One more reason to get a good night’s sleep

Sleep. It’s something we spend about a third of our lives doing, but do any of us really understand what it’s all about? 0:19 Two thousand years ago, Galen, one of the most prominent medical researchers of the ancient world, proposed that while we’re awake, our brain’s motive force, its juice, would flow out to all the other parts of the body, animating them but leaving the brain all dried up, and he thought that when we sleep, all this moisture that filled the rest of the body would come rushing back,

rehydrating the brain and refreshing the mind. Now, that sounds completely ridiculous to us now, but Galen was simply trying to explain something about sleep that we all deal with every day. See, we all know based on our own experience that when you sleep, it clears your mind, and when you don’t sleep, it leaves your mind murky. But while we know a great deal more about sleep now than when Galen was around, we still haven’t understood why it is that sleep, of all of our activities, has this incredible restorative function for the mind.
So today I want to tell you about some recent research that may shed new light on this question. We’ve found that sleep may actually be a kind of elegant design solution to some of the brain’s most basic needs, a unique way that the brain meets the high demands and the narrow margins that set it apart from all the other organs of the body. Continue reading

How behavioral science can lower your energy bill

What’s a proven way to lower your energy costs? Would you believe: learning what your neighbor pays. Alex Laskey shows how a quirk of human behavior can make us all better, wiser energy users, with lower bills to prove it.

How many of you have checked your email today? Come on, raise your hands. How many of you are checking it right now?
And how about finances? Anybody check that today? Credit card, investment account? How about this week?
Now, how about your household energy use? Anybody check that today? This week? Last week? A few energy geeks spread out across the room. It’s good to see you guys. But the rest of us — this is a room filled with people who are passionate about the future of this planet, and even we aren’t paying attention to the energy use that’s driving climate change. The woman in the photo with me is Harriet. We met her on our first family vacation. Harriet’s paying attention to her energy use, and she is decidedly not an energy geek. This is the story of how Harriet came to pay attention.
This is coal, the most common source of electricity on the planet, and there’s enough energy in this coal to light this bulb for more than a year. But unfortunately, between here and here, most of that energy is lost to things like transmission leakage and heat. In fact, only 10 percent ends up as light. So this coal will last a little bit more than a month. If you wanted to light this bulb for a year, you’d need this much coal. The bad news here is that, for every unit of energy we use, we waste nine. That means there’s good news, because for every unit of energy we save, we save the other nine. So the question is, how can we get the people in this room and across the globe to start paying attention to the energy we’re using, and start wasting less of it? Continue reading

How we read each other’s minds

Sensing the motives and feelings of others is a natural talent for humans. But how do we do it? Here, Rebecca Saxe shares fascinating lab work that uncovers how the brain thinks about other peoples’ thoughts — and judges their actions.

Today I’m going to talk to you about the problem of other minds. And the problem I’m going to talk about is not the familiar one from philosophy, which is, “How can we know whether other people have minds?” That is, maybe you have a mind, and everyone else is just a really convincing robot. So that’s a problem in philosophy, but for today’s purposes I’m going to assume that many people in this audience have a mind, and that I don’t have to worry about this.
There is a second problem that is maybe even more familiar to us as parents and teachers and spouses and novelists, which is, “Why is it so hard to know what somebody else wants or believes?” Or perhaps, more relevantly, “Why is it so hard to change what somebody else wants or believes?” Continue reading