Human Frontiers

Human Frontiers

The Future of Big Ideas in an Age of Small Thinking

By Michael Bhaskar

Why has the flow of big, world-changing ideas slowed down? A provocative look at what happens next at the frontiers of human knowledge.

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Summary

Why has the flow of big, world-changing ideas slowed down? A provocative look at what happens next at the frontiers of human knowledge.

The history of humanity is the history of big ideas that expand our frontiers—from the wheel to space flight, cave painting to the massively multiplayer game, monotheistic religion to quantum theory. And yet for the past few decades, apart from a rush of new gadgets and the explosion of digital technology, world-changing ideas have been harder to come by. Since the 1970s, big ideas have happened incrementally—recycled, focused in narrow bands of innovation. In this provocative book, Michael Bhaskar looks at why the flow of big, world-changing ideas has slowed, and what this means for the future.

Bhaskar argues that the challenge at the frontiers of knowledge has arisen not because we are unimaginative and bad at realizing big ideas but because we have already pushed so far. If we compare the world of our great-great-great-grandparents to ours today, we can see how a series of transformative ideas revolutionized almost everything in just a century and a half. But recently, because of short-termism, risk aversion, and fractious decision making, we have built a cautious, unimaginative world. Bhaskar shows how we can start to expand the frontier again by thinking big—embarking on the next Universal Declaration of Human Rights or Apollo mission—and embracing change.

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$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262046381 432 pp. | 6 in x 9 in

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Reviews

  • "We live in an era of endless discovery and development, but are our best days already behind us? This is the question at the heart of Michael Bhaskar's fascinating book, which asks whether, after decades and centuries of progress, society has now reached a point of stagnation. Bhaskar is a reassuringly positive and often witty guide to the opportunities that technology and medicine alike can still offer humanity, but he tempers his optimism with clear-sighted recognition that we could have, frustratingly, already reached our peak."

    The Guardian

  • "The author's passion is undeniable..."

    Publishers Weekly

Endorsements

  • “A fascinating, must-read book covering a vast array of topics from the arts to the sciences, technology to policy. This is a brilliant and thought-provoking response to one of the most critical questions of our age: how we will come up with the next generation of innovation and truly fresh ideas.”

    Mustafa Suleyman

    cofounder, DeepMind; Google VP

  • “Have 'big ideas' and big social and economic changes disappeared from the scene? Michael Bhaskar's Human Frontiers is the best look at these all-important questions.”

    Tyler Cowen

    author of The Great Stagnation and The Complacent Class

  • “Michael Bhaskar deftly delivers big ideas about big ideas as he explains the causes of the Great Stagnation, the importance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and why planet Earth is another Easter Island waiting to happen. Human Frontiers is an admiring stroll through the history of ideas and an impressive display of innovation erudition.”

    Safi Bahcall

    author of Loonshots: Nurture the Crazy Ideas that Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries

  • “Michael Bhaskar explores the disturbing possibility that a complacent, cautious civilization has lost ambition and is slowly sinking into technological stagnation rather than accelerating into a magical future. He is calling for bold, adventurous innovators to go big again.”

    Matt Ridley

    author of How Innovation Works

  • “Michael Bhaskar's Human Frontiers is a greatly welcome contrast to both doom-and-gloom and overly boosterish views of humanity's future. It combines a masterful breadth of social perspective with an impressive grasp of our problems and potential solutions. Visionary and convincing.”

    Christine Peterson

    Cofounder, Foresight Institute

  • “Bhaskar wants us to believe that big ideas, sometimes seized upon in an instant, propel humankind's progress. The thesis is boldly and elegantly stated; the examples work in its favor. But was Watt's modification of the steam engine more critically important than the hundreds of mechanists at work in his factory and city, their incremental skills making the texture and speed of industrial development possible? The skeptic will ask. This important book demands our answer and challenges our understanding of historical progress.”

    Margaret C. Jacob

    University of California, Los Angeles

  • “Sweeping in scope and thought-provoking throughout, Human Frontiers is vital for understanding every aspect of big ideas: their origins, their role in societal progress, and how we can make more of them. Although the increasing complexity of our world and our knowledge means finding big ideas is going to get harder, Michael Bhaskar is both clear-eyed and deeply optimistic, arguing that we are not forever doomed to a paucity of big ideas and laying out ways of ensuring the human frontier continues to push forward. A paean to curiosity, Human Frontiers is essential reading for understanding how science and progress works, and how it can work in the future.”

    Samuel Arbesman

    Scientist in Residence, Lux Capital; author of Overcomplicated and The Half-Life of Facts

  • “The world's big ideas are slowing down, but it needn't be that way. Bhaskar brilliantly shows how we can do better. If you loved books like Humankind and Sapiens, you'll love Human Frontiers.”

    David Bodanis

    author of Einstein's Greatest Mistake and The Art of Fairness

  • “Ideas through history have made their precarious way across a bridge from first conception to their understanding and acceptance, and in doing so often reconfigure our world. But is this vital process slowing down and stagnating? With infectious enthusiasm and verve, Michael Bhaskar addresses these questions by taking us on an exhilarating grand tour of the history and future of big ideas. Bhaskar's inspiring call to arms, shining a bright and unflinching light on the challenges we face, is itself a reason to feel hopeful.”

    Ziyad Marar

    author of Judged: The Value of Being Misunderstood

  • “Full of fascinating stories and surprising insights, Human Frontiers is one of the most exciting and thought-provoking books I've read in years. Only a genuine polymath like Michael Bhaskar could write a book as big and bold as this.”

    Roman Krznaric

    author of The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short-Term World

  • Human Frontiers is the most important book that I have read in a long time. With a broadside of explosive arguments, superb examples that effortlessly jump from big science to literature and back again, and an unputdownable writing style, Michael Bhaskar explains why our civilization appears to have run out of big ideas. An essential read.”

    Mark Piesing

    journalist and author of N-4 Down: The Hunt for the Arctic Airship Italia