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MLA Full: "Optimism is Not Insane." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 31 May 2013,
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APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2013, May 31). Optimism is Not Insane [Video]. YouTube.
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In which Hank talks about our cognitive bias toward bad news, how that affects us, and why there are, in fact, lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future of humanity on the Earth. All of this was inspired by the people I met in Seattle while helping launch this Kickstarter for a space telescope (

Also, one of the guys behind that project wrote a book that heavily inspired this video and it is really really good and very interesting. I suggest you buy and read it:

Now I want to be clear that I don't think humanity is safe, or that we're not in the middle of a significant mass-extinction event, or that we're royally screwing up the planet, or that future generations won't be astounded by our arrogance...

I do, however, think that there is a very good chance that humanity will still be creating and solving problems thousands of years from now. Because creating and solving problems appears to be the two things we're best at.

Awesome moving graph came from
Good morning John, and pre-congratulations on your little wiggly, stinky baby thing. Any day now, still waiting. Also, thank you for providing me with several impossible tasks to accomplish while you're busy relaxing on your paternity leave: sleeping all day, reading pretentious novels in the sunshine, eating fancy waffles... I don't have a lot of data on how exactly to take care of a newborn child, but I figure it's something like that. (0:21)

So yeah, I'm happy to fix all the world's problems while you're busy cuddling with your new baby in well-rested luxury. Speaking of all the world's problems, a few weeks ago I made a video that highlighted some of the pretty dramatic changes that humanity has enacted upon the earth. (0:33)

I made that video because I wanted to give people a more complete picture of how we impact our planet, and maybe inspire some people to help. And in that, I think that that video miserably failed. It was overwhelming, it made people hate themselves for being a part of humanity, and it was paralyzing more than inspiring. (0:49)

Our brains are just not good at understanding this sort of thing. For example, we way overestimate our ability to deal with stuff that we control. Like, I think, "I can run five businesses and occasionally jaunt over to Seattle to help kickstart a space telescope. No problem, I can deal with all that, no, I won't go crazy." (1:03)

But we way underestimate our ability as a species to affect stuff that we feel like we can't control individually. And we have a known cognitive bias on remembering and basing our decisions on negative experiences, and not on the positive ones. Like, we have to have like ten positive experiences to weigh out every negative one. (1:18)

What I'm trying to say, is that you are being lied to, by your own brain, and also by you know, society, and Fox News, and to some extent, me, in that video I made. Humanity is not a cancer -- deforestation happens because people want to provide better lives for themselves and for their families; rivers run dry because we're irrigating crops so that children don't starve! (1:35)

The amazing thing for me is that humans are constantly solving these huge problems, and we never notice that we do it! We never celebrate! Disasters happen all at once; successes happen slowly, and gradually, and they are interrupted by disasters, but they continue despite them. (1:51)

This is a graph of the health and wealth of every country in the world, from 1900 to 2011. Every country is better off - in fact, some countries in Africa are doing better now than the United States was in 1900. (2:04)

Here's what I think happens. I think that we look at a graph - and the graph shows something increasing, whether it's like climate change, or oil use, or deforestation, and there's a disaster point, somewhere at the top. And that graph's going to get there, in maybe ten years, and we think, "We have ten years left to live on the Earth!" (2:20)

But usually, we adapt, and capitalism adapts, and technology adapts, and my God, even Congress adapts. We consistently, every single year, avoid the apocalypse, not because there's one single superhero - this isn't a television drama - but because we do things together. We do these things as activists, and chemists, and engineers, and physicists, and poets, and songwriters, and writers, and politicians, and even bureaucrats! (2:46)

We are the superhero. None of us, individually, but all of us together. My trip to Seattle to the Museum of Flight to help Planetary Resources launch their Space Telescope Kickstarter was inspiring, unsurprisingly, but maybe for surprising reasons. (2:59)

It wasn't just that, you know, people are going to band together and crowdfund a freaking space telescope, but also, it was seeing the artifacts of great projects that humanity has enacted together, and meeting people - extremely smart and dedicated people - who are working their butts off, to make sure that humanity continues its path toward a more prosperous future for the majority of people, the majority of the time. (3:20)

And it's not just those super-smart people; it's all of us. All of us working together to make the world work. It turns out that we are very good at solving problems, but they do not solve themselves. (3:30)

So what I've realized, is that working hard to create a better future does not come from a place of wanting to avoid the inevitable apocalypse, but instead, it comes from a place of optimism, and it turns out that somehow, there are a tremendous number of things to be optimistic about, and that's pretty great. (3:45)

John, I will see you, or potentially someone else, if you have a baby, on Tuesday.