Big Think

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 coders are creating software that's impossible to hack | Kathleen Fisher

Hackers thrive on human error, but a new method of coding is ending that. Recent developments by the HACMS (High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems) program at DARPA has allowed computer scientists to use mathematical proofs to verify that code—up to 100,000 lines of it at a time—is functionally correct and free of bugs. Kathleen Fisher, professor of computer science and former program manager at DARPA, explains how this allows coders to build a thin base of hyper-secure code that is verified to be functionally correct, "and then you can have lots of software running on top of it that doesn’t have that same level of assurance associated with it but that you can prove: it doesn’t matter what it does, it’s not going to affect the operation of the overall system." To illustrate this technology in the real world, Fisher tells the story of how this new method of coding defended a Boeing Little Bird helicopter from a "red team" of hackers charged with causing havoc in the system and bringing that baby down. So is there anything hackers can't hack? Now there is, thanks to the beauty (and rigor) of formal mathematics. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: HACMS is a program at DARPA that ran for four-and-a-half years that was focused on using techniques from what is called the 'formal methods community', so techniques based on math more or less, to produce software for vehicles that came with proofs that the software had certain desirable properties; that parts of it were functionally correct, that there were no certain kinds of bugs in the software. And the consequence of those proofs is that the system is much harder to hack into. So the formal methods community has been promising for, like, 50 years that they could produce software that proveably didn’t have certain kind of vulnerabilities. And for more or less 50 years they have failed to deliver on that promise. Yes, they could produce proofs of correctness for code but for ten lines of code or 100 lines of code—not enough code to make a difference for any kind of practical purpose. But recently there have been advances in a bunch of different research areas that have changed that equation, and so now formal methods researchers can prove important properties about code bases that are 10,000 or 100,000 lines of code. And that’s still small potatoes compared to the size of Microsoft Windows or the size of Linux which are millions, hundreds of millions of lines of code. But when you start to get to 10,000 or 100,000 lines of code there are really interesting software artifacts that fit in that size. Things like compilers and microkernels, and you can leverage those kinds of exquisite artifacts to build much more complex software systems where only a small part of the system has to be verified to be functionally correct, and then you can have lots of software running on top of it that doesn’t have that same level of assurance associated with it but that you can prove: it doesn’t matter what it does, it’s not going to affect the operation of the overall system. So, for example, HACMS researchers used the high-assurance code and put it on a Boeing Unmanned Little Bird which is a helicopter that can fly completely autonomously or it can fly with two pilots. And this helicopter has two computers on it: one is the mission control computer that controls things like 'fly over there and take a picture' or 'fly over there and take a picture', and communicate to the ground station or the operator who’s telling the helicopter what to do. It also has a flight control computer that controls things like altitude hold and stability, sort of the mechanics of flying the helicopter at any given time period. So the researchers put seL4 microkernel, which is a verified microkernel guaranteed to be functionally correct, on the mission control computer, and they used it to create different software partitions. So one of those partitions was responsible for communicating with the ground station. Another one of those partitions was responsible for operating the camera that the helicopter had. The researchers verified that the code in the 'communicate with the ground station' was functionally correct and isolated from the software in the 'control the camera' part. So the camera part was all the legacy software that had previously been on the helicopter to control camera operation.

1 dia atrás

The 14th Amendment: The best idea in humanity’s 10,000-year history | Van Jones

In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re a lesbian. That’s not what it says. It doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re African American. That’s not what it says. It says if you’re in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That’s radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: This is the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. I’m not going to read the whole thing, I’m just going to read the first section: 'All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.' Any person within its jurisdiction cannot be denied the equal protection of its laws. To me, the 14th Amendment, especially this idea of equal protection under the law, is the whole enchilada—for me. First of all, when you talk about protection that implies that there must be a harm someplace that you’re trying to protect someone from. That opens a door to have a whole discussion about reality. A lot of this stuff floats above reality, it’s all abstract principle, but to have equal protection under the law means that you’re going to have some permission for some activism from the government. You’re going to have some permission to talk about inequality, unequal treatment, unfair treatment for—they were contemplating African Americans—but they say everybody. So it doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re a lesbian. That’s not what it says. It doesn’t say equal protection under the law unless you’re African American. That’s not what it says. It says if you’re in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That’s radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical. And I think it's very, very important that we uphold the 14th Amendment. We talk about the First Amendment, we talk about the Second Amendment, we talk about sometimes the Fifth Amendment, but we don't talk about the 14th Amendment enough. Equal protection under the law.

2 dias atrás

Kids on the Internet: Why parenting must keep up with the digital revolution

Should kids be on social media? The kneejerk reaction, for some parents, is to control what they do. But journalist Virginia Heffernan thinks that how children and teenagers use social media is how we all use social media — we're just too proud to admit it. Those of us that use social media inevitably are painting an avatar of personality online, testing what works and what doesn't, and through fine-tuning our own selves in the process. It is absolutely true that you can fall victim to narcissism if you follow the "like" economy to its fullest, but a healthy attitude towards social media can lead to some old-fashioned self-exploration that many older folks may have forgotten about. Because young people know... perhaps more than adults... that you have to try on a lot of metaphorical hats before you find the one that fits. Virginia Heffernan's latest book is Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: Watching children in early adolescence and in adolescents is always internally heartbreaking for adults. There was a great article in The Times magazine about Christmas maybe 20 years ago that the power of the Christmas mystery is when you look at a child the same way in the story that the Virgin Mary looked at her new son the Christ child and thought simultaneously, “This child might save the world and he's going to die.” So this huge amount of hope we have for our children and this terror that they're going to die. If my mother looked at me at 13, if she read my diaries about how eagerly I wanted to be popular it would sound very like someone courting likes on Instagram. I knew if my outfit didn't go over well and I knew the way that a 13-year-old might pull down a photograph of it on Instagram if it doesn't get enough likes not to wear that again. Or I decided not to wear that again because being liked was the most important thing in the world to me at that age and for a reason. You want to know how you're going to play in the world. You want to know how to be in the world, how to show up in the world and you're testing and learning what works for you. And by the way, it's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking when people don't like you or invite you to a party. And similarly it's heartbreaking now when you don't get the response you crave online, or you get a response that's out of proportion to what you did. But taking the risk – let's just take the simple Instagram brings up fears of narcissism because we're in a heyday of self-portraiture, which we've been in before. There have been other times where people sat for portraits or painted themselves. Van Gogh's self-portrait is rarely regarded as a work of narcissism. But let's say that we have this popular form that is these self-portraits. Staging them; taking the photograph; taking many photographs; choosing the right photograph; cropping it; coloring it; and then distributing it immediately to this giant gallery space. And then, like every artist, trying to see who buys it, trying to see who's interested in it, trying to see if it sells and trying to see what kind of commentary they get on it. A lot of people who post self-portraits, and this was true in the early days of YouTube with musicians, are actually looking in some cases for critical feedback. Remember the hot or not thing where photographs were posted and you could decide I like I don't like it? That, which also plays in the right and left swipe of Tinder, is something that we're courting like does this work? Does this work? I'm in beta right now. Do I talk loud enough? Do I talk too loud? That incredible self-consciousness of are my bangs a little too short? Are my eyes big enough? Or how can I inhabit this body that I'm in and fit the exigencies of social life, fit the exigencies of a party or a workspace or, by the way, opt out of it? There are plenty of kids who are dialing back and we see them in millennials a return to flip phones or to abstinence from computers from the Internet and I think that's very interesting. The last thing I'll say when you talk about teaching my own kids, I feel very strongly that we can't adopt a "true love waits" abstinence program about screens. The idea is not to teach your kids never go to parties; never live in social space; avoid other people. Like learning to live in digital space is not unlike learning to live in social space. And it's what kids want help doing. I remember my mother teaching me this incredibly subtle social lesson, which is when you're describing a party that you went to but another friend didn't get invited to, don't say the party was terrible. Don't say they missed nothing.

3 dias atrás

Why the First Amendment is America in a nutshell | Monica Duffy Toft

The ability to say whatever we want about whomever we want is a big deal, which is why free speech is the cornerstone of American democracy. But what if that free speech incites hate or violence? Bring it on, says Monica Duffy Toft, Professor of International Politics at Tufts University. After all, you can't throw out the whole idea of free speech just because you don't agree with what someone is saying — that's the whole point of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Even if it's hate speech, the idea that it can happen is more important to uphold than the words themselves. Toft posits to "Let them assemble, let them have their freedom of speech, and redouble your efforts and take measures to ensure that that can happen.” Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Monica Duffy Toft: So I’ve been asked to choose an amendment that I think is important and valuable, and so I think: the First Amendment. And it’s not only because it’s the First Amendment, it’s what it says. And it says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” And I think from the Constitution this sets up the rest of the Constitution about what it means to be an American citizen and the value of our individual liberties because it sets us apart. As individuals we have the right to speech, we have the right to association, we have the right to religion, we can think, we can act, we can associate freely. And as a scholar of international relations, when you poll people around the world and they ask, “What is it that you think is most important about the United States that you think sets the United States apart,” more often than not people point to the First Amendment and to the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of religion as first and foremost what makes the United States special—that we privilege individuals as citizens, and our Constitution protects that. We need to keep that in mind as citizens, and I have to tell you around the world people acknowledge that and respect that about the United States. I really have a hard time with this this idea of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech regardless of the nature of that speech. I mean there are exceptions to that, about whether it promulgates violence or potentially promulgates violence, and I tend to come down on the liberal side, that people should have freedom of speech—and that as defender of the First Amendment of the Constitution that then you need to redouble your efforts to make sure that, if you fear that this is going to lead to violence, conflict, that you redouble your efforts and have police and you make arrests and you say “you’ve overstepped your boundaries.” So I tend to be somebody who says, “Let them assemble, let them have their freedom of speech, and redouble your efforts and take measures to ensure that that can happen.”

4 dias atrás

Why etiquette governs the art of writing: Lolita, Ulysses, and the arrogance of genius

Martin Amis has made a name for himself by being an unafraid writer, having published over a dozen novels over 40 years. Here, he eviscerates James Joyce and others by explaining that stream-of-consciousness style writing rarely (if ever) works and that most writers need to better understand their role in the storytelling process. After all, he posits, "the writer is like a host and the reader is like a guest." Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Decorum as a concept means “not offending”, “good taste”, and all that. And decorum in writing is a completely different concept. And all it means is that the content should suit—the style should suit the content. It has nothing to do with good taste. No writer worth anything is bothered by good taste. What is good taste? It’s a shallow consensus of a certain kind of right thinking individual or group of individuals. It’s measuring what you’re saying to how you’re saying it and tremendously foundational principle for writing. And the experimental writer will, of course, instinctively transgress against these rules. But you’ve got to realize that all your guide ropes are being jettisoned, and the goodwill of the reader is not infinite. It’s usually very high as you open a novel but if you mess around with the reader at your whim that goodwill is very quickly used up. Stream of consciousness—even Joyce has a very low success rate with it. You have to be a genius to write stream of consciousness, and even the supreme genius, Joyce, wrote his long novel —he spent 15 years on Finnegan’s Wake—which is flat out unreadable. And even Ulysses, only about 25 percent of Ulysses works. And I’ve come more and more to the conclusion that if it’s social realism, your writing, and it obeys—it means the novel is a sociable form. And the writer is like a host and the reader is like a guest. And if you, when you visit a Nabokov novel it’s as if he has given you his best chair nearest the fire and given you his best wine and given you his full attention in the most tactful and sensitive way. If you went around to Joyce’s house you’d find the address didn’t exist. And you would find some sort of outbuilding where Joyce lives, and that he wouldn’t be in, apparently. And then you would shout for him and eventually, a figure would appear, and he would talk to you in a language you’d never heard of before. And instead of giving you a delicious dinner, as Nabokov does, Joyce would give you two slabs of peat around a conger eel and some repulsive drink he’d made himself. To leave social realism—and I’ve done it, and most writers do it a couple of times in their career—is a great statement of arrogance and introversion, and there are huge risks involved in leaving the path of social realism. And writers will be tempted to do it every now and then, and sometimes you can bring it off. But you say goodbye to all those—all the etiquette of social intercourse which governs the novel, as it governs all our dealings.

5 dias atrás

Bryan Cranston to non-voters: Don’t let cynicism get in the way of your voice / your rights

Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we’ve devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we’ve become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can’t take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Ready? All right. This is the 26th Amendment to the Constitution. Section One. ‘The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.’ I think that’s really great. And this was only passed in 1971 – 1971! I was 15 years old in 1971. I was close to that [minimum voting] age. I hope it’s an empowerment. I was disappointed, I must say, in the last election. Whichever person you may choose to be your elected official. I think that’s a societal thing. I think we’ve devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we’ve become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities. And I think we need to reinforce that to realize we’re damn lucky to be able to be citizens of a country that allows free and independent—when working at its best—Free and independent elections. And we can’t take that lightly. And I hope that we realize just how important it is and support the privilege to be able to say you voted in an election. And I hope you do. Thank you.

6 dias atrás

How America’s celebrity obsession weakens the fight against inequality | Amy Chua

Deepening inequality is escalating a tribal conflict between the haves and the have-nots in America. But it's not playing out in the most obvious way: the beef of working-class, blue-collar Americans isn't with Manhattan-born billionaires and Instagram influencers—it's with garden variety professional elites. "If you look at the surveys, Pew Foundation studies, you find that most Americans, including working-class Americans, actually love capitalism," says Yale professor Amy Chua. "They don’t want socialism. They still want a system where if you can work hard you can strike it rich, and they want it to be fine to be rich." Why did low-income America elect a billionaire president? It's no puzzle, says Chua. Despite the data on inequality and the dismal stats on upward mobility, Americans are still sold on the American Dream. It's the narrative peddled by American Idol, the Kardashians, and jet-setting celebrities—that you too can somehow climb the ladder. The richest of the rich are adored, not scorned. Chua points out a glaring irony: while the overly privileged Occupy Wall Street movement was trying to raise up America's poor, America's poor were flocking to the enormously popular prosperity gospel. Its creed? That God blesses the wealthy, and if you pray hard enough the money will come. "The desire for the American Dream is so powerful that people will cling to it even when they have no chance," says Chua. It's that dream that sustains inequality from the bottom up. Amy Chua is the author of Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: Well, I happen to be a fan of democracy. I think it has flaws, but there was just no other better system for one simple reason and that is: you can often get a beneficent dictator. A lot of people think that Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore was such a person. He was not corrupt. He actually alleviated a lot of the ethnic conflict. But here’s the problem: You can never ensure that the dictator will stay beneficent. The better thing about democracy is that, eventually, you can vote them out. If you don’t like the policies, if you don’t like the leaders, you can vote them out. So, on balance, I think that democracy is the best system. What I think is wrong is that America treats democracy like a panacea. We romanticize it. We think somehow that oh, there’s all this civil war and tribalism and sectarian warfare there—let’s just have some elections! What they don’t realize is that in very divided countries—ethnically divided, tribally divided—democracy can sometimes catalyze group conflict rather than softening it. A lot of people have puzzled over how so many blue-collar and working-class Americans could possibly have voted for a billionaire born to wealth, born in Manhattan. But it’s actually not a puzzle at all. What a lot of working-class Americans resent is the idea that there’s a rigged system. That there are these people—arrogant people—controlling the levers of power from afar, somewhere in D.C. and on Wall Street and Silicon Valley. If you look at the surveys, Pew Foundation studies, you find that most Americans, including working-class Americans, actually love capitalism. They don’t want socialism. They still want a system where if you can work hard you can strike it rich, and they want it to be fine to be rich. Studies show that many working-class Americans actually resent the professional elites more: the very polished, well-educated, snobby professors and journalists and pundits speaking on TV, and that they don’t actually dislike the Kardashians so much—or the billionaires that are jet-setting around. That’s why shows like 'The Apprentice' are so popular. The Occupy movement did many important things, highlighting the urgency of inequality in this country. But one problem with the Occupy movement is that it was a movement that purported to want to help the poor that didn’t actually include any members of the poor. It was, overwhelmingly, an extremely privileged movement. Not necessarily wealthy, but highly educated and largely from cosmopolitan, urban areas. And if you look at the interviews of people from other parts of the country, working-class people, blue collar people, it’s not just that they didn’t participate in these activist, anti-inequality movements. They actually were very suspicious of them, and even a little scornful. The interviews have people saying, “Don’t these people have jobs? Don’t they have to work? I’m working three jobs just to put food on the table! How can they be marching and protesting all the time?”

1 semana atrás

How success and failure co-exist in every single one of us | Michelle Thaller

When it comes to success and failure, the message is loud but overwhelmingly simple: do one and not the other. However, NASA's Michelle Thaller thinks pitching these concepts as absolutes is problematic when there is so much gray area between them. Thaller knows this personally: she has a doctorate in astrophysics but is NASA's assistant director of science communication. To career physicists, she's sometimes looked upon as a failed scientist who crossed over to the humanities. To members of the public, she's a shining example of scientific success. Who is correct here? There's a problem with hingeing our self-worth on external evaluations: success and failure are actually rather vague, impractical metrics to give young people. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: I have a slightly different career in the sciences in that I am a professionally trained scientist—I have a doctorate in astrophysics and I’ve done my own astrophysical research—but I decided to emphasize science communication and actually go more into education and policy and trying to communicate science to the public. And the interesting thing to me is that means that there are a lot of people that don’t know me very well that have seen me on television that assume that I’m a brilliant scientist. You know: “the reason this person is on television, she must be the best astronomer of the day,” and that’s certainly not true at all. And then I have a lot of professional colleagues, you know, who are not necessarily cruel but they really view me as a bit of a failure: I didn’t become a publishing scientific professor, a research professor—which is what I was really trained to be. And especially in these days of social media, a television show will come out and all of a sudden I’ll get messages from strangers who say that they love me and strangers that say that they hate me. I often get questions from young students and they say, “Well, how did you become a success?” Or another great question these days is, “How did you overcome failure?” And the funny thing is I found myself really kind of at a loss because the very concepts of success and failure I think are words that never really meant anything. And actually, I strongly suspect they have a lot to do with privilege: that if you can make yourself in the model of a research professor of 100 years ago, that’s defined as a success, and if you do something different, it’s defined as a failure. There’s never been any time in my life where, even after having received an award or having been on a television show, I sat back and said, “Boy, I really feel like a success.” It was always wrapped up in feelings of, “I should have done something differently, I should have had a different career path.” There’s never been a time where I felt like a success. And at the same time the idea that you ever really fail at something. There are plenty of times that I very nearly failed differential equations and calculus, you know. There were things that I was not very good at, but I eventually got them on, say, the third or fourth try. And the problem was just, you know, staying around and telling yourself that, “I really want to learn this and I’m just not going to leave until I do.” There wasn’t any really true failure either. It was always kind of twisted up with things I was proud of that I was actually working through and trying to learn. So this idea that at some point in your life you’re going to stop and feel like a success. “Yes, I am successful now.” I get very, very nervous when people ask me about that, about, “How did you become a success?” I want to sit them down and tell them all the things I screwed up and all the things I did wrong and all the reasons I’m not a success. Now at the same time when anybody calls me a failure, it’s like, I want to sit you down and explain why what I’m doing is actually getting your money and your funding for the rest of science, you know. I’m not a failure either. Everything in life is going to be a flow between those two things. Everything is going to be a jumble of success and failure. Your personal life, your professional life, the way you feel about yourself. And it’s a strange model we give young people. “Try to be a success. Try to overcome failure.” All I can do is just kind of breathe and just realize that at no point in my life am I going to separate those two.

1 semana atrás

The 13th Amendment: Slavery is still legal under one condition

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: So prisons in America specifically are some of the biggest, most dysfunctional businesses we have in our society, and they are a business because of the cheap and free labor. When you read the 13th Amendment—that basically was the amendment that broke through slavery and freed the men and women who were enslaved at the time—there is a clause in there that allows for the re-enslavement of people in the event that they’re convicted of a crime. And so in prisons throughout our country, you have people who are working for basically free, and if they’re not working for free they’re working for wages that, if we saw that happening in another country, we would be very critical of. When I was in prison I worked for $0.17 an hour; that was my starting rate working in the kitchen. But there are also big corporations who invest in prison labor because they can get this labor for $1.50 an hour. The sad part about it is that, in turn, they don’t even hire these men and women when they’re actually released from prison. Everything in prison has inflated costs. It costs us—inside prison, when I was inside—anywhere between $3 and $15 for a 15-minute phone call. We don’t have to pay that out here in free society. There is a way that we can send emails to men and women inside prison, and it cost five cents every time we send that, whereas out here in society we can send emails without any charge. And so there are so many ways that the prison is exploited: the cheap labor, the cost of services and goods, and it’s a model that, sadly and unfortunately, has affected a large segment of our society. I think most people aren’t aware of why the business models of prison exist, because most of our society has been left clueless in regards to how our judicial system works. And it’s largely been through the effect of campaigns that politicians have run for years, this whole idea that one of the greatest fears you should have is crime in America. When you’re operating out of a space of fear you’re not thinking clearly, so you’re not willing to examine things that are right in front of us. And so the way that the prison system has developed and evolved over the years, is it originally started as government-run, state-run institutions, and then people started seeing investment opportunities when the states and couldn’t keep up with the budgetary cost of incarcerating so many people. We currently have over two million men and women incarcerated throughout the country, and we represent five percent of the world population, yet we incarcerate 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people. And so, at some point, states could no longer keep up with those budgets, private investors moved in and seized an opportunity, and then they started structuring laws in a way that ensured that people continue to be incarcerated for the most frivolous things. Like, 40 years ago we didn’t have as many laws on the books that we have now, and when you look at how the war on drugs itself impacted incarceration rates, if you follow that pathway you’ll see how people seized on that opportunity and began to invest in private businesses.

1 semana atrás

The Fifth Amendment: Stopping American chaos before it starts | Amaryllis Fox

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amyryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: The fifth amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America says no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury except in cases arising in the land or naval forces or in the militia when an actual service in time of war or public danger. Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb. Nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation. So for me, the fifth amendment is really the big Kahuna. I have lived and worked in many countries where the seizing of life and liberty and property without due process of law was an everyday event. And we fought that kind of tyranny in order to establish this young upstart of a country that we all treasure. And this is not an easy amendment to enforce and it’s one that really requires our constant vigilance. I mean, we have seen in times of challenge and war in this country this amendment be compromised from Japanese internment camps during the war to the drone assassination of an American citizen al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011. We see extrajudicial killings happen with alarming regularity on the streets of our county in law enforcement contexts. And when I look at extrajudicial killings in other parts of the world and the ease with which law enforcement become judge and jury on behalf of the citizens and take that power over somebody’s life and liberty and property to themselves. It’s a slippery slope and it’s a slope that always begins with some sense of emergency, some contingency situation where just now, just this once, just until we resolve this emergency it’s warranted. But it is exactly those instances that we have these amendments for. It’s very difficult to make the right decision in moments of fear and that’s why we did the thinking in advance. And when we look at what we’re called to protect in the fifth amendment it wasn’t drafted with the intention that it should only be exercised when life on the streets of the United States is peaceful and tranquil. There’s no need to protect an American citizen against being murdered by their government when things are peaceful and tranquil. The only need for that protection is in times of great tension, strife, conflict, fear, and threat. And those are the times when this amendment is most important. We’re in one of those periods of our history right now and I really believe that it’s the duty of every American to honor the beauty and power of that amendment by being constantly vigilant that we enforce it.

1 semana atrás

Every middle class worker should get a $6,000 raise | Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes

It's no secret that American income inequality is at its worst point since the gilded age. To break it down for you, there's a very small yet super-rich class at the top (the 1%), and there's the rest of us (the 99%) who are duking it out in a type of capitalist serfdom. Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder, will be the first to tell you that he's a super lucky guy that happened to benefit massively from this system that makes the rich richer and the poor stay the same. He's come with a plan — give $500 a month to every working adult making less than $50,000 a year — to help reinvigorate the American economy and the American dream that we can pull ourselves up. If the American dream is dead, he says, then what are we fighting for in the first place? Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: I think the American dream is safe to say if not dead it’s on life support. It’s this idea that if you do well you can get ahead in life and if you have family and kids they can perhaps do a little bit better than you did. And what we know by the numbers is that the median wages in this country hasn’t budged meaningfully in nearly 40 years, and yet the cost of living has increased by some counts by up to 30 percent. So there’s a sense that people are working hard but only a small group of people are getting extremely lucky while everybody else is really staying in place. And I think that we have the power to change that. That’s the key idea that I talk a lot about in the book is that we’ve created an economy that is structured this way we made specific decisions around how to encourage automation, globalization and the rise of finance that have created a small group of very lucky people and we have the power to change it to make sure that economic prosperity is much more broadly shared. So, when it comes to the position we’re in now I don’t think there was one single moment or one single event that got us here, I think instead it was the collection of a lot of different decisions that begin to be made in the late 1970s and early 1980s and we’ve continued to make, in fact all the way up through, for instance, the end of last year. The tax code is one of the most important things. We’ve consistently lower tax rates on corporations and the one percent while not giving a break to the people who need it the most. At the same time we’ve ushered in an era of globalization, which by all accounts has created economic growth but without fundamental worker protections to make sure that people who are in industries that have moved overseas have been protected. And we’ve also made positive decisions, obviously like investing in the Internet, for instance, which was a government investment initially, which has created the opportunity for companies like Facebook and Google and many others to rise precipitously. But all the fruits of that innovation and of all the positive things that come with that growth have not been evenly distributed. A small group of people are doing extremely well and at the same time as everybody else is trying to make ends meet. And just as we have the power to create the economy in this current configuration, I do believe we have the power to change it. There has been debate for decades about whether trickle down economics is the way to go. And we can talk a lot about economic theory, but in some ways I don’t think we really have to we can just use a little bit of commerce sense. If you put $100 in the pockets of someone who’s working hard to make ends meet they’re going to spend a lot of that money, most of that money on things like childcare, housing, health care wherever their bills are the highest. You give someone who is in the one percent an extra $100 they might spend one or two, but the vast majority of that money is going to get parked in a bank account and not really become part of the productive economy. One study by the Roosevelt Institute showed that if you provided $500 to every American every month it would increase gross domestic product by about seven points over the next eight years. So this idea is not just about making sure that the wealthy pay their share, it’s also about creating a kind of broad based prosperity that’s good for all Americans, the poor, middle class and wealthy alike.

1 semana atrás

What makes you vulnerable to a gambling addiction? | Maia Szalavitz

Author and neuroscience journalist Maia Szalavitz says that your brain doesn't necessarily choose to become addicted to gambling. Rather, it just really wants to figure out a pattern. This 'want' doesn't need any foreign chemicals in order to make it work. In the mind of a serious gambler, their brain wants to find order in the game's structure so bad that it will keep the person playing, telling itself that it will figure it out and that it's just one step away from becoming rich. This doesn't happen to everyone — on the contrary, addictive gamblers are a small yet potent percentage of all gamblers — but their brains mimic that of a severe drug addict trying to get their next fix. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter:

1 semana atrás

Why libertarianism is a marginal idea and not a universal value | Steven Pinker

Is conflict humanity's natural state? Could we ever agree on a set of values? The knee-jerk response for any student of history would be 'no', but the data tells a different story. Psychologist and author Steven Pinker offers proof in the form of Wagner's law: "One development that people both on the Left and the Right are unaware of is almost an inexorable force that leads affluent societies to devote increasing amounts of their wealth to social spending, to redistribution to children, to education, to healthcare, to supporting the poor, to supporting the aged." Until the 20th century, most societies devoted about 1.5% of their GDP to social spending, and generally much less than that. In the last 100 years, that's changed: today the current global median of social spending is 22% of GDP. One group will groan most audibly at that data: Libertarians. However, Pinker says it's no coincidence that there are zero libertarian countries on Earth; social spending is a shared value, even if the truest libertarians protest it, as the free market has no way to provide for poor children, the elderly, and other members of society who cannot contribute to the marketplace. As countries develop, they naturally initiate social spending programs. That's why libertarianism is a marginal idea, rather than a universal value—and it's likely to stay that way. Steven Pinker is the author of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: Sometimes people say that in the absence of religion there can be no moral values and, in fact, for that reason, there can never be values that everyone agrees upon. “We are inherently conflictual. The human condition is conflict among peoples because they could just never agree on values.” Well, putting a lie to that are developments like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Millennium Development Goals where the nations of the world agreed on a number of milestones that humanity should strive for—having to do with health and longevity and education—and some of which were met years early, such as reduction of extreme poverty, usually defined as more or less what a person would need to support themselves and their family, which was met several years ahead of schedule. Right now, less than ten percent of the world lives in a state of extreme poverty, and the successor to the Millennium Development Goals, called the Sustainable Development Goals, calls for the elimination of extreme poverty by the 2030s. An astonishing goal, one that is by no means out of reach. One development that people both on the Left and the Right are unaware of is almost an inexorable force that leads affluent societies to devote increasing amounts of their wealth to social spending, to redistribution to children, to education, to healthcare, to supporting the poor, to supporting the aged. Until the 20th century, most societies devoted, at most, one-and-a-half percent of their GDP to social spending, and generally much less than that. But starting in the 1930s with the New Deal in the United States and accelerating in Europe after World War II with the welfare state, now the median across societies of social spending is 22 percent of GDP. The United States is a little bit below that, but even that’s misleading because we’ve got a lot of welfare that’s done by our employers. That’s how we get our health insurance. That’s how we get our retirement. Other countries, it’s the government that mediates that. But if you add the private social spending onto the public portion the United States is actually second highest of the entire world. But this is a development sometimes called Wagner’s law, and it just seems that resistance is futile. Even conservative politicians like George W. Bush presided over another expansion of the welfare state with his Medicare drug benefit. And the attempts by the Trump administration to repeal Obamacare, for example, were stymied by pitchfork-and-torch-bearing angry constituents. People like social spending despite their protestations, even in libertarian America. And, in fact, it's probably not a coincidence that the number of libertarian paradises in the world—that is developed states with no substantial social spending—is zero. And as developing countries develop, as they start to become affluent, they get on the bandwagon and they start to develop programs of social spending.

2 semanas atrás

What is good luck? Weak Ties Theory, Charlize Theron, and luck circles | Janice Kaplan

"It’s the people who you aren’t necessarily closest to who often can do the most for you," says Janice Kaplan, author of How Luck Happens. Sociologists call this Weak Ties Theory, which describes the powerful effect random connections can have on your life. "Your very close friends, your family members tend to know the same people that you do, they know the same opportunities that you do. But it’s that next circle, that slightly wider circle that’s likely to bring in new opportunities for you," Kaplan says. This isn't about adding more friends on Facebook, making vision boards a la The Secret, or seeing if your barista has heard of any great jobs lately. Specificity is absolutely key—you have to know what you want. Then, when you have the opportunity to talk to someone in outside your circle—your hairdresser, or someone at the gym—and you mention a specific goal, you might be surprised at who or what they know that can help you out. Luck is a random phenomenon, but Kaplan insists that building your own luck circle and putting yourself in the right places will result in unexpected and fantastic opportunities. Here, she shares an example from her book about how Charlize Theron got her first break after a traumatic childhood and a series of professional failures. Janice Kaplan is the author of How Luck Happens: Using the Science of Luck to Transform Work, Love, and Life. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: It’s probably not a big surprise that luck is often other people; luck is created by other people helping us out, and sociologists have that wonderful term of “weak ties”, which means that it’s the people who you aren’t necessarily closest to who often can do the most for you. Your very close friends, your family members tend to know the same people that you do, they know the same opportunities that you do. But it’s that next circle, that slightly wider circle that’s likely to bring in new opportunities for you. I’m not talking about Facebook friends here, I’m talking about having colleagues and friends of friends, who you meet, who you talk to, who you bring into your circle, and who are very likely then to help you find other opportunities. One thing we found is that often people who cross over in different categories, in different social classes, in different economic classes—like fitness trainers or hairdressers—tend to be really interesting people for bringing luck, because they know so many different people from so many different categories. So it may be a surprise that while you’re there trying to improve your biceps you happen to mention a job you'd like and the guy who is helping you hold the weights happens to know somebody who might be able to help. Again, what’s really important as you build those bigger circles, as you build those luck circles, is to know very specifically what you’re looking for. Because if you put out that general idea it’s not going to go anywhere, but if you can be very specific about what you’re wanting sometimes those weak ties really can lead to something very unexpected and very important. In the book I talk about Charlize Theron, the Academy Award-winning actress, who came to America when she was about 19, and she came after a series of unfortunate events in South Africa. She had a pretty traumatic and difficult childhood growing up, including her mother murdering her father, and she went to Italy first, she wanted to be a dancer, and then her knees gave out. It’s just one piece of bad luck after another in a life, but Charlize knew what she wanted to do, and she came to America, she came to Los Angeles to give herself one last chance to put herself in the place where luck could find her. Well, it wasn’t doing such a great job at finding her—she was in a bank, the teller wouldn’t cash a check that her mom had sent from South Africa, and she had a meltdown and a fit. Well, guess what? Somebody who was standing near her in the bank happened to be a talent agent, handed her his card, and the rest is Oscar-winning history.

2 semanas atrás

We don't need God or religion to know right from wrong | Michael Shermer

Do we really need God or religion to tell us what's right and wrong? Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic Magazine, says that this kind of celestial-spiritual guidance really isn't necessary. Or particularly effective. He makes a great case for being a moral realist — for example, studying past examples of war or slavery to learn morals from them — is much more effective than going back to mysticism like, say, The Bible, a fantastical book written by committee some 2,000 years ago and hardly updated since. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Science and good and evil, good and bad, right and wrong, murder, all these things... human moral values. Well, I wrote a book about this, The Moral Arc. I am what’s called a moral realist: I think there are real moral values out there to be discovered. Now, not “out there” in the cosmos for astronomers to discover, I’m talking about in human nature, in human social nature. And I’ll just give you a super simple example that I can’t believe anybody would disagree with, uh, this. And it begins with Abraham Lincoln’s defense of why slavery is wrong. And he said simply, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” And I would agree and go further with a more recent example, if the Holocaust is not wrong, nothing is wrong. Now, moral relativists or moral philosophers who are not moral realists, they don’t want to be called relativists—there’s other positions, but let’s just leave it at there’s other positions then moral realism. Are you seriously going to argue that there’s some condition in which the Holocaust was okay, that it was acceptable? Now, now, mind you I’m talking about all of us in this category here talking about this are not thinking that God is the answer, that there’s some outside deity telling us what’s right and wrong, most of us that are in science or philosophy already reject that—going all the way back to Plato who debunked that idea in the first place—which is to say that if murder is really wrong or the Holocaust is really wrong or slavery is really wrong, why do we need God to tell us that? I mean if those moral principles are out there and God is just telling us what it is, then why do we need the middleman? Just tell us the reasons why it’s wrong and okay. And if it’s just because God said it what if he didn’t say murder was wrong, would that make it right? No, it would still be wrong. So either way, you don’t need God, so here we are in our bubble of just us trying to figure out what’s right and wrong. I argue in The Moral Arc that in fact we are already understanding what is right and wrong through the study of human nature and human culture and human history by saying there are certain things that are really better than other things, in the same way, that Kepler discovered planetary orbits are elliptical and not circular—given that he was doing his calculations correctly and given that planetary orbits really are elliptical and not circular he could hardly have discovered anything else. We would eventually discover that democracies are better than theocracies or dictatorships just in terms of what the people want based on their survival and flourishing as sentient beings. And that’s my moral foundation: survival and flourishing of sentient beings. We all want to survive and flourish. It’s in our nature. It’s what evolution designed us to desire. That is our moral foundation, our nature, that is who we are and what we want. Okay, building from there: ok, so certain economic systems are really better toward of that than others, you will discover that if you are a rational being trying to figure out what’s the best way to structure things. Now it’s true that we can’t solve every moral issue by just running an experiment, but if you think about it every nation with a different constitution is an experiment. Every state in the United States, 50 different states have 50 different constitutions. They have 50 different laws about gun control or abortion—well not quite that but they have different variations on how it’s allowed. But just take anything. So these are 50 different experiments. Every Supreme Court Justice decision is an experiment. Let’s see what happens now that they’ve decided this let’s measure the consequences of this. The 19th Amendment of abolishing alcohol, this was an experiment, a failed experiment. If your goal is to reduce the amount of drinking, that didn’t work, so the 21st Amendment abolished the 19th Amendment—those are all experiments.

2 semanas atrás

What emotions does this music make you feel? It probably depends on your culture. | Anthony Brandt

We've been conditioned to believe that music taste is based on personal preference. But it might just be a lot more complex than that. Ask any random person what kind of music they love and they'll most likely give you one, two, or maybe three genres. We're actually born to appreciate all music but whittle our broader tastes away as we get older. Composer, writer, and Rice University​ professor Anthony Brandt posits that music is like language; if you don't expose yourself to it, you'll lose understanding of it. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: So one of the cool things about the human brain is that we’re born into the world able to learn any of the world’s languages. And, in fact, babies when they’re born they babble using all the possible phonemes, and then gradually those are pruned away mirroring their parents just to be limited to the phonemes of their native language. And in the same way with music: we’re literally born able to enjoy, appreciate any of the incredibly rich diversity of musics all over the world. But through exposure, we become conditioned and familiar with things to the point that it’s second nature and it almost feels absolute to us in terms of the certainty we feel in our reactions. What’s wonderful and so inspiring and great is also that we can constantly stretch and expand that. And just as we can learn a second and a third and even a fourth and fifth language, we can constantly be broadening our tastes through exposure and growing what we love. And often people are afraid, “Oh, does that mean that I give up what I loved before?” No, it’s just like having more children. You just have more love and you love more music. So I want to do a little experiment with you. I’m going to play you two arias and I want you to grade them on an emotional scale, where number one would be the depth of tragedy and ten is ecstatic joy. And so we’ll play you the first clip and then just take a few seconds to write down your response to it. And now we’ll play you the second clip and again do the same thing. One is the depth of tragedy, ten is ecstatic joy. Okay, now let’s have a look at how you responded. And the answer to what those arias are is that they’re actually both arias telling about the exact same point in the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s the moment when Orpheus looks back at Eurydice when he’s leaving the underworld. And by making that mistake he will never see her again. And so it’s the moment of greatest sadness in the piece. But I strongly suspect that you graded the first one as being quite sad, but you graded the second one as being happier even though they’re representing exactly the same part of the story. And the reason for that is that the first one is in the minor mode which we, in the West, are conditioned to experience as meaning sad and a negative affect. And the second one was written before that idea of “minor is sad and major is happy” was actually solidified in Western culture. And so that second aria is actually in major even though Orpheus is singing about exactly the same thing. And it’s a great example of how tuned we are to our culture to respond almost instantaneously and effortlessly to the emotional cues that we get in Western music. But that’s based on exposure and conditioning. It’s not something absolute. And so there are cultures in the world that get married to music in minor. The Jewish song Hava Nagila, which is about celebrating life, that’s a song in minor. Again, one is just astounded looking across world cultures at the way we reinterpret musical expression and constantly come up with our own angles and visions which eventually get solidified within a certain cultural sphere. So we think about Beethoven as the most visionary experimental composer of his day. And yet he never wrote a piece which used the noise characteristics of the instruments as expressive features. He never wrote the piece where the pulse was completely flexible and you didn’t have a steady beat at all. He didn’t write a piece where there were all of a sudden silences interspersed in odd ways or people could play the same music all at their own speed. And the point is that half a world away, that was the music of the culture. That was actually what was considered normative. That was how people expressed themselves in music. And so we all move in these narrow channels, but actually when you take the broad view music is an open frontier, not a closed system. And that’s just a model for all human imagination in general.

2 semanas atrás

Depression and anxiety: How inequality is driving the mental health crisis | Johann Hari

Expressions like "feeling down" or "feeling low" are more literal than we think, says Lost Connections author Johann Hari. A 30-year field study of wild African baboons by the incredible Stanford University professor Robert Sapolsky has shown that there is a remarkable relationship between depression, anxiety, and social hierarchies. Male baboons—who live in a very strict pecking order—suffer the most psychological stress when their social status is insecure, or when they are on the bottom rung, looking up at the luxuries of others. Does it sound familiar yet? "If you live in the United States... we’re at the greatest levels of inequality since the 1920s," says Hari. "There’s a few people at the very top, there’s a kind of precarious middle, and there’s a huge and swelling bottom." It's no coincidence that mental health gets poorer as the wealth gap continues to widen: depression and anxiety are socioeconomic diseases. The silver lining is that this relationship has been discovered. Could an economic revolution end the depression epidemic? And, most curiously, what can we learn from the Amish on this front? Johann Hari is the author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: When I feel depressed, like loads of people I say, “I feel down,” right? And as I was learning about the causes of depression and anxiety for my book 'Lost Connections' I started to realize—I don’t think that’s a metaphor. There’s this amazing professor at Stanford called Robert Sapolsky who, in his early twenties, went to live with a troop of baboons in Kenya. And it was his job to figure out: when are baboons most stressed out? So his job was to hit them with little tranquilizer darts and then take a blood test and measure something called cortisol, which is a hormone that baboons and us release when we’re stressed. And baboons live in this hierarchy—so the females don’t, interestingly—but the men live in a very strict hierarchy. So if there’s 30 men, number one knows he’s above number two. Number two knows he’s above number three. Number 12 knows he’s above number 13. And that really determines a lot; it determines who you get to have sex with, it determines what you get to eat, it determines whether you get to sit in the shade or you’re pushed out into the heat. So really it's significant where you are in the hierarchy. And what Professor Sapolsky found is that baboons are most stressed in two situations. One is when their status is insecure. So if you’re the top guy and someone’s circling which comes for you, you will be massively stressed. And the other situation is when you feel you’re at the bottom of the hierarchy, you’ve been kind of humiliated. And what Professor Sapolsky noticed—and then it was later developed by other scientists—is, when you feel you’ve been pushed to the bottom, what you do is you show something called a submission gesture. So you, baboons will raise— I say “you,” I assume no baboons are watching this, maybe they are—a baboon will put its body down physically or put it’s head down or put its bottom in the air and it will cover its head. So it’s clearly seems to be communicating: “Just leave me alone. You’ve beaten me, okay? You’ve beaten me.” And what lots of scientists, like Professor Paul Gilbert in Britain and Professor Kate Pickett and Professor Richard Wilkinson, also in Britain, have really developed is this idea that actually what human depression is, in part—not entirely, but in part—is a form of a submission gesture. It’s a way of saying, “I can’t cope with this anymore,” right. Particularly people who feel they’ve been pushed to the bottom of hierarchies. Or who feel, if you remember the other stressful situations when your status is insecure, it’s a way of just going, “Okay, I retreat. I don’t want this fight anymore. You’ve beaten me.” It’s a kind of very strong evolutionary impulse where you feel you’re under attack, to just submit in the hope that the stress and anxiety will then go away, that the sources of the stress and anxiety will then go away. And one thing that’s so important, and that’s what Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson really developed, is they’ve shown that as inequality grows, depression and anxiety grow. They’ve shown this is a very robust effect, right. This helps us to explain it. If you live in Norway your status is relatively secure, right. No one’s that high, no one’s that low. Movement between where you are is not so extreme.

3 semanas atrás

Revenge of the tribes: How the American Empire could fall | Amy Chua

Yale professor Amy Chua has two precautionary tales for Americans, and their names are Libya and Iraq. "We’re starting to see in America something that I’ve seen in other countries that is not good," says Chua. "We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to get to the point where we look at people on the other side of the political spectrum and we see them not just as people that we disagree with but literally as our enemy, as immoral, “un-American” people." Tribalism is innate to humanity, and it is the glue that holds nations together—but it's a Goldilocks conundrum: too much or too little of it and a nation will tear at the seams. It becomes most dangerous when two hardened camps form and obliterate all the subtribes beneath them. Chua stresses the importance of "dividing yourself so that you don’t get entrenched in just two terrible tribes." Having many identities and many points of overlap with fellow citizens is what keeps a country's unity strong. When that flexibility disappears, and a person becomes only a Republican or a Democrat—or only a Sunni Muslim or a Shia Muslim, as in Iraq—that's when it's headed for danger. In this expansive and brilliant talk on political tribes, Chua explains what happens when minorities and majorities clash, why post-colonial nations are often doomed to civil war, and why you can't just replace dictators with democracy. Amy Chua is the author of Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: I think a great example of group blindness in the United States is when Woodrow Wilson said in 1915—in a very famous speech—“There are no groups in America. America doesn’t consist of groups. And if you continue to think of yourself as belonging to a smaller group you’re not American.” It’s astonishing that he could say this—these universalist tones at a time when Native Americans were largely still denied citizenship, Mexican Americans were still being lynched, Asian Americans were barred from owning land, and African Americans were being subjected to violence and degradation virtually every day. And yet he was saying we don’t have any groups here. So that’s an example of almost willful blindness to groups. And sometimes this kind of universalist rhetoric, “Oh we’re all just one people,” is a way of hiding a lot of inequality and smaller kinds of group oppression. So if you look at a country like Libya they’re actually a little bit like the United States. That is, they are a wildly multi-ethnic nation. The problem is they don’t have a strong enough overarching national identity to hold it together. And the goal is a group—or a country, in this case—that has, on the one hand, a very strong overarching national identity: “We’re Americans,” but—importantly—at the same time allows individual, subgroup, and tribal identities to flourish. You should be a country where you can say, “I’m Irish American,” or, “I’m Libyan American,” and yet be intensely patriotic at the same time. So: “I’m Muslim American. I’m Chinese American. I’m Nigerian American.” So, at its best, in America, there should be a certain amount of porousness and fluidity across tribes. It’s when tribalism gets really entrenched that things can get very dangerous. Western democracies at their best—or just any democracies—are when people have crosscutting group identities. So it’s like okay, I’m a Democrat or I’m a Republican but I’m also Asian American or African American or straight or gay, wealthy or not wealthy. Just different ways of dividing yourself so that you don’t get entrenched in just two terrible tribes. It’s sort of like, if I’m talking about sports I’m with you, but if I’m talking about food preferences I’m with you, and you could have different groups that neutralize each other. One of the problems with what we’re seeing in America today is that it seems increasingly that certain tribes are hardening. In particular, you’ve got what is very misleadingly called the “coastal elites”. In a way, that’s misleading because coastal elites are not all coastal and they’re also not all elites in the sense of being wealthy. Often, in this term coastal elites is included professional elites or even students who have no money but they’re well-educated, they’re progressive, they are multicultural and cosmopolitan. And we’re starting to see in America something that I’ve seen in other countries that is not good.

3 semanas atrás

How NASA averted the 2060 apocalypse | Michelle Thaller

Pop quiz! Which NASA mission has been most critical to humanity? It's not the Moon landing. It's not the Apollo 8 mission, with its iconic Earthrise photo. It's not even spinoff tech like cell phones, baby formula, and GPS. "All those kind of fall flat, to tell you the truth," says Michelle Thaller, NASA's assistant director of science communication. "I think that people don’t understand." Thaller says the greatest mission NASA ever pulled off was saving your butt. While conducting blue sky research—curiosity-driven scientific investigation with no immediate "real-world" applications—that scientists in the 1980s discovered that the ozone layer was being depleted. Realizing the danger this posed to life on Earth, scientists—and NASA's crack team of science communicators—mobilized the public, the U.N., and governments to get the Montreal Protocol signed, and to ban ozone-depleting chemicals for good. "We’ve since done atmospheric models that show that we would have actually destroyed the ozone layer, had we done nothing, by the year 2060..." says Thaller. "That would have destroyed agriculture. Crops would have failed all over the world. You couldn’t have livestock outside. People couldn’t have lived outside. We very nearly destroyed civilization, and your grandchildren would have lived through that." The value of blue sky research is severely underestimated—especially when budgets are being drafted. But it has led to the best NASA spinoff Michelle Thaller can think of: grandchildren. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: Transcript: Well, I am one of the directors of science [at NASA], and my specialty is communications. There's the idea that a mission ends when you return the data, when you make the discoveries, when the scientists publish their papers. To me, the mission doesn’t end until you have some sort of public involvement, until you have some sort of public buy-in. I think that’s as important as any other part of the mission. I’ve been trying to tell people for years that a communications team on a mission is just like having your crack team of electrical engineers or your best computer programmers. You need to have people that really understand communications well. And it helps—I mean, in my case I started out as a research astrophysicist and so I understand a lot of the topics as well. But I do communications now at NASA. And as far as why NASA is important, I think this is one of these things that people have no idea: We run, at the moment, 108 science missions. Those are mostly spacecraft. Some of them are on balloons or sounding rockets or on the space station. Some of them are on the earth. We have people embedded with the Sami reindeer herders trying to understand how climate change is changing the migration of reindeer herds. I mean it’s amazing that NASA is all over. Everything from the disaster mitigation from all of those hurricanes—we actually sent staff to Puerto Rico when FEMA was overwhelmed, they had been setting up communication centers. I mean everything from determining what set off the Big Bang to where those wildfires are going to be spreading to in southern California. We have 108 missions and I’ve never seen any organization operate more efficiently. I’ve never worked with more brilliant people. I think people often don't understand what the real value is as far as blue sky research, you know. People talk about spinoffs and people joke about things like Velcro and Tang. I mean those are jokes, but the more intelligent people might notice things like microprocessors started at NASA. Cell phones. The reason you have computers, the reason the United States was poised to lead the computer revolution was because of the Apollo program. But all those kind of fall flat, to tell you the truth. I think that people don’t understand. It was a NASA satellite doing research just out of curiosity to see what gases were in the atmosphere that discovered that the ozone hole was being depleted in the 1980s. And the NASA scientists with a number of university scientists went running to the U.N. and said, “If we don’t do something, we are literally going to destroy the planet.” And they actually got the Montreal Protocol signed. They actually made treaties. They banned these chemicals that were depleting our ozone layer. And we’ve since done atmospheric models that show that we would have actually destroyed the ozone layer, had we done nothing, by the year 2060, which, if not in my lifetime, is probably in our children’s lifetime. And basically, that would have destroyed agriculture. Crops would have failed all over the world. You couldn’t have livestock outside. People couldn’t have lived outside.

3 semanas atrás

If one person can change the world, imagine what a community can do | Chelsea Clinton

As Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, an activist, public health scholar, mom, and professor, Chelsea Clinton sure is pretty busy. Here, she explains to us that there is a divide between wanting to make the world a better place and actually having a direction and a unique goal to make it happen. In order to help others both see and meet their goals, the Clinton Foundation launched CGI U (Clinton Global Initiative University) to give mentorship to those looking to make positive change. This video, part one in a series, is a great introduction to CGI U and to Chelsea's overall worldview. Read more at Follow Big Think here: YouTube: Facebook: Twitter: So here at CGI U we bring together a group of student activists and change makers every year to help them think about how to maximize the work that they’re already doing or the work that they feel called to do, whether that is tackling a challenge on their campus or in their local community or around the world. And we also hope that here at CGI U that we help foster a community of changemakers so that they can trade ideas, share ideas, learn from each other, help each other get better and support each other when those inevitable challenges come as kind of the rubber meets the road and the hard work of making a positive difference in the world may be just a little bit harder some days than others. One of the areas that we really focus on here at CGI U is to try to be a platform and a resource for our CGI U students and alums. We think that’s really important because we want the CGI U students not only to hopefully kind of feel more empowered and affirmed but themselves to then help democratize what they’ve learned through the CGI U process to other students, other friends, the younger siblings or the kids that they may themselves mentor now or in the future. And so what does that mean. Well helping CGI U students understand better and hopefully feel more connected and empowered to do what they themselves are doing but also to really understand why at CGI U we ask them to make a specific commitment to action. Why we ask them to articulate how they’ll measure progress against that commitment to action; Why we do think it’s really important that it be something new and not redundant or repetitive to something that someone else may already be trying to do to tackle that problem kind of in that space in that place at this moment in time. Because we hope if students understand better not only how to kind of do the work that they feel called to do but also why we focus on what we do here at CGI U they’ll be able to help support more people to be more effective change-makers today and in the future. I think that millennials and Gen Z often get a bad rap as being kind of disinterested, disengaged, disincentivized, more curious about what’s popping up on Instagram than the headline of the day. And we’ve heard critiques like that kind of for time immemorial. And yet thankfully for time immemorial young people have said no. I mean we’re not going to be defined by kind of your stigma of us. We’re going to be defined by kind of what we stand up for, what we fight for or what we do, what we push forward. And I certainly think all the students here at CGI U not only provide a robust case for optimism every year and every day, and the work that they do that I think really repudiate that.

3 semanas atrás