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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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Darwin's Wedge

The Big Idea for Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Robert Frank coined the term “Darwin’s Wedge” to describe situations where individual incentives diverge from collective goals (sometimes even risking collective doom). These situations include a class of problems such as the tragedy of the commons, Prisoner’s Dilemma games, and Nash equilibria. In each case, myopic self-maximizing logic leads to bad outcomes.

In today's lesson, Jag Bhalla argues that unfettered mindless competition can rob us of "the point of being human, which is to use reason and foresight to coordinate better outcomes."

Intelligent constraints, Bhalla argues, can work better than what emerges from mindless “natural” competition. And so our choices are now to either let the power of markets be dumb as trees, or to guide their competitions for better outcomes.


  1. 1 Darwin's Wedge & Dumb Competition
    Jag Bhalla Errors We Live By
  2. 2 Why is Economics Relevant?
    Saul Levmore
  3. 3 Modeling The Muddling Masses: The Newton vs Darwin Pattern
    Jag Bhalla Errors We Live By
  4. 4 Richard Dawkins Explains Natural Selection
    Richard Dawkins

Darwin's Wedge

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