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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: Understanding Consciousness

The Big Idea for Sunday, April 29, 2012

Where does consciousness come from?

It's a question that has preoccupied philosophers from Descartes to Pascal to Alva Noë, an "externalist" who theorizes that perception is always a work in process, arising rather than existing from our connections with the world. Noë takes issue with Descartes and with genetics pioneer Francis Crick, who are separated by centuries and yet both seem to make the same unsubstantiated assumption that consciousness is internal, located in the individual self rather than the world around us.

The esteemed neuroscientist Eric Kandel respectfully disagrees, arguing in favor of reductionism -- but that doesn't mean that he sees the human mind as any less sacred. Perhaps, as Richard Dawkins argues, consciousness is such a vague and overwhelming question that it can only be satisfactorily addressed by philosophers, biologists, and neurologists working in tandem to eke out an understanding of one of the hardest problems there is. 


  1. 1 You Are Not Your Brain, with Alva Noë
    Megan Erickson Think Tank
  2. 2 A Biological Basis for the Unconscious?
    Megan Erickson Think Tank
  3. 3 The Riddle of Consciousness
    Richard Dawkins
  4. 4 Consciousness: The Black Hole of Neuroscience
    Megan Erickson Think Tank

Today's Big Idea: Understan...

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