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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 is your inspiration? 

Alan Dershowitz: I don’t look within my field. I find that looking at the law alone is often a very sterile enterprise. I came to Harvard 43 years ago to teach law “and” . . . I love the “and.” Law and . . . initially it was psychoanalysis. Then it was psychiatry. Then it was psychology, philosophy, politics.

When I was a college student, I took a very eclectic background. Philosophy, economics, political science, a range of other issues.

So I find my inspirations outside the law. I find my inspirations in the widest range of activities.

Literature. When I first read Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Crime and Punishment,” that had more influence about how I think about criminal law than any criminal law textbook I ever read.

When I read Saul Bellow or when I read writings of other people who are able to probe deeply into the human intellect and into human experience, it gives me more insights.

I’ve just finished reading hundreds and hundreds of letters by Thomas Jefferson, which gave me more insight into how America was founded, and the proper role of church and state in America than textbooks.

So I try to find my inspiration from outside. I’m also a good observer. I’m, in that way, influenced by Thomas Jefferson who said, “Watch the world. Look. See.” His philosophy grew out of observation and experience. And so I like to look and watch.

I like to bring together a variety of things. My wife says about me that I’m able to go to an opera and watch it, and then come home and write an article about criminal law. Go to a basketball game and bring some experience from outside into what I’m thinking about. I’m a terrible date for that reason.

No matter what I’m doing, I always have that little pad in my pocket. And I take it out and I take notes, and people around me think I’m a reviewer. But I’m not writing about the opera. I’m getting an idea about something that I want to write about.


Recorded on: June 12, 2007


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