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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: The Limits (and Possibilities) of Neuroplasticity

The Big Idea for Sunday, March 25, 2012

We now know that you can't train yourself out of a bad habit through sheer willpower (which is why so many diets fail). But we also know that the brain is a plastic thing, and perception is malleable.

As both patient and scientist, Sue Barry offers insight into the condition of strabismus, which caused her to see the world in 2-D from the age of 2 to the age of 48. In college, while studying neurobiology, she was told that the wiring of the brain is fixed after a specific window of time early in one's development. She believed she'd never be able to in three dimensions. She tried anyway, and her experience taught her that what she'd thought was a biological lost cause was actually a habit of the mind. 

There are good evolutionary reasons for habits, argues Charles Duhigg, an investigative journalist. Habits save us time and mental energy in negotiating the world, and free our minds to invent things like fire and computers. They also limit the size of our brains (and therefore our heads), making it easier for human mothers to survive the act of giving birth. The best strategy is not to try to eradicate them entirely, but to redirect them.


  1. 1 Creatures of Habit
    Jason Gots Think Tank
  2. 2 Learning to See in 3-D: A Neurobiologist Rewires Her Own Brain
    Megan Erickson Think Tank
  3. 3 How Self-Control Develops
    Sandra Aamodt How to Build Your Child's Self-Control
  4. 4 Does the Brain Control the Mind or the Mind Control the Brain?
    Parag and Ayesha Khanna Hybrid Reality

Today's Big Idea: The Limit...

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