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

Defining the Nuclear Threat in 2014

April 10, 2014, 9:47 AM
Nuclear

Since the end of the Cold War, popular anxiety over the nuclear threat has largely shifted to a fear of terrorism. But prospects of global atomic annihilation did not, sadly, end in the 1980s. 

Let's start with a few facts and figures.

Total nuclear warheads in the world: ~10,000

Total nuclear weapons built since 1945: ~125,000

Number of nations with nuclear weapons: 9

Percentage of nuclear weapons built by countries other than the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia: 3%

Percentage of the world's nuclear stockpile that could kill 44 million people immediately and another one billion over the following month: 0.015% 

The first four numbers come from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists; the final figure is cited in a new book by Elaine Scarry, Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom, reviewed by Craig Lambert in this month's Harvard Magazine. 

Ms. Scarry does not give us much reason to think her last name is ironic. “It’s widely acknowledged," she told Mr. Lambert, "that nuclear weapons are incredibly susceptible to accidental use or to seizure by a non-state actor or terrorist. But what has been insufficiently recognized is the biggest danger of all: the belief that there is some ‘legitimate’ possession of these weapons, that we are safe as long as there’s government oversight of them. In fact, they are utterly incompatible with governance.”

There is a fundamental incompatibility, Ms. Scarry observes, of nuclear weapons and democratic government. When "a very small number of people [have] the power to annihilate very large numbers of people," Mr. Lambert writes, a weapon is "out of ratio." And in the words of Ms. Scarry, “an out-of-ratio weapon makes the presence of the population at the authorization end [of an attack] a structural impossibility. New weapons inevitably change the nature of warfare, but out-of-ratio weapons have changed the nature of government.”

The situation is most extreme with a weapon that can, in President's Nixon's memorable line, kill 70 million people in 25 minutes, but all military armaments, when you think about it, are out of ratio. It is always one or a few commanders who decide when bombs are dropped or munitions deployed. Democratic deliberation informs policy debates and political campaigns, but it never plays a big role on the battlefield. 

Still, Ms. Scarry's book raises an important issue bubbling uneasily beneath the Cold War-esque showdown in Ukraine. It is, she says, time to dismantle nuclear weapons, period. “These weapons are not designed for a showdown of political leaders," she says. "They are going to massacre the citizens. No weapon ever invented has remained unused. Does anyone think that in the next 100 years, one of these governments that has them, won’t use them?”

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

 

 

Defining the Nuclear Threat...

Newsletter: Share: