400 years ago, we began to examine the universe and challenge our beliefs about our place within it. Are investigations of the universe inside our minds any different?
[Voice and music over a black screen]
MAHZARIN BANAJI: There are few thrills that can compete with the thrill of scientific discovery.
[Animated image of the moon in the night sky]
My absolute favorite story about important moments in science, even today, is the story of the telescope and the person who first wielded it with earth-shattering effect, Galileo.
[A hand-draw map of Europe appears, and an arrow traces the path from the Netherlands to Italy]
Galileo didn’t even invent the telescope. He heard about it, as news from the Netherlands traveled to Italy.
[A telescope appears, one piece at a time]
He put his own gizmo together, increased its magnification, and oh my!
[We look through the lens of the telescope and see a flat orange circle representing the sun. Details of the sun’s surface (sunspots, etc.) start to fade in.]
The perfect Aristotelian sun suddenly had blotches on it.
[The view through the telescope pans to a flat grayish-white circle representing the moon. Details of craters fade in.]
Our moon had craters,
[The view through the telescope pans to Jupiter and its moons moving in orbit]
and Jupiter’s moons danced around that planet in systematic ways.
[The view through the telescope changes to Earth]
All this pointed, of course, in one difficult direction:
[Earth shrinks as our view “zooms out” to show Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury orbiting the Sun]
We were not the center of the universe. Copernicus was right!
Of course, these discoveries didn’t line up with what ordinary people thought.
[We see the telescope again]
But Galileo had an instrument. You can imagine the defiant Galileo thinking,
[We look through the lens of the telescope again. A small white circle representing the moon passes into view, becoming larger and full of crater detail]
“I’ll shove their faces into those lenses and once they see, they will have to believe.”
Four hundred years later, we’re at a new frontier.
[We see an animated image of a galaxy. A silhouette of a human head in profile fades in overtop it, so that the galaxy appears to be inside the head]
Instead of only looking outward to the farthest reaches of the universe, we’re also looking inside the mind.
[More and more “stars” appear inside the silhouette head, in the shape of a brain]
Your brain and mine has more individual cells – neurons – in it than all the stars in our galaxy.
[We zoom in closer to a group of stars, and neuron-like connections form between them]
And guess what! The universe inside our heads seems to be just as fascinating and perplexing – sometimes just as frightening as those worlds so far away must have seemed in 1610.
Mind scientists like myself, we too have our instruments.
[The stars fade into a hand-drawn image of a computer. A woman appears, sitting at the computer, and scribbled text appears on the screen]
Sometimes they are just clever little questions that can be posed to people.
[Different scribbled text appears on the computer screen in yellow and red. The woman presses a key on the keyboard]
Sometimes we observe how quickly they make their decisions.
[We zoom into the woman’s head, and the screen goes white]
Sometimes we directly measure brain activity. These are our telescopes.
[Mahzarin Banaji herself appears onscreen, seated and speaking into the camera.]
I’m Mahzarin Banaji. I’m a professor of experimental psychology at Harvard University. For the past 35 years I’ve had the great fortune of studying two of the most complex systems we know of: the human mind, and the social world in which the human mind does its work. I study how we think about other people and ourselves, how decisions we make are influenced by things that we have no clue about.
[An animation is shown, traveling up the side of a tall building (William James Hall, the home of the Harvard University Department of Psychology) and toward the upper-floor windows. The image fades to students inside seated at computers]
Small discoveries from my own lab have shown us something interesting: – that we may not always be the objective, rational, good people that we think we are.
[The image fades rapidly from indigenous dwellings to a medieval town to a large city]
And that’s not because we are bad people, but rather because our minds are built to do the job of surviving in a world that looked nothing like the one that we confront today.
[Four rectangles appear, each with a thumbnail image from an Outsmarting Implicit Bias module]
Outsmarting Human Minds is a project designed to bring you the best information science allows us at this time to understand and hopefully outsmart our minds.
[An animated image pans across people with a diverse range of professions and identities]
Whether you’re a parent, an educator, somebody in the world of healthcare, business, law, law enforcement…
[Mahzarin Banaji speaks into the camera again]
…whatever you happen to do, your thoughts and feelings about yourself and the others around you are significant determinants of your life and your work.
My hope is a simple one. That with learning about the mind will come an appreciation of how it got built over the course of evolution, how it was influenced by culture; how it serves us well and fails us, and how we can outsmart it to become the decision makers that we want to be.
[The image fades to white and the OIB logo appears]
The Universe Inside was created and developed by Mahzarin Banaji and Olivia Kang with funding from PwC and Harvard University.
Narration by Mahzarin Banaji
Artwork by Olivia Kang
Camera & Editing by Evan Younger
Music by Big Score Audio and Tiny Music via Premium Beat
© 2017 President and Fellows of Harvard College