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

1

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

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

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

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

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
Close
With rendition switcher

Transcript

Question: How did high school debate shape your future career?

Reihan Salam: It was a wonderful experience for a lot of reasons. Partly because of the other kids who were involved, but actually one thing that is important is that I wasn’t so much a debate champ as a guy who did it and made a lot of friends, but I think that actually the more formative experience was losing and losing frequently and I remember that I felt at the time as though I had an agenda and whenever I would go into give some sort of an extemporaneous speech or something like that I remember I kind of had certain thoughts and I was like I want to convey these. I want to proselytize. I want to like challenge people and provoke people and winning is secondary and mainly it was just this thought I have this opportunity to have a captive audience and these people have to listen to me for seven minutes and I think that I didn’t necessarily takeaway entirely good lessons from that experience, but it was magical. It was just a group of really idiosyncratic kids and particularly the ones who didn’t go to my high school. I went to a public magnet high school, but there were these other kids from Catholic high school who had these really different backgrounds and I was struck by…I was someone who had never met someone who was a Republican, a conservative, someone who was pro-life, and through debate I met all these people and was just kind of dazzled by the range of opinions that really exist in the world and it had a huge, huge effect on me and just having respect for people who have different ways of engaging and just yeah, being around people for whom being quick and verbal, that was the way that you were valorized. You know what I mean? It was quite neat and more important to me than I…I don’t reflect on it as much as perhaps I should.

Question: Which pundits argue most rigorously, on either side of the aisle?

Reihan Salam: That’s a really good question. Lately I’ve been really drawn to thinkers like…I’ve been drawn to thinkers like Casey Mulligan. He is a good example. He is an economist at the University of Chicago who in some ways is accused of really radically oversimplifying things. You know he likes single, good models of the world. He really likes…Also he uses very arresting language. You know he has talked a lot in the context of the recent recession about work disincentives and what a powerful role they play and people are often times offended by this like are you saying that people have decided to go on a vacation and that is why they’re unemployed and the beauty of him is that he is so not embedded in a kind of social cultural context of the kind of niceties and the kind of obligatory things that one says that is just really arresting to read this kind of 200-proof version of kind of his particular style of argument. I love it.

I also think that Paul Krugman is a tremendously impressive voice coming from a kind of diametrically opposed worldview, and Krugman is someone that I find sometimes pretty tendentious, but that is part of what is so impressive about him. He is able to kind of construct this kind of coherent argument that, again, you could think wait a second, wait, I don’t buy that or I don’t buy this, but he…It’s like a freight train and you know, kind of once he leaves the station, you know it’s suddenly is that, well, if you disagree with him you’re clearly an unreasonable and perhaps even dangerous person, and that is admirable in a sense. That is certainly not my own style.

Recorded on November 16, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

 

Reihan Salam’s Favorite Deb...

Newsletter: Share: