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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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How to Think Your Way out of a Bad Marriage

May 24, 2011, 12:00 AM

What's the Big Idea?

In a particularly incisive column published earlier this year, New York Times columnist David Brooks surveyed some of the best ideas put forward in an Edge.org symposium that asked 164 contributors the question “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”

Among the many fruitful contributions Brooks highlighted, one point in particular captured his attention: "Public life would be vastly improved if people relied more on the concept of emergence," he wrote. 

Borrowing from an analogy put forward by the philosopher Karl Popper, David Brooks told Big Think that we tend to think of problems as either a clock or a cloud. Unlike a clock, which you can take apart, a cloud is a dynamic system that can only be studied as a whole. 

A cloud, therefore, is an emergent system, a problem that cannot be defined by a straight causal relationship. Instead, it must be understood by studying the interplay between its parts. Here is how Brooks described an emergent system to Big Think:

What is the significance?

As Brooks outlined, there are numerous problems that can only be solved by emergent thinking. For instance, he writes, "We still try to address problems like poverty and Islamic extremism by trying to tease out individual causes. We might make more headway if we thought emergently." Another powerful example is marriage. How do you fix a troubled marriage? Brooks tells Big Think how emergent thinking is essential:



How to Think Your Way out o...

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