The new season of Michael Steven’s Mind Field is here and we’ve got all the exclusives from Michael himself on what to expect!
As the founder of Vsauce, Michael really needs no introduction. His wildly successful YouTube lives within the genre of educational videos, and Mind Field has been an opportunity for him to dive even further into different experiments and research that he hasn’t had the time or resources to do on his regular channel.
We talked to Michael about everything from how to make someone falsely confess to a crime, to the age old ‘who would you let the trolley train hit’ moral experiment. You’re definitely going to want to read what he has to say, and fair warning, you’re probably gonna be thinking about some of these ideas all day.
Don’t forget to catch the season 2 of Mind Field, currently on YouTube Red!
Both of your parents come from strong educational backgrounds, so was the concept of creating an educational channel a no-brainer for you, or is there more to it than that?
MS: Oh man, I think my parents definitely played a role in what I was interested in as a kid. I was always interested in science but also performing. I did a lot of musicals and theatre, and I did a lot of competitive speaking at events where you would write a speech and present [it] around [and] talk to judges, so I always loved public speaking and performing. But– I also loved science and even when I was really young, the two were coming together in the form of explanation, in the form of kind of guiding people through trains of thought.
I mean that’s such a great way of combining the two of them, I think.
MS: Yeah and, when I was in college I was doing a lot of theatre. I was double-majoring in english literature and neuropsychology.
MS: Yeah, so then Youtube was invented, and I was like “Woah! Wait a second. This might be, where everything comes together.”
That kind of, in a way, leads me into my next question which is: What do you think is the main difference between learning something online versus learning it in school? And do you think that your content, specifically, is more accessible to people.
MS: Well yeah, I mean my content is accessible to anyone who has an internet connection.
MS: Or is around [an internet connection], so it’s selective in that you dont have to watch my content. You have to go to school, it’s mandatory. Teachers have to decide lesson plans according to what the state and federal government require. I don’t.
MS: So I’m really lucky. I get to make a video about any topic I want and I can release a video whenever I want. Where as a teacher has to be, you know, at school every day, or else the kids are literally unsupervised. [The learning] is extremely different but I think that the rise of educational programs like V-Sauce, like Mind Field, is coming out of the fact that humans are way more curious and way smarter than entertainment has assumed they were for a very long time.
There’s a difference between learning so you do well on a test, and learning so you understand, and build up an intuitive grasp of why. There’s just different goals people will have when they’re learning. Whether it’s from school or a YouTube video [because] there are plenty of YouTube videos that only show you how to do something and not why something happens.
MS: They’re both valuable things, depending on what you’re going for.
Your philosophical and educational videos are very thorough, how much research do you do, or how much time do you spend preparing to make these videos?
MS: It takes a long time, much to the chagrin of my subscribers. I’ll spend months reading books and speaking with people who are experts in these fields and just running statements by them. “Is this true?” “What would you say to this?” “Is this a misconception, or is it true?” I try to comb through as many related topics as I can because I sometimes feel like someone might not be impressed by one, but they will [be] by another, so I gotta take them all. I’m always assuming that my audience is someone who knows the subject better than I do. I’m always focused on making sure that they’re happy so that they’re like “Yes! This is the video I will send everyone when they ask about this law.”
How has Mind Field differed for you as an educational experience in comparison to your typical Vsauce videos?
MS: Well a typical Vsauce video is just me. It’s just the Michael show, and it’s me talking to you like we’re hanging out [and] having a conversation over lunch. But, that is limiting, in that I cannot bring in other voices. I can quote them, I can reference them and I can sometimes collaborate and point to them, but to actually demonstrate things, and give other people a platform, I needed to do another format. It’s a format that requires more resources and YouTube recognized the importance of a show like Mind Field and said “Let’s make this happen!” So, with Minefield I get to do the experiments, I get to meet the experts, the historical figures, Philip Zimbardo is in this new season. I actually got to sit down in this living room with him and his wife.
Is there a concept that still stands out to you as mind-blowing that you could just go down a rabbit hole forever.
MS: I’d say false confession. One of the season 2 episodes is about why people falsely confess. It seems like a joke, [because] you’d have to be an indiot to say you committed a crime that you didn’t commit. That seems like the most obvious thing not to do.
MS: But I was trained in how to elicit false confessions by an expert working with the government [and worked on] better interrogation techniques that are more ethical and lead to better information. Not false confessions, but true information. It only took me half a day to get to the point where I could meet a person, accuse them of doing something, of cheating or violating a contract they signed, and I could get them to hand in a handwritten note confessing. I did that to two of the people I worked with and then I got to interview them [and ask] “Why would you do that?”
That’s fascinating. That’s something I’m gonna be thinking about all day.
MS: It’s so weird. Afterwards I had dinner with my wife and I was like I feel like a worse person now. Cause now I know secrets of manipulation and how to make someone see a bad option as being better than a good option. I wanted to tell her everything I learned cause I never wanna use it ever again.
Do you have any educational channels on YouTube that you like to watch?
MS: Oh definitely. Numberphile, is fantastic! The purpose of the channel is a video about every number. So it’s never gonna run out of episode ideas. It’s just fantastic, I really like channels like Brain Scoop. Emily Graslie, brings you through how you preserve specimens, and different things about animals. I love Ask A Mortician. That’s another very fantastic channel. There’s a mortician and a crematory owner who answer questions about death and funerals and all the things we’re afraid to ask, and she was very upfront about the history of burying bodies.
Have you ever been surprised by the reaction to any of your videos?
MS: Yes I have. In terms of just regular V-sauce videos, I always love what people do with [the] ideas after watching. A lot of people will look at something mathematical, or the nature of our universe, and they’ll start looking for [those answers] in other places besides the ones that I showed. With Mind Field, it answers the questions people have about the scientific process. How do you experiment on people? How do you do it ethically? How do you not make people upset or traumatized, but also learn [from them]. In the first season we focused on fundamental, textbook psychology experiments. In this next season we went a lot further and looked at stuff that’s being done now thats cutting edge and we had to be a lot more careful. I think the first episode is mainly about– how are we going to create an experiment that tests the trolley problem and ethical psychology without damaging people? The episode covers the whole journey of “How do you properly test the mind?” That’s the thing that I don’t think has been covered well enough by a lot of other programs that look into the mind [and] the care that needs to be taken when doing it.
What is the one thing you still really want to dive into that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
MS: For Mind Field, I would say that it’s to work with identical twins. Especially identical twins who were separated at birth. We spent a few months trying to track down and locate cases where people believed they had a twin they were separated from, and with our resources, help them locate [them]. That’s one that I think is gonna take longer than we had [time] for this season. But yeah, that’s the first thing on my mind. We could be here forever if I told you everything I still don’t know.