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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.

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The Value of Curiosity-Driven Research

January 12, 2014, 6:00 AM

Neutrino research is fundamental basic science.  It’s part of this human endeavor to understand our natural environment and make sense of it, to understand our own origins and how we fit into the big picture in a cosmic context. 

Since neutrinos are the most abundant type of matter particle, if you want to know how our universe works we need to understand them.  We need to make sense of their behaviors, their quirky behaviors.  The chameleon-like tendency to morph into three different flavors.  What does that mean?  How does it work and what does that tell us about the fundamental nature of matter in general?

But the other reasons are that there might someday be potential practical applications of neutrino physics.  Many, many ideas have come out of basic science over the centuries that initially seemed like idle curiosities. And yet, over time, with a bit of ingenuity on the part of different groups of people, these ideas turned out to be really, really useful and essential.  

Electricity is one example.  It was discovered by Faraday by playing with a coil and a magnet and seeing that the relative motion of these two things produced a current.  And at first it wasn’t clear of what use it would be. All around us now we really do depend on electricity for our modern lives.

So often it’s not easy to tell which particular line of inquiry would lead you to a practical application fastest or what will become the most valuable or profitable kinds of application.  But generally the idea of curiosity-driven research is that it explores nature and our place within it, and that can often lead to practical benefits.  But it’s also, I think, a really important and integral part of who we are – human culture.  So it’s a cultural activity as much as it is sort of an activity that is looking for practical benefits. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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The Value of Curiosity-Driv...

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