What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

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.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
With rendition switcher


Question: Are Americans particularly afraid of death?


Ira Byock: Yeah. I think Americans are an epitome of death denial, and I think we contemporaries really are, and again I don’t think it’s our fault, but I think we are the product of our time, and again from the mid 20th century onward, we have been living in this dream of life where you can always get cured, if they can’t do it in your own community by gully you just have to go to a different community and you may have to finally quit smoking or finally start to exercise or finally whatever but there you go, we can do it. And in fact that dream is a thin veneer, and in fact we are still at any point in time, any movement of everyday just a heartbeat away from eternity, and that’s the fact.

I think it’s a phenomenon a side effective of all of the gifts we have been given as in our technological culture and frankly from many of us at least in this wealthy culture of America.


Question: How does the plastic surgery boom play into this?


Ira Byock: Well, I think the plastic surgery and all the Botox and all of it is another part of trying to straighten that veneer that we like to keep between us and mortality. At some point it really becomes absurd, not that all plastic surgery is not absurd, and even cosmetic surgery is fine, all has a role. But I think it can be stretched to extremes, we don’t want to be end up being in a society that looks like the film “Brazil”.


Question: What culture gets dying right?


Ira Byock: I don’t know if one can actually get dying right, I guess when that question is asked, what people in my field often think of is India. The Banaras in India is a city that actually celebrates the end of life, death of people, even the poorest of the poor if they live to be in Banaras and they have money for their funeral pyre, they have succeeded from a deeply Hindu perspective. But, is that right? I don’t know, every culture brings their own values to this.

And, from my prospective as far as the American healthcare system is, if I’m having crushing chest pain in the next few days or hours, I wanted to be in America close to a high-tech interventional hospital, and I don’t think that’s in conflict with acknowledging my mortality and with being prepared. In general though the Buddhist world view has certainly informed many of us in contemporary western culture, including those of us in America, and frankly including of those of us in palliative care and hospice care, the Buddhist for 10,000 years or so have been very deliberately focused on death and the impermanence of life as an organizing factor or organizing feature in life, and not surprisingly over those centuries, they have learned a lot about how to live fully, live wisely with integrity and authenticity, and with the knowledge that death is inevitable.


Recorded on: March 21, 2008



Are Americans particularly ...

Newsletter: Share: