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

Reading the Face: The Importance of Social Intelligence

April 15, 2013, 11:56 AM

There are certain traits that we don’t pay much attention to, but which actually do explain success.  So, for example, one of them you would call mind sight, which is the ability to look into other people’s eyes and sort of download the information they have there.  Babies come with this skill, so a scientist named Allen Meltshoff leaned over a 43-minute old baby and wagged his tongue at the baby and the baby, she wagged her tongue back.  And she didn’t know what a face was or what a tongue was, but we’re all wired to know at birth that we should mimic what we see.  And that’s how we download models.  

Some people retain this ability, others don’t.  Babies are phenomenally good at reading faces. So if you take a bunch of monkey faces and put them in from of six-month old babies, six months olds can tell one monkey face from another because they’re really good at detecting little facial features.  Adults can’t do this.  We lose that skill.  And so some people have that ability to really intuit what other people are saying and sort of feel that themselves.

Another skill is what you might call metis, which is a Greek word (Μῆτις), which we would call street smarts.  It’s the ability to look over a physical landscape and detect what’s important, what’s not, what’s a pattern, what’s not.  And so for example, in chicken farms they have these things called chicken sexers who pick up a little chick and they try to tell is it a male or female.  And they can do it with 99 percent accuracy, but they have no clue how they do it.  If you ask them "What are you looking for?" they really don’t know.  But over long experience, they’ve learned to detect patterns and to see things in clear ways.  

So these are the sorts of skills that some people have and some people don’t.  Another is the ability to be sensitive to social environments.  Some people have the ability to detect the emotions in others.  And so, for example, most of us work in groups and that’s because groups are just much smarter than individuals.  And the groups that meet face-to-face are much smarter than groups that meet electronically.  

At the University of Michigan, they did a study where they gave math tests to groups. Some of them had to meet face-to-face and they gave them 10 minutes to solve the math problem. Other groups communicated by email and they had 30 minutes to solve the math problem. The face-to-face groups could solve the problem easily; the electronic groups couldn’t solve the problems.  And that’s because most of our communication is face-to-face, it’s by intonation of voice, it’s by gesture.  And some people are really good at picking up those gestures.  Some people are not so good.  And in the groups that succeeded, it was not the high IQ of the members of the group, it was how sensitive they were to each other, how much they took turns while talking.  

So these are the sorts of traits that really explain fulfillment and achievement.  


Reading the Face: The Impor...

Newsletter: Share: