What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Hmmm, I Wonder Why <i>That</i> Happened?

January 29, 2010, 5:39 PM
Serendipity-new

Science is full of surprises. Like penicillin. And X-rays. And LSD. And the cosmic background radiation that is our best evidence for the "Big Bang" origin of the universe. Ever since the original "eureka" moment, serendipity--the source of discoveries made while seeking, or expecting, something else--has been a driving force in progress. It's still happening, all the time.

In fact, it probably happens more often today than ever, now that computing power makes it possible to test all available compounds in a chemistry lab, or simulate all possible conditions in a climate model, or let the fractal equations play out for a while, and see what happens. (Thanks to computers, even mathematics now has tinkering experimenters working alongside its theorists.) It's enough to make you wonder what we've missed because over the past few centuries because people weren't open to surprises.

Serendipity isn't the same thing as dumb luck, of course. It's not like throwing spaghetti into the air and seeing what sticks. Instead, it's the product of training and thought. An accident won't teach you anything unless you know what to notice, and what it means. "Chance," Louis Pasteur famously said, "favors the prepared mind." Nonetheless, good scientific luck is sometimes disparaged as "blind searching," and many people tend to think "real science" is only about certainties.

This month, serendipity, the equal yin to certainty's yang, got its own scholarly publication: the open-access Journal of Serendipitous and Unexpected Results. According to its founders, Ryan Lilien, Ramgopal Mettu and John Thomas, the journal fills a need in the computational and biological sciences for a place to discuss "results that are unexpected or perplexing given conventional wisdom or that clearly negate a popular hypothesis." The first issue is in the works. I can't wait.

 

Hmmm, I Wonder Why <i>That<...

Newsletter: Share: