Revolutionary Fringe-Think: Sputnik Observatory
Why big minds play in small spaces, or what bacteria and architecture have in common.
By Maria Popova
We love Jonathan Harris. And his latest project is nothing short of brilliant.
Two years in the making, Sputnik is an “observatory for the study of contemporary culture” — an effort to document, catalog, and share ideas that shape our cultural era by interviewing global thought-leaders in the arts, sciences and technology. With its ambitious mission and inspired vision, the project is a piece of cultural anthropology of the most precious, sorely needed kind.
Our philosophy is that ideas are NOT selfish, ideas are NOT viruses. Ideas survive because they fit in with the rest of life. Our position is that ideas are energy, and should interconnect and re-connect continuously because by linking ideas together we learn, and new ideas emerge.
Sound familiar? The project is part TED, part BigThink, part — we like to think — Brain Pickings. It’s a celebration of the cross-pollination of ideas and the interconnectedness of everything — something we’re big on around here — based on the central premise that topics and ideas that may appear niche and left-of-center are actually the playground of human genius. Sputnik‘s aim is to give these fringe ideas a platform for expression, so the world can begin to make sense of them.
Our goal is to encourage life-long learning, and we have created this website as a portal of possibilities. A democratic space where people can listen and engage with ideas that inform contemporary history. Ideas that we believe will empower everyone to be a part of today’s cultural conversation.
Currently, the site features about 200 interviews across architecture, quantum physics, neuroscience, video games, biology, economics, digital art, computer science, music and more. These conversations, conducted over more than a decade and previously unavailable to the public, offer a glimpse into humanity’s most progressive, visionary thinking.
The Paths tool is particularly interesting, as it adds a customization layer to your Observatory experience, letting you record, save and share what you found most fascinating — a neat research and publishing tool that acts as a powerful medium for Sputnik’s fundamental message: The dissemination of great ideas.
The biggest challenge of such high-concept projects is that it’s easy to slip into a pattern of merely broadcasting content — however compelling it may be — at people, rather than engaging the viewer-participant with it. And we like how Sputnik doesn’t just aim to build a museum of human thought — a static, linear space — but actually encourages a dynamic, customized, shareable experience that’s part collaboration, part exploration, part cultural curation.
Published July 2, 2009