”The new understanding of the universe has come about through the new knowledge amassed in the last hundred years — by psychologists, biologists, and other scientists, by archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians. It has defined man's responsibility and destiny — to be an agent for the rest of the world in the job of realizing its inherent potentialities as fully as possible.Julian Huxley
When I was graduating high school, I read a speech by Charlie Munger that was one of the most influential moments of my life. It was called A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom.
You may know Charlie as the business partner to the legendary Warren Buffett and vice-chairman at Berkshire Hathaway. He spoke of how over the course of his life, he had developed a suite of ideas that he called his ‘mental models’. They were like his cerebral toolkit, concepts that he could draw upon at any time to see a situation clearly and make the right decisions.
His toolkit was multidisciplinary. He spoke about being able to draw on the most useful and versatile ideas from maths, statistics, psychology, engineering, and economics, to name a few.
I absolutely loved this concept, and in conjunction with a psychedelic experience, it was the beginning of a project that I’ve been working on, on and off, ever since. What if we had a mental toolkit of science, based on the most useful and versatile ideas in human knowledge, to understand our surrounding environment in a snap?
Say you were looking at something mundane, like a tiny beetle on a leaf. Could you see its ecological niche, its evolutionary background, and share a sense of its wonder like a biologist can? Would you eventually be able to see the innate complexity of all things?
Surely there would be too many ideas to learn, too much specialised knowledge hidden away. Science is vast, containing millions of theories in a seemingly intractable web. But again, Charlie helps us out. He says:
“You may say, ‘My God, this is already getting way too tough.’ But, fortunately, it isn’t that tough—because 80 or 90 important models will carry about 90% of the freight in making you a worldly-wise person. And, of those, only a mere handful really carry very heavy freight.”
I settled on learning the five hundred ideas in science that carried the heaviest freight, and in doing so help myself, and anybody who reads them, to understand the universe.
They’re not meant to go very deep, or to turn you into a rocket scientist overnight. What they’re supposed to do is give you the big picture. How everything fits together.
It’s been an interesting project so far. I’ve transcribed everything that I read, from academic articles, newspapers, books, and podcasts, asked countless questions on Quora, and sent a ton of emails. After a couple of years as a side project, patterns began to shape into the very first big ideas.
Of particular importance is the story of our universe, and of how we came to be alive. This concept is a running theme throughout most of the Big Ideas Network.
The first fifty-two ideas were published in 2018, and there is plenty more to come.
Hope they rock your world,