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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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Want to Learn a Thing or Two?

March 30, 2010, 4:48 PM
Thing_1_thing_2
Then you'll want to learn from Bill Brown, professor of English and the visual arts at the University of Chicago and the creator of "thing theory." What is thing theory? What separates a thing that's worthy of study from a thing that isn't? And if you understand both thing theory and string theory, do you understand the whole universe? Brown covers all these questions, plus a few others, in his Big Think interview.

"Thing theory" turns on the distinction between an object and a thing, the latter being something singled out, considered, even fixated upon, apart from the mundane world of objects around us. And when you think about it, the stories we tell are full of significant objects, from Gatsby's shirts in The Great Gatsby to Wilson the volleyball in Cast Away. And that's to say nothing of the visual arts, where the question of what does and does not constitute an art objecta "thing" worthy of the museumgoer's appreciationhas been a major consideration at least since Duchamp.

At the end of the interview we couldn't help asking Brown about a few of his favorite things. Surprisingly, he doesn't have many—and wonders whether his inability to become attached to material objects might have been what got him into thing theory in the first place.
 

Want to Learn a Thing or Two?

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