”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
My name is Ben McCarthy. I’m the author of the Big Ideas Network and the founder of Discover Earth.
Back in 2008 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 As It Relates To Investment Management & Business.
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 his cerebral toolkit, concepts that he could draw upon at any time to help him understand a situation and make the best possible 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 it was the beginning of a project that I’ve been working on, on and off, ever since. What if you had a mental toolkit of science, based on the most useful and versatile ideas in human knowledge, to understand your 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 how its body works like a biologist could? 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 anybody 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 recorded everything that I read, from academic articles, newspapers, books, and podcasts, asked countless questions on Quora, and sent a million emails. After a couple of years as a side project, patterns began to shape into the very first big ideas.
The first fifty-two ideas were published in 2018, and there is plenty more to come.
Hope they rock your world,