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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 Search for Life on Other Planets Continues

June 3, 2010, 4:00 PM
Astronomer Jill Tarter, director of the SETI Institute, stopped by Big Think today to talk about the question she's spent her career trying to answer: Is there intelligent life on other planets? It's something we could discover tomorrow, or never at all. As Tarter says, that first signal that something's out there would mean everything. In science, a single example could be unique; but if we found out that there's one other form of life out there, the implications of additional lives are limitless. Tarter and her team at SETI are waiting for the day that a signal is detected; they even have champagne on ice in all of their labs.

What would we do if we detected a signal? That's where the hard part begins. Deciding what message to send back, and who to put forth as the representative of Earth will surely be complicated. In the end, once earthlings found out that there was something out there, millions of people would send their own signals, and the messages we'll end up emitting would be cacophony.

Recent Big Think interviewee Paul Davies, a cosmologist and astrobiologist, tackled similar questions, worrying that anyone might send signals purporting to be a spokesman for mankind. He said that if we are sending messages to the stars then there needs to be a great deal of thought behind what we say, and deciding that "should involve the entire not only scientific community, but the entire world community."

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The Search for Life on Othe...

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