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

An Experiment That's Never Been Tried: Morality Without Religion

May 19, 2013, 12:00 AM
800px-hieronymus_bosch_003

A long tradition of thinking tells us that due to man's animal nature we need to have order imposed from above, in the form of religion. Without religion, we could not live together, and that is why all human societies believe in the supernatural and have developed one religion or another.

This view, which the biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal calls Veneer Theory, is an essentially pessimistic view "that morality is a thin veneer over a nasty human nature."

In his new book, The Bonobo and the Atheist: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates, de Waal challenges this theory, arguing that human morality is older than religion, and indeed an innate quality. In other words, religion did not give us morality. Religion built onto a pre-existing moral system that governed how our species behaved. 

de Waal's argument, which he has been making for years, is strengthened by the fact that recent research is starting to paint a better picture of the kind of cognitive processing that empathy requires. It turns out that empathy is not as complex as we had imagined, and that is why other animals are capable of it as well as humans. 

So if being moral is so easy, can we dispatch with religion altogether?

That is an experiment that no one has tried, and which de Waal finds intriguing. The problem, as de Waal points out in the video below, is that we need someone to be keeping watch in large-scale societies in which "we cannot all keep an eye on each other."

Watch the video here:

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

 

An Experiment That's Never ...

Newsletter: Share: