A Novel Twenty Years in the Making

While John Irving has come to stand as the American novelist par excellence, he is not particularly into the novel—in its modern form—nor, for that matter, America. In fact, as he suggested in his new Big Think interview, the most valuable contribution to the storytelling tradition to arise from the country might just be the western movie.

Irving also discussed the thrill of beginning a new book—a challenge that never gets easier, as a blank page ignores fame and prior achievements and greets the writer like a cold stranger upon each encounter. Irving’s now well-known method for beating this has been to never start a book before knowing the final sentence, yet, in the case of his newest book, these words—though sensible—remained vague and undefined for more than two decades.


The writer also discussed how random fears and obsessions “haunt” his narratives; an inevitability, in many ways, as “obsessions, by definition, control you.” He also described why many of his recurring themes—including sex—appear as a means to subject his characters’ to the terrors of random, yet tragically consequential, fate.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less

Believe in soulmates? You're more likely to 'ghost' romantic partners.

Does believing in true love make people act like jerks?

Thought Catalog via Unsplash
Sex & Relationships
  • Ghosting, or cutting off all contact suddenly with a romantic partner, is not nice.
  • Growth-oriented people (who think relationships are made, not born) do not appreciate it.
  • Destiny-oriented people (who believe in soulmates) are more likely to be okay with ghosting.
Keep reading Show less

Mini-brains attach to spinal cord and twitch muscles

A new method of growing mini-brains produces some startling results.

(Lancaster, et al)
Surprising Science
  • Researchers find a new and inexpensive way to keep organoids growing for a year.
  • Axons from the study's organoids attached themselves to embryonic mouse spinal cord cells.
  • The mini-brains took control of muscles connected to the spinal cords.
Keep reading Show less