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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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Today's Big Idea: Altruism

The Big Idea for Monday, December 10, 2012

Crowds tend to get a lot of bad press, and they also tend to be treated as pathological in the social sciences. We are at our best, it is often assumed, when we act as individuals. Crowds, on the other hand, bring about "the diffusion of responsibility."

This is one explanation for why a group of New Yorkers would stand idly by on a subway platform and not help a man who is stuck on the tracks and about to be killed by an oncoming subway. This is a disturbing psychological condition to contend with, but it may not hold true.

Recent research using data and virtual reality tests suggest that we can actually be at our best when we are part of a crowd, even when our own well-being is threatened. 


  1. 1 Would You Save This Man's Life? The Bystander Effect Revisited
    Daniel Honan Think Tank
  2. 2 The Wisdom of (Animal) Crowds
    Iain Couzin
  3. 3 Are You a Psychopath? Take the Test.
    Big Think Editors
  4. 4 The Wisdom of Crowds, Revisited: When The Crowd Goes From Wise to Wrong
    Maria Konnikova Artful Choice

Today's Big Idea: Altruism

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