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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: Scientific Historiography

The Big Idea for Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Was the U.S. War of Independence caused by a bad harvest? Were hallucinations the cause of the Salem Witch Trials? 

These are both examples of how science can not only lend insight but also change the way we view major events in history. This type of perspective also changes our view of the way that history is made. History is not necessarily a grand parade of heroic individuals touting big ideas that ultimately win out. Rather, science can go a long way to explain what otherwise might seem to be the randomness of historical events. 

In today's lesson, we will look at Napoleon's catastrophic defeat in Russia, an event that happened 200 years ago but which historians are still debating the causes of today. How can science help us understand what happened, and how some of the same factors involved -- the use of the material tin -- still impact our lives today?


  1. 1 Napoleon's Major Wardrobe Malfunction: An Introduction to Science XPlained
    Daniel Honan Think Tank
  2. 2 Is American History Cyclical or Progressive?
    Ken Burns
  3. 3 Is History Cyclical?
    Megan Erickson Think Tank
  4. 4 229 - Vital Statistics of a Deadly Campaign: the Minard Map
    Frank Jacobs Strange Maps

Today's Big Idea: Scientifi...

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