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

Photo Sunday: A Houdini Pilgrimage

April 15, 2012, 2:42 PM
Houdini

At the Reason Rally in Washington, D.C. last month, my friend Greta Christina told me something that I, a lifelong New Yorker, never knew: Harry Houdini is buried in a cemetery in New York City.

Houdini, of course, made his fame in the early 20th century as a magician who could escape from handcuffs, straitjackets, and all manner of bizarre contraptions. But atheists should know him best as a dedicated debunker of mediums who claimed the ability to channel the dead. For Houdini, this was a personal vendetta: he was utterly devoted to his mother, and when she died, he turned in his grief to spiritualists who promised they could contact her. Finding them all to be frauds, he set out to prove to the world that he could reproduce their tricks - telekinetic rapping or bell-ringing, producing "spirit photos" which showed images of the ghost, or producing luminous objects supposedly made of ectoplasm during a seance - through mundane means. It was almost certainly Houdini's fierce defense of reason that inspired so many modern magicians to be outspoken skeptics of the paranormal, from James Randi to Penn and Teller.

Given this illustrious record, Houdini ought to be a hero to any self-respecting skeptic. And so, when Greta Christina and her wife Ingrid came to New York this weekend for a vacation, we decided we had to make an atheist pilgrimage to see Houdini's grave for ourselves!

Houdini and most of his immediate family are buried at Machpelah Cemetery, an old Jewish cemetery in the community of Glendale in Queens. From what I read online, the cemetery is semi-abandoned and no longer actively maintained, except for Houdini's grave and a few other endowed plots. It's somewhat overgrown and disheveled now, with ivy twining around the oldest stones and drifts of dried leaves on the paths, but still in fairly good condition. The weather was warm and clear, perfect for spending a sunny, peaceful April afternoon rambling among the old graves.

Above: Even in a graveyard, some people have a sense of humor.

Houdini's plot is near the entrance to the cemetery, prominently marked with a bust put in place by admirers. (I wasn't able to find out who the weeping statue is meant to be.) Most of his immediate family, including his parents and brother, are also buried in the plot. His wife isn't buried there, although his stone is engraved with her name: from what I understand, she was from a Catholic family, and her descendants refused to bury her in a Jewish cemetery (hence the missing death date as well).

The grave was sprinkled with stones left as tokens of esteem by other visitors, a welcome sign that Houdini's name hasn't been forgotten. The man himself, of course, has long ceased to be, but I'm glad that his good work is being carried on. The world still has superstition that needs skepticism to vanquish!

Header image credit: Wikimedia Commons. All other photos by the author.

 

Photo Sunday: A Houdini Pil...

Newsletter: Share: