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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: Communication and the Mind

The Big Idea for Sunday, July 01, 2012

Does language make us human? How uniquely human is language? 

Steven Pinker is fascinated by the study of human nature, and it's language (namely, regular and irregular verbs) that first gave him an entrée into the obscure workings of the human mind. Language, he says, is what distinguishes us from mice or birds. Like Noam Chomsky, Pinker believes that it's a window into human nature, a "good candidate for something that is innately and uniquely human." 

As founder and director of the Wild Dolphin Project, Denise Herzing, on the other hand, has spent her professional life trying to understand dolphin communication. Every day, she documents the daily exchanges of a community of free-ranging Spotted dolphins off the coast of the Bahamas in hopes of finding a dolphin version of the Rosetta Stone. "Are there universals to communication that we might find looking at a species outside ourselves?" she asks.

In a recent interview, translator David Bellos told Big Think that it all comes down to semantics. The answer depends on exactly how we define "language," and who's doing the talking. In this new video, he explains exactly what he believes constitutes language, and why it matters.


  1. 1 Do Dogs Speak Human?
    Megan Erickson Think Tank
  2. 2 Language Is a Window into the Mind
    Steven Pinker
  3. 3 Mind-Reading Monkeys
    Laurie Santos
  4. 4 How Dolphins Could Help Us Communicate with Aliens
    Megan Erickson Think Tank

Today's Big Idea: Communica...

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