Think Inc. Thursdays #020

The Olympics are one of our simple pleasures during lockdown across Australia, but have you ever considered how much strength it takes to be an athlete competing at that level? I'm not talking physical strength, but mental strength. It appears that the Ancient Greeks weren't just great at organising sport competitions, but were successful in producing philosophers who can teach us a lot about how to strengthen our minds and jump mental hurdles (pun intended 😉). 

Speaking of strengthening the mind, social media use is doing the opposite for teens- we bring you Jonathan Haidt's latest work on that matter. We've also got news of AI systems gaining legal rights, persuading the un-persuadable, and Einstein getting it right, yet again.

As always, let us know about any interesting news you come across – we love to hear from you!

Warm regards,
Suzi

teens lonelier than ever

Jonathan Haidt has written a very insightful opinion piece in the New York Times about how rates of teenage depression, loneliness, self-harm and suicide have skyrocketed over the past decade. From 2000-2012, rates of adolescent loneliness were pretty stable. It was only in 2012 when Jon and his colleagues noticed a massive surge in reports of loneliness and depression. This phenomenon perplexed them- in 2012 the economy was far better than previous years, and the world hadn't experienced any catastrophic, life-changing events that could be blamed for the decline in mental health. But for any Millennials out there who were teenagers in 2012, you might be able to guess what changed around that time- smartphones.

2012 was the first year in which the majority of teens had a smartphone, and that’s when social media started pervading the lives of teenagers. Along with this, the decline in teen mental health can also be attributed to the rise of inequality post-GFC, and a change in parenting (more specifically, wrapping kids in “cotton wool”). Jon and his colleagues have published their findings in the Journal of Adolescence, and you can even read their Google Doc literature reviews (here and here) that Jon posted on his Twitter. Thanks, Jon! 

Obviously we can’t go back in time and stop the rise of smartphones (and would we really want to?) but what we can do is make sure that kids have a break from their phones during school hours, and that they don’t use social media until they’re a bit older, preferably not until they’re 16 years old. 

Sites like Instagram are taking notice of the negative effects that social media has on teens. They’ve recently debuted new safety settings that make the profiles of kids under 16 private by default and restrict how advertisers target teens. They also block some adults from interacting with teens. This is a step in the right direction, but at the same time, Facebook has also announced it’s considering creating a social media platform for kids under the age of 13 so that there’s no incentive for them to lie about their age, which they’re currently doing.

If Jon’s work tells us anything, it’s that kids would benefit from less time online, not more, so we wonder if this is a good move 🤔 What do you think?

AI GRANTED LEGAL RIGHTS IN PATENT

Australia’s Federal Court has just set a groundbreaking precedent. In a landmark decision, it decided that artificial intelligence systems can be legally recognised as inventors in patent applications, whereas previously only humans could be. The Aussie court followed suit from a recent decision in a South African court, which awarded a patent recognising DABUS as an inventor.

Stephen Thaler is the mastermind behind DABUS, which is essentially a computer system he programmed to invent autonomously. In the UK, US and EU, Thaler wasn't successful in registering patents with DABUS listed as the inventor.  Thaler's lawyers say that refusing to recognise AI as inventors prevents patent registration, as often there are severe criminal penalties for people who inaccurately name the wrong inventor. 

Apart from coming up with new inventions, did you know we already have AI systems that generate their own artwork? Check out the image above and at the top of this blog post!

Some of these beautiful pieces have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars and have also sold as NFTs. But can something really be classed as art if it does have a human behind it? Regardless, we are loving these images and can understand why people would spend thousands to own one.

olympian mindset

Have you been watching the Olympics? For many of us in lockdown across Australia, it's been a little pocket of sunshine to watch these incredible athletes break records while we are confined to breaking records on how much Netflix can be consumed in one day…

If you watch the athletes closely you’ll see that not only are they physically talented, but they also have an incredible ability to concentrate and control themselves under pressure. In a recent article in The Conversation, Thomas Hannan, postdoctoral research fellow in Sports Psychology at Griffith Uni, outlines four key techniques to develop an elite Olympian mindset. This article is of particular interest to our Think Inc. team, as we are about to launch an exciting new Think Inc. Academy course on Stoicism.

According to Hannan, the first step in getting an elite mindset is goal-setting. We should be focusing on SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. Similarly, in stoic philosophy, there’s a technique called the dichotomy of control, which says we shouldn’t focus on things we can’t change, therefore goals must be realistic and attainable. 

The second technique is planning, especially for when things go pear-shaped. Part of stoic philosophy is understanding that life isn’t always going to go to plan, and having an outline of what you’re going to do in these situations can be really helpful. 

Thirdly, positive-self talk. If all those “you can do it!” quotes make you gag, maybe consider the stoic version of positive self-talk, which is more about gratitude. As Marcus Aurelius said, “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive.”

The last technique used by Olympians is mental imagery. Stoics have a bit of a different take on this: it’s called negative visualization, which is about imagining the worst-case scenario and preparing for it. It’s a bit like mental hurdles: imagining the upcoming hurdles and preparing to jump over them.

So we have the Ancient Greeks to thank for not only the Olympics but stoic philosophy, democracy and geometry. Σ’ ευχαριστώ!

the art of persuasion

Here's a bit of a contentious topic for you, because you know that at Think Inc. we’re all about free discourse even if we don’t agree! Ezra Klein, a journalist who never shies away from controversial topics, has written a thought-provoking opinion piece in the New York Times titled "What if the Unvaccinated Can’t Be Persuaded?".

Klein's thesis is based on what he argues is decades research in psychology which show us that it’s almost impossible to convince people of what they don’t want to believe. Most people do calculations in their head and weigh up the risks versus benefits and some have decided, whether you believe their calculations are correct or not, that it's best for them to not get vaccinated.

According to Klein, if policymakers want to change people’s minds, they need to change the way people do their calculations by raising the costs of remaining unvaccinated or getting vaccinated. Of course, the biggest cost that’s being thrown around or even implemented in some countries already is the idea of a vaccine passport. Klein finishes his piece by saying “I urge those who object to vaccination passports as an unprecedented stricture on liberty to widen their tragic imagination”.

What do you think? Perhaps the more people feel they're being persuaded, the more they don't want to budge. We'd like to know the psychology behind that as well.

another super massive win for einstein

Imagine being dead for over 70 years and still kicking intellectual goals- that's the legacy of Einstein.

Over a century ago, Albert Einstein predicted that the gravitational pull of black holes was so strong that they could bend light around themselves. Well, he was spot on, yet again!

Recently astronomers glimpsed for the first time light being reflected — or "echoing" — from behind a supermassive black hole, 800 MILLION light-years away from Earth. Using the XMM Newton telescope, scientists could see that X-ray flares are generated when the black hole's giant magnetic field gets tangled up in its spin. But they also noticed something strange: fainter bursts of X-rays that had different wavelengths, indicating that they had bounced off the accretion disk (structures formed by diffuse material in orbital motion around a massive central body) from behind the black hole. 

This occurs when some X-rays manage to slip past the black hole's massive gravitational pull, only to get sucked back in. Some of these escapee X-rays reflect off the back of the accretion disk and are bent around the black hole by its formidable gravity, thus proving Einstein’s theory.

The strange sounds of Io

Another recent achievement is that we can now hear Jupiter’s volcanic moon, Io!

Jupiter has the most powerful magnetic field of all the planets in our solar system, and Io finds itself in a gravitational tug of war between Jupiter and the other two large moons. This pulling causes massive internal heat which leads to hundreds of volcanic eruptions.

Recently NASA worked out that when the Juno spacecraft is in the right spot, it can pick up on these radio waves caused by the eruptions. It's not quite music you can dance to, but it’s definitely very cool and you should have a listen for yourself.

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