”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
I had this idea when I read a speech by Charlie Munger called A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom. You may know Charlie as the business partner to the legendary Warren Buffett.
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, or economics at a moment’s notice.
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 inherent wonder and complexity like a young biologist can? If you had this toolkit, would you be able to see the wonder and complexity of everything?
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 decided to learn the five hundred ideas in science that carried the heaviest freight, and in doing so help myself and anybody who reads them to approximately understand the universe as we know it.
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. For starters, there’s no university course for the really big picture (although if I was to do it again I’d study a new discipline called big history). It was a side project while I studied a business degree and graduated and worked a 9-5 for three years, but it turned out to be the most consistent and rewarding thing that I did.
After years of transcribing everything that I read, from academic articles, newspapers, books, and podcasts, asking countless questions on Quora, and sending a ton of emails, patterns began to form into the very first Big Ideas. You can get access to these notes if you become a Patreon member. Discover Earth soon followed as a way to explore the more general idea of science and wonder.
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 and Discover Earth.
The first fifty-two ideas were published in 2018, and there are plenty more to come.
If any of the above sounds interesting, then definitely get on the email list as it’s really the most convenient way to read the ideas.
Hope they rock your world,