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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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Finding the Meaning of Life Through Fiction

May 5, 2010, 12:00 AM
Atheism makes for "great blood sport"—at least that is what writer Yann Martel believes.  But the writer is far more interested in what cannot be reasoned, and in his Big Think interview he says he thinks some of life’s mysteries are better left for the heart rather than the brain. "Whether it’s Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, they’ve all had their excesses, but nonetheless, there’s something afoot in that kind of thinking that I think augments a life."

That sense of mysticism comes out in his writing. In both his breakout Man Booker Prize-winning novel “Life of Pi” and his most recent novel “Beatrice and Virgil,” Martel grapples with life’s mysteries in the form of allegories.  His characters, some of them animals, become vehicles for the writer to solve life's problems. The main character in "Pi" seeks greater meaning in life, and in “Beatrice and Virgil,” the writer tries to find meaning in the absurdity and brutality of the Holocaust. 

Martel also has embarked on a quest to bring the lessons of fiction to the public realm.  His efforts have led to a Web site, and a campaign called "What is Stephen Harper Reading?" The mission is simple: to send a new work of fiction to the Canadian Prime Minster every two weeks, along with a handwritten note explaining why that work was chosen and why it should be read.  Martel says that it is through literature that one can see life through the "other," making us better people—and thus he thinks literature can make politicians into better leaders.  As yet, Prime Minister Harper has not written back.

Finding the Meaning of Life...

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