusive cycle, and that it doesn't have to be that way. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: I was in a Lyft—ironically, because Uber shut me out because I complained about sexual harassment before any of this came out, I was like “your driver just said something really creepy,” and they froze my account… I’ll start again. So I was in a Lyft and it was about five days after the big New York Times Harvey Weinstein story broke. And this is a metaphor. This is to help people understand what a victim of abuse goes through: First of all you have to understand that—let’s say there‘s a gazelle or an ibex and they’re chased by a lion, and they get away. Or they get nailed. Do you think it’s the first time they’ve been chased by a lion? This happens a lot. This guy the driver, he couldn’t see me, I was behind him and I use a different name. And he was listening to news radio and it started talking about this, and he said out loud, “I don’t understand why those women couldn’t just have fought them off.” And I said, “Sir,” I’m a disembodied voice to him, I said, “Have you ever been so scared that you froze like a statue?” And he stopped, actually stopped the car; he pulled over—he still didn’t look at me—he went almost into this trance-y kind of state and he said, “Yes. I was ten. I was scared so badly my feet were clay. I couldn’t move. I’ve never felt anything like this. Is that what it’s like? Is that what happens to you?” “Yes.” But it doesn’t have to happen. That’s the whole point of what I do. Just stop hurting us. It’s like when I meet people and they’re like, “Oh, I’m not on the creative side,” and they’ll wave their hands at me as if it’s a disease. And I think, how old were you when they took that from you? How old were you when they told you the lie that you were one thing, and it belongs to a business card? “That’s you, that your identity.” People keep referring to me as an actress. I’m like, I haven’t done that in a long time. I have no intention of ever doing it again. Also, I worked at a funeral home—That’s also not how I get introduced. I’ve done a lot of other things. A lot, I do many other things, but it’s just a classification system. The word actress is very loaded. Like “celebrity”, like “liberal”, like “moral”, all these things have negative—“feminism”. But if you look at these words and if you look at the definitions, they’re beautiful. “Moral”, the definition is gorgeous. How dare we let these people steal it. Don’t let them steal your kids. People think, you know, The New York Times reviewed my book and people are like “What a great review.” I was annoyed by it. I thought, “That was stupid. This person with their khaki-pants brain is not understanding my point. How annoying.” The last sentence was, “Oh, this should be great for teenage girls.” Fuck you. You can cut that out, I’m sure. No, it’s not great “for teenage girls.” It will be—as an addendum. I want the 50-year-old, I want to 60-year-old, I want the man, I want the woman, I want the 80-year-old, I want anybody, because those are the ones messing those young people up, and that is how we have a cycle. The kids are alright, it’s all y’all, that’s who I’m talking to. We just need to have a conversation. I really just wanted to have a Gertrude Stein-esque conversation with the world, but not have it only be snooty people. It’s not that complicated.

2 weeks ago

What if you didn’t go to work, but your avatar did? | Jeremy Bailenson

What if your work commute was as fast as putting on a headset? In the near future, working from home will be revolutionized—although virtual reality is not quite there yet, says Jeremy Bailenson, Founding Director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. In order to make virtual meetings a reality, where your avatar interacts naturally with others in real time, VR developers are chasing one quality: interactional synchrony. "Psychologists have been studying this for decades, since the 1960s, and the idea is that conversation, it’s a very—it’s an intricate dance, and when we’re in a room with people everything is so tightly choreographed. When you nod your head I change my intonation. And when she moves her elbow my knee bobs. And there’s all of these pairwise movements and that’s what makes a conversation feel special face to face," says Bailenson. If VR programmers can capture this quality, it will be the end of commuting for those who want it. No more wasted productivity in bumper-to-bumper traffic, no more subway hotboxes of colds and flus, no more unnecessarily burned fossil fuels. "Maybe we only need to go two days to work. And for those meetings that are not essential, we need to put those in VR." Jeremy Bailenson is the author of Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: If I could succeed in any endeavor as an academic it would be perfecting what I call the virtual handshake. And I don’t mean an actual handshake, I mean that metaphorically. Why do we go to business meetings to be with other people? Because there’s a social connection, this intimacy that when you’re in the same room it feels like you’re there with them and you can do eye contact and you can do subtle posture changes and you can have multiway conversations with sidelong glances, and it feels real. We call that social presence. VR is not there yet. But if you think about cars: 40,000 people died in the United States last year driving and 1.3 million people worldwide died in car accidents. Think about the productivity lost by sitting in a box for an hour each way to and from work. Think about the fossil fuel that we’re burning while we commute back and forth to work. Think about the road rage. Think about the germs that you get on public transportation. I’m not claiming that we should not see people; I love social connection. What I’m saying is that there’s a subset of travel that if you think about it, why do we drive all the way to work so we can sit at a desk and pound on a computer? Maybe we only need to go two days to work. And for those meetings that are not essential we need to put those in VR. We cannot support a planet of 11 billion people—which we’ll be at quite soon—with everybody driving and flying everywhere using fossil fuels. It’s just not going to happen. So why don’t we have networked meetings yet? And the answer is because there’s this secret sauce, this social presence that we have face-to-face that we don’t get with videoconference yet. And VR isn’t there yet. So what we need to do is to be able to track more body movements. The bottleneck is actually not bandwidth because avatar-based communication is cheaper from a bandwidth standpoint than video. The reason is, if you’re doing an avatar-based communication all the 3D models for the avatars are stored locally on each machine. What travels over the network is the tracking data. So locally a camera detects that I smiled and then it sends over network a packet that says smile at 22 percent. And then on the other computer it then draws that smile. So you’re not sending visual information over the network. What you’re sending is very cheap information which is semantic information about movement. The bottleneck is we can’t track movements that accurately. So if you think of the commercial systems right now they track what we call 18 degrees of freedom. Your head and both hands. You can do rotation which has three and X, Y and Z which is obviously three. And so you’ve got 18 points, two hands and a head. In order to have a conversation flow we need to have subtle cheek movements and the twitch of my elbow.

3 weeks ago

Miscarriage: Why doesn’t anyone talk about it? | Ariel Levy

In 2013, Ariel Levy published her critically acclaimed essay Thanksgiving in Mongolia in The New Yorker, recounting the experience of giving birth to her baby at five months, alone in a hotel room in Mongolia, and ultimately losing him. "For ten minutes I was somebody's mother," she says. That feeling was impossible to come to terms with when she returned home, and the culture of silence surrounding miscarriage rocked her. "I felt like: why doesn't anybody talk about this? This is an incredibly intense experience that a lot of women have. And when it happens to you there's no literature about it, there's very little, so you feel insane." For Levy, this taboo extends to the entire animal experience of being a woman: menstruation, fertility, childbirth, child loss, menopause—all things to be whispered, not discussed. Listening to Levy make this broad experience of loss deeply personal and public is incredibly moving. Ariel Levy's memoir The Rules Do Not Apply, is out now. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: When I was 38 I accepted an assignment in Mongolia and I had been writing stories for The New Yorker, and before that New York magazine, for 20 years and this was going to be the last adventure like this for a while because I was about to start on another kind of adventure: I was five months pregnant and I was about to have a new kind of life. And I wasn't worried about it. My doctor had said it was fine to fly until the third trimester and I was not concerned. But the second night I was in Mongolia I went into labor in my hotel room and I gave birth and for ten minutes I was somebody's mother. And when I got home from Mongolia I was so sad I could barely breathe and friends or women who knew what had happened to me would take one look at me and literally burst into tears. And I actually understand how that felt for them now because now women come to my readings and things and I see them and I look at them and I immediately know what they're going to tell me. They have a particular kind of look; they just look blown apart. The reason I wrote about it in this essay for The New Yorker called 'Thanksgiving In Mongolia' was that I felt like: why doesn't anybody talk about this? This is an incredibly intense experience that a lot of women have. And when it happens to you there's no literature about it, there's very little, so you feel insane, you feel like a crazy person that you're having that level of grief for a baby who wasn't even quite a baby, and are you the only person who's having this reaction to this experience? The answer is no. At this reading that I gave for my book The Rules Do Not Apply last week in San Francisco this lady raised her hand and she was like, "I have three children who are alive; I've lost four babies; I'm at 77 years old and I miss every one of them." And that was amazing to me. I mean, more and more I'm meeting women who are older who are like, "Oh yeah, it's never stopped hurting." I mean it goes away. At first you sort of live in grief, like in a tunnel of grief, and then eventually grief lives in you and it's just something you take with you and you're not walking around about to cry. But it is a big thing and I think that in more general terms things that have to do with this business, with this animal experience of being a woman—you know, not everywoman is going to have a child, not every woman is going to lose a child, god knows, but every woman at some point in her life is going to have some kind of intense experience around menstruation, fertility, childbirth, child loss, menopause, all this stuff, all this animal stuff about being a woman, we don't talk about. And it's an enormous part of the lives of half the human population. We should talk about it, I think. So when I got back from Mongolia I wrote this essay about the experience of losing my baby there. And the reason I did that—well, there was no reason, it just happened; it sort of came out of my fingers and I didn't think about it. But if I were to think about it subsequently part of the reason I did it was because just like anyone else is proud of their offspring, I was proud of mine. I mean I think if you have children who are alive—most people I know who have kids spend a certain amount of time looking at them and being like, "Oh my god, I made you. You're a person. Like, look at you, you're beautiful!" And I did that. Only for ten minutes, but I did do it and I was proud.

3 weeks ago

How astronomy makes neuroscience even cooler: brains, gold, and neutron stars | Michelle Thaller

Did you know you have gold in your brain? Inside every neuron, there are just a few atoms of gold that keep the neuron charged, which is what keeps you thinking, moving, and frankly existing. What could be cooler than that? Well, NASA's assistant director of science communication Michelle Thaller adds a layer of astronomy on top of that amazing neuroscience. It turns out that when we look far into outer space, essentially back through time, we can see that all the gold in the known universe was created and spewed out in cosmically violent neutron star collisions—that includes the atoms of gold that are now inside your brain. Crazy, right? That's what Carl Sagan meant when he wrote that "we are made of star-stuff." Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: To me it’s amazing some of the things that we actually do know. There’s plenty of things that are conjecture or theories but there’s a lot of stuff that we have real observations and real knowledge of. And amazingly, to me, one of the things is: where did all the atoms in our body come from? And it is actually a real fact, not a theory, that when you look back at how the universe looked about, say, 13 billion years ago, the chemistry was very, very different. We can actually see so far away out into space that the light we’re looking at took billions and billions of years to get to us even at the speed of light. And the farthest away we can see is to a time that was about 400,000 years after the Big Bang. That’s pretty impressive. That’s about 13.5 billion years ago. And when you look back that far the only thing you see is very hot hydrogen gas, a little bit of helium, a tiny bit of lithium, but that’s it. That’s not a theory. That’s actually an observation. And as you look at galaxies very far away in space and therefore very far back in time, you can actually watch the chemistry change. You watch different atoms get built up. And the only thing in the universe that we know that can make a large atom—by large I mean something like oxygen or carbon or calcium or anything that makes up our bodies—is actually the very core of a star. That’s where nuclear fusion reactions ram hydrogen together. The hydrogen was formed during the Big Bang. You take these hydrogen atoms, you smash them together and you build larger and large atoms until you build something like the carbon that makes up most of my body. And so we’ve known for a while that the only way you get these large atoms is stars. But even with something as powerful as the core of a star there were some atoms that were a little bit more slippery; we couldn’t quite figure out how you get the energy needed to make something really big like a gold atom. That should take even higher temperatures, even more energy than what you typically find in the core of a massive star. So what is even more violent than an exploding mass of star, which makes a lot of heavy elements of the universe? One of the things we discovered recently is that two dead cores of stars called neutron stars can actually spiral together and collide. And when they collide instead of a normal death of an exploding star you basically have something like that on steroids. You have an explosion that’s so big and so violent people have really seen nothing like it since the Big Bang. Sometimes they call this a hyper nova, sometimes they call it gamma ray burst because of the burst of high energy radiation that comes out. But wonderfully we’ve been observing more and more of these colliding neutron stars and they are just pumping out gold atoms, platinum atoms and, interestingly enough, bismuth—but these very, very large, difficult-to-form atoms. And there’s so much gold created in one of these explosions that if you just look at the rate, you know, how many of these explosions do we observe—amazingly we observe about one a day—and how much gold is created in one of those? And you can actually account for the entire abundance of gold in the universe just from that one thing, those colliding neutron stars. So the gold you have, I mean yes, you have gold in your jewelry. That’s really cool. I’ve got a gold ring. But interestingly enough our neurons don’t work without a tiny, little bit of gold to help our brain actually charge the neurons in our brain. We need a little bit of gold and a little bit of copper. So your brain wouldn’t work without a little bit of gold, a couple of gold atoms in the neurons. So the reason we’re here thinking and moving and actually existing the way we do is intimately connected to these colliding dead stars, these colliding neutron stars that most likely created all of the gold in this room.

3 weeks ago