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


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

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


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

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


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

Is America Out of Gas?

February 25, 2013, 12:00 AM

There is a widely perceived "hiccup" in the American story today. While we once saw ourselves as "exceptional," is America now out of gas?

This is the question Tom Ashbrook raised to a panel at The Nantucket Project, a festival of ideas on Nantucket, Massachusetts. Ashbrook tapped the perspectives of Lisa New, Chris Matthews and David Gergen on American literature, history and political culture. After all, is the notion that we "look back in awe, look forward in gloom" (as the economist Matt Ridley put it) a defining feature of the American psyche? 

"Americans have always loved doom," said Lisa New, professor of English at Harvard University. "Doom is inspiring." While Americans have always taken deep pride in the idea that ours is a self-created country, New says that Americans have also "derived part of their identity from the sense that their specialness was in peril." In fact, it's hard to find a work of American literature that doesn't involve the question of our specialness played out.

Henry James's, Portrait of a Lady, for instance, involves a character who believes she can have "an original relation to the Universe," as Emerson put it. And yet, despite her earnest belief in her liberty, "her can-do spirit," New explains that we watch her make fatally bad choices. 

In other words, freedom doesn't necessarily make you happy. This condition is no different to what many Americans are feeling today. People are bereft and uncertain. And so is this notion of American Exceptionalism "the old whiskey bottle we pull off the shelf when we're feeling down?" 

According to NBC's Chris Matthews, the danger of seeing ourselves as special is the notion that we have to be "the world's policeman, saving the day all the time." David Gergen, who has advised five U.S. Presidents, agrees. Exceptionalism, as it was understood by American pioneers and European observers such as Alexis de Tocqueville, meant the country was "different, not better." Americans had certain historic differences, such as a lack of a feudalism structure. Instead, it was  the individual that mattered, or "the need to be self-reliant."

Watch the Video: 


Images courtesy of ShutterstockMeghan Brosnan

To learn more about The Nantucket Project and how to attend the 2013 event visit nantucketproject.com.



Is America Out of Gas?

Newsletter: Share: