Great Big Ideas: Free Course Features Top Thinkers Tackling the World’s Most Important Ideas in 12 Lectures

Begun in 2011 by Big Think and the Jack Parker Corporation, The Floating University is an online educational initiative that debuted at Harvard, Yale, and Bard College. The purpose of The Floating University, according to its site, is to “democratize access to the world’s best thinkers” by providing free, approximately one hour-long courses on a wide range of topics, taught at a university level by experts and professors in the various fields. The inaugural course, the most favored at the three universities, is Great Big Ideas, and it more or less does what it says: tackles some of the largest, most perplexing questions in digestible introductions that also manage to be rigorous, informative, and thought-provoking.

In the lecture above, for example, Harvard cognitive psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker presents an “eSeminar” in linguistics, addressing dogged questions in the field over whether or not humans have an innate, universal grammar (as Noam Chomsky has famously argued); why language is so fundamental to our social relationships; and how language evolved.

Pinker, who describes human language in broad terms as a “miracle” and a “window into the human mind,” also gets into the specific subfields of linguistics, discussing them in terms that any layperson can understand without much diluting the fascinating philosophical and scientific debates around what Darwin called our “instinctive tendency to speak” to one another, from infancy onward, all over the world, in some 6000 different languages.

The Great Big Ideas (now added to our list of 1200 Free Online Courses) lecture series consists of twelve lectures total, including Pinker’s. The other eleven are:

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

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Comments (6)
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  • Susan says:

    I tremendously would love this! Fascinating.

  • Kathy Sharp says:

    A miracle. Thank you.

  • patrick murphy says:

    Wonderful. Exactly what I always imagined that the internet was going to do for me – makes me feel as wide-eyed as I felt during my undergraduate days in Concordia University, Montreal. More – give us more! And many thanks for this lot to date…

  • Mat says:

    1) Go to any of the above lectures OR the Big Think youtube channel
    2) If you went to the direct links above, copy-paste the name of that lecture into youtube
    3) Don’t get confused from what I’m saying, you’ll understand in a second
    4) copy that url to the youtube page for that lecture
    5) Go to and paste that url and get it converted into mp3, free.

    I have zero, nada, nothing to do with any of the mentioned sites, I just found this “combo” an hour ago and am happily getting stuff for my long travels. Thank you Openculture.

  • Eniyavan.T says:


  • Alex says:

    Wow, ONE woman on the list. That’s so pathetic.

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