The Sciences

The Elusive Big Idea

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorNov 2, 2011 3:50 AM

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An interesting reflection from a writer who had one on a hook, failed to reel it in, then realized it was never there to begin with:

I couldn't write a big-idea book, because, as it turned out, I didn't believe in big ideas. By my lights, they almost had to be wrong. Years of academic research taught me two things. First, reality is as complicated as it is, not as complicated as we want it to be. Some phenomena have an irreducible complexity that will defeat any big-idea effort at simplification. Detailed research has, not surprisingly, cast doubt on the reality of wise crowds, tipping points, and long tails. Second, most of the easy big questions about the way the world works have been answered. The questions that remain are really hard. Big ideas, then, can only reinvent the wheel or make magical claims.

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