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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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Question: What led to your famous sleep sickness pandemic discovery?

Oliver Sacks:  I think the movie was somewhat misleading in this regard. In fact, the hospital had been opened in 1919, 1920 for the first victims of what was then an epidemic sweeping across the world. And some of them had been there for 40 years or more.

Although, when I walked in and I saw these motionless, speechless transfixed figures, sometimes in very strange postures, this was completely outside my experience or imagination. I’d never seen anything like this, in a sense, these fossilized human beings.

At that time, there was no medical approach which was of any use to them, although it had always been observed that they could move, sometimes speak under special circumstances, and among these was when music was present.

Recorded on: Sep 4, 2008


Oliver Sacks on His Early E...

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