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What is more, this ever-expanding pool of information did not start with humans, but dates back to the beginning of time. “[W]e are born from it, and it is born from us,” he writes gnostically. As such sweeping phrases make clear, adding to economic-growth theory is not the only goal motivating Mr Hidalgo, a statistical physicist who teaches at MIT’s Media Lab and is a pioneer in visualisation tools, which extract meaning from piles of data.

According to Macmillan Dictionary (http://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/sweeping), the word "sweeping" means: 1. a sweeping change or development has a major effect 2. not based on specific facts or details and therefore not completely accurate or fair 3. with a wide impressive curved shape

It seems that the word "phrases" here refers to the sentence in the double quotation marks. But how can the word "sweeping" be understood in the context so that the "phrases make clear"? It is confusing because I don't think each of those meanings of "sweeping" can fit in well with the sentence reasonably or logically. Could someone please paraphrase or explain it?

The next puzzling problem: How should I understand the meaning of "adding to economic-growth theory"? The sentence reads rather peculiar because I can't find out what is exactly added to "economic-growth theory". In other words, the object of the verb "add" is missing. In my opinion, the sentence should be modified like this: "adding XXXX(something certain) to economic-growth is not the only goal of Mr Hidalgo ..." Is that right? If that's not correct, could you please tell me what the author intend to tell the readers here?

Thank you!

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A sweeping statement is a statement which covers a broad topic in a concise or even terse manner. It's a simile: a sweeping motion covering a broad area in one simple movement.

Often, it is used in a pejorative sense to declare that the speaker has over-simplified a topic, or has made assumptions which are incorrect. In other words, it is sometimes used to mean that the speaker has covered a topic too broadly. The term sweeping generalisation is common.

In your example, the term 'sweeping phrases' is indeed referring to the sentence in the speech marks, as you guessed. However, it is not being used to assert that the speaker is either wrong or right, it is simply saying that the statement he makes is very broad in scope. Mr. Hidalgo is referring to a specific set of information and, in one short sentence, makes two claims about the entire history of the human race! A pretty broad statement by any measure and, given that it is offered so concisely and without any justification, it is a sweeping one.

You could paraphrase it like so:

"as such extremely broad yet concise sentences make clear..."


Your second question is related to your first. Adding to something is synonymous with contributing to it. See these definitions and examples from a dictionary:

  • To constitute an addition: "an exploit that will add to her reputation".

  • To create or make an addition: "gradually added to my meager savings". thefreedictionary.com

As you can see from the above examples, you do not therefore need a specific object with the verb adding; subtitute the equivalent contributing and that will make it clearer.

Therefore, what the paragraph means in total is that Mr. Hidalgo believes that his area of research is relevant to humanity as a whole, not just to his academic discipline. So, in pursuing that research he is not only contributing to his specific field but also to contributing to our understanding of our entire race.

  • Thank you wholeheartedly for your conscientious and detailed explanations. :) – Jarl Jul 29 '15 at 11:21

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