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Every time he sees a triangle these days, my 10-year-old son points and says “Gasp! The illuminati!” This is a meme he and all his friends absorbed from YouTube.   

It’s interesting that several centuries after the Illuminati first appeared, as basically a idealistic secret boys’ club, followed by the Freemasons, these kinds of shadowy organizations still exert so much power on our imaginations. That’s because power doesn’t always come in the shape of Queens, Presidents, CEOs or Members of Parliament. Often it exists in the more or less invisible relationships between people. 

My guest today is renowned historian Niall Ferguson. His new book The Square and the Tower: Networks and Hierarchies, from the Freemasons to Facebook looks at the two ancient power structures that continue to move the world today. 

Surprise conversation-starter clips in this episode

Derek Thompson on why successful people don’t try appealing to everyone’s tastes

Niall Ferguson Quote: When I came here [to Silicon Valley] I encountered tremendous arrogance. A kind of “resistance is futile” mentality that of course our apps will take over the world, and when they do, when everybody is connected, that’ll be awesome! There will be one global community and everything will be great. And my response to that was: That’s insane. That’s historically completely implausible. We’ve run experiments with really large-scale social networks before. We didn’t have the Internet, but that didn’t matter. You could do it with a printing press. You could even do it just with the written word. And the result is never to produce a single homogenous cluster of happy-clappy individuals in a global community. That never happens.

About Think Again - A Big Think Podcast: Since 2008, Big Think has been sharing big ideas from creative and curious minds. Since 2015, the Think Again podcast has been taking us out of our comfort zone, surprising our guests and Jason Gots, your host, with unexpected conversation starters from Big Think’s interview archives.

You've got 10 minutes with Einstein. What do you talk about? Black holes? Time travel? Why not gambling? The Art of War? Contemporary parenting? Some of the best conversations happen when we're pushed outside of our comfort zones. Each week on Think Again, we surprise smart people you may have heard of with short clips from Big Think's interview archives on every imaginable subject. These conversations could, and do, go anywhere.