[Most recent first] Responses from Robert Sapolsky, Carl Djerassi, Tor Nørretranders. Michael Nesmith, John Horgan, Daniel C. Dennett, Timothy Taylor, Alison Gopnik, Carlo Rovelli, Robert R. Provine, Steven Johnson, Lee Smolin, Jaron Lanier, Michael Shermer, Piet Hut, Joesph LeDoux, Chris Anderson, George Dyson, Kenneth Ford, Marc D. Hauser, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Douglas Rushkoff, Howard Rheingold, Reuben Hersh, Keith Devlin, James O'Donnell, Clifford Pickover, Nicholas Humphrey
From: Robert Sapolsky
thoughts on John Brockman's provocative piece:....How asymmetric
is the divide between Snow's two cultures?....Despite the broad
correctness of Snow's ideas about the two cultures, there has always
been a certain amount of exchange across the divide. On the most
superficial level, this has been fairly innocuous and merely decorativesometimes
a little pretentious, sometimes a little silly, but no big deal.
For the scientist carpetbagging across the divide in this way, there
is belief, perhaps, that one can't possibly be asking good questions
in the lab if you're not spending your evenings thinking about late
Beethoven string quartets. Or, perhaps, it is the obligatory Proust
or Joyce quote stuck in the summary slide at a lecture, or giddy
excursions into the mathematical underpinnings of Escher or Bach.
And on the humanist side, this might take the often absurd appropriation
of some scientific term as a metaphor to power one through that
tenure decisionthus, quantum history, the Uncertainty Principle
of poetry, molecular Shakespeare, etc. [more....]
From: Carl Djerassi
I found your essay very stimulating and agree with much more of it than many of your correspondents....During the past few years, my efforts have focused on doing what you outline through the medium of theatre. Recently, a number of playsnotably Copenhagen and Arcadiahave tried to do that with great success but I know of virtually no scientists who have selected that medium, certainly none in your stable of distinguished race horses. This approach is starting to work. An interesting example is the book version of our play Oxygen (I say "our" because it was written together with the Cornell Nobelist Roald Hoffmann) which sold 7,000 copies during the first 10 monthsa very respectable number for a play.
CARL DJERASSI is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Stanford, the man who synthesized "the pill", and author of the play, Oxygen.
From: Tor Nørretranders
There is any irony in all this: Yes, science is a very successful part of the culture indeed. It is so because it has always chosen to limit itself to the aspects of reality that are at the moment tractable. It does not deal with many aspects of life simply because the methods of science does not presently allow us to say anything scientifically meaningful about them. Just a few decades ago science arrogantly ignored many of the most obvious features of the real world: the shape of clouds, mountains, coastlines, etc. Only the advent of the computer and thereby fractal geometry allowed scientists to deal with the questions any 4-year old will ask about the natural shapes visible in daily life. [more....]
TOR NORRETRANDERS is a science writer, consultant, lecturer and organizer based in Copenhagen, Denmark and author of The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size.
From: Michael Nesmith
You are off on a good train of thought, but I suspect you might not get as far as you did with the "Third Culture". Then again, you might get farther if you will include humans in your new humanism....What is a "scientist" anyway?
MICHAEL NESMITH is an artist, writer, and business man; former cast member of "The Monkees". He is a trustee and president of the Gihon Foundation and a trustee and vice-chair of the American Film Institute.
From: John Horgan
John, if your essay was meant to provoke, it obviously succeeded. But it really works more as a kind of Nike ad for science than a serious analysis of science's relation to the humanities or culture as a whole. It reminds me of Wired rhetoric, pre-Nasdaq crash, or of the jacket copy for books about the Santa Fe Institute in its giddy early days. Science rules!....You are brave indeed to resurrect this kind of scientistic triumphalism now that the e-business bubble has burst and the world is roiling with conflicts that science has little or no hope of illuminating, let alone ameliorating. [more....]
JOHN HORGAN is a freelance writer and author of The Undiscovered Mind.
I'm happy to join in the Third Culture victory dance, and I agree with most of what you have to say in your essay, but I also share some of the misgivings expressed, and would like to add a few of my own....As Nick Humphrey urges, you should drop the paranoia. You've-we've-won. And as usual, there's a danger of squandering the spoils, and ignoring some of the problems created or exacerbated by victory. As Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi notes, many of the problems in the humanities these days are due to misplaced science-envy, misbegotten attempts to make the humanities more like the natural sciences. And as Marc Hauser says, your essay does contain some self-congratulatory caricatures. [more....]
DANIEL C. DENNETT is a philsopher at Tufts University and the author of Brainchildren: A Collection of Essays.
Far from recognizing recent putative victories of science as heralding a 'new humanism', I see the potential for a new barbarism. If a literary critic wrote something about 'air atoms' we might laugh; but when an eminent evolutionary biologist uses the word 'metaphysical' as if it meant 'supernatural' or 'mystical' (as one recently did) no one appears to notice. Arts, humanities and philosophy scholars read popular scienceif they read it at allwith an already jaded eye. No misuse of language (and consequent betrayal of muddled and unsophisticated thought) comes as a surprise any longer. [more....]
TIMOTHY TAYLOR is an archaeologist at University of Bradford, UK, and author of The Buried Soul.
From: Alison Gopnik
There is another reason why recent scientific advances, and the emergence of the third culture, provide at least some grounds for optimism. One of the arenas where we are making the most scientific progress is in our understanding of the origins of our own knowledge of the world, including the origins of science itself. It increasingly appears that human beings are, by and large, designed to get at the truth about the world. [more....]
ALISON GOPNIK is a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley and coauthor of The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn.
Once more, John Brockman reclaims the cultural centrality of scientific thinking in our civilization. John tells us that a new "intellectual whole", a fresh reading of the world, is being developed by advancing contemporary science. This is the central role, recalls John, science had in the Renaissance that opened the modern age. Scientists today, or at least some scientists today, are the new humanists, searching and offering a powerful evolving, complex and articulated reading of the world, which is the core of today's culture. [more....]
ROVELLI is a theoretical physicist at the Centre de Physique Theorique
in Marseille, France.
While reading "The New Humanists", I found myself mostly nodding in agreement. After all, Brockman is preaching to the choir. What's not to like? It's difficult to argue with scientific flag and motherhood statements. It's obvious that the rest of the world should think and act more like us. Most scientists use empirical methods to seek that which is deep, elegant, and true, using experimental methods to settle disputes and reject error. The power of good science is that the method is so effective that it transcends mediocre practitioners. Like penicillin, it works despite who dispenses it. Many of the New Humanist values have already gained a foothold in Western society, with the power of technology and medicine converting many skeptics. [more....]
R. PROVINE is a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore
County and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.
I think Nicholas Humphrey may have a point when he says that "you've already won." One brief piece of anecdotal evidence: I attended a dinner party last weekend that was populated entirely by people who had spent their undergraduateand in some cases graduateyears in the trenches of post-modernist theory. These were all people, like me, who had sworn allegiance to Baudrillard, Derrida, Foucault, Jameson, et al. in their early twenties. (A number were Semiotics majors with me at Brown.) Any science courses we'd taken in those days we took in order to archly deconstruct the underlying "paradigm of research", or expose one of any number of "centrisms" lurking behind the scientific text and its illusory claims of empirical truth. [more....]
STEVEN JOHNSON, co-founder of Feed, a pioneering Web publication, is the author of Emergence: The Connected Lives of Ants, Brains, Cities, and Software.
From: Lee Smolin
To my mind what is significant about the idea of a Third Culture and a New Humanism has little to do with a split between academic humanists and scientists. That was the old First/Second culture debate, and there is no need to rehash it. The point I think John is making, and the point that I think is worth discussing is the extent to which that old split has been transcended by the work of some scientists and humanists over the last few decades. I believe that it has, and the reason is that there has been a turn in the kind of questions people are asking across a broad range of fields, andeven more importantlythere has been a shift in what kinds of answers scientists, social scientist and humanists have been searching for in their work. This shift, which I will characterize in a moment, is what characterizes the Third Culture and New Humanism, and it is also why these movements are able to resolve the old disputes between First and Second Culture scientists and humanists. [more....]
SMOLIN is a theoretical physicist and a founding member at the Perimeter
Institute in Waterloo Canada. And author of Three Roads to Quantum
I wonder, though, if it's enough to merely point out how hopelessly lost those encrusted arts and humanities intellectuals have become to their petty arms races of cynicism. If we scientists and technologists are to be the new humanists, we must recognize that there are questions that must be addressed by any thinking person which do not lie within our established methods and dialogs. Indeed your edge.org website has provided one of the few forums where scientists can exchange ideas about some of these questions. [more....]
JARON LANIER, a computer scientist and musician, is a pioneer of virtual reality, and currently the lead scientist for the National Tele-Immersion Initiative.
From: Michael Shermer
In other words, my "Scientism" and your "Third Culture" are really still mostly science and not so much humanism, because science still has little to say about absolute moral choices. Science may be able to inform our moral choices (e.g., abortion before the 23rd week is not murder because the neural template is not yet complete, thus there can be no consciousness, thought, etc.), but science cannot (or, at least, has yet to date) to provide actual moral decisions somehow apart from the human being making that moral decision in a very personal way. This is a (so far) insoluble problem. [more....]
MICHAEL SHERMER Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense.
From: Piet Hut
I wish I could have a peek into the future to see what a more mature future science would look like, what mathematical structures it would use, how it would describe the subject, to what extent it might have risen beyond a purely descriptive style into other types of (still empirical and verifiable) investigations. Who knows? But whatever will be discovered with these tools in, say, the year 52,002 will already now apply to the real world. And the question is, from the vantage point of 52,002: will our current scientific knowledge be seen to be more helpful to leading a full life than our current religious and spiritual views? If we distill from the latter what is closest related to experiential insights into the human mind, my guess would be that these will provide for us the more useful tools for quite a few centuries to come. [more....]
PIET HUTan astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. and a founding member of the Kira Institute.
From: Joesph LeDoux
It's great to seek some sort of fusion across diverse fields, but I'm concerned that things are not as black and white as you imply in the piece. [more....]
JOSEPH LEDOUX is a neuroscientist at New York University and author of Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are.
From: Chris Anderson
First off, the philosopher in me suspects there is some language confusion seeping into this discussion. . . .Both Marc Hauser and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi seem to characterize your essay as championing the cause of 'scientists' over 'humanists'. But I think in fact you are arguing that Third Culture scientists have now been joined by enlightened new thinkers from the humanities and that together they can lay claim to the term 'humanists'. [more....]
CHRIS ANDERSON, a philosopher by training, is the Chairman and Host of the TED Conference held each February in Monterey, California.
I am not suggesting that "The New Humanists" is a hoax, like Alan Sokal's "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," but I believe that it is a test. [more....]
GEORGE DYSON, a historian among futurists, is the author of Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship.
From: Kenneth Ford
It's a good essay, John, thought-provoking and on target. I for one would find it more effective if it conveyed less certitude and more of the tentative quality that characterizes science. (Is the "fossil culture" really in decline?)
KENNETH W. FORD is the retired director of the American Institute of Physics and coauthor (with John Archibald Wheeler) of Geons, Black Holes, and Quantum Foam: A Life in Physics.
I read your piece "The New Humanists" with interest, but actually think that you have painted a caricature of both scientists and humanists. Somehow, you have convinced yourself that the goals of humanists should be more closely aligned with those of science. I think this is a mistake. I think the problem with your essay is that in trying to make the argument that scientists have swallowed up the positions long held by humanists, you have actually blurred two important issues. [more....]
MARC D. HAUSER is an evolutionary psychologist at Harvard University and author of Wild Minds: What Animals Think.
Therefore my solution to this problem is in some ways the opposite of yoursthe humanities need to rediscover their true calling, and stick by it. Of course, this does mean that in order to evaluate, select, and transmit valuable knowledge the individual humanists has to be acquainted with the novelty produced by scientists, and understand its implications. It may no longer be possible for an artist to be at the forefront of science, like Leonardo was, but the insularity of both camps ought to decrease. With a common fund of knowledge, the two endeavors can then proceed towards their respective goals. [more....]
MIHALYI CSIKSZENTMIHALYI is the Davidson Professor of Management at the Claremont Graduate University, and author of Finding Flow.
I have lately been thinking about the lasting effects of modernism and science on religious narrative. Cultural theorists may think we're in the age of "post-post-modernism," but our theologians are still simply contending with the impacts of Descartes, Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud. The most profound impact of modernity is that we can no longer base the authority of our religious testaments on history; our myths and our Gods are refuted by scientific reality. We lose our absolutes, and the sense of certainty they afforded us. [more....]
DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF, a Professor of Media Culture at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, is is author of Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say.
Because scientific propositions must be testable, and because questions of humanism versus science come down to how these ways of knowing affect our lives, I propose a test for the role of scientific understanding in human affairs: can science improve life for most people alive today, and for our heirs, by understanding the nature of cooperation as profoundly as physicists understand matter and biologists understand the processes of life and evolution? [more....]
HOWARD RHEINGOLD is a communications theorist and author of The Virtual Community.
From: Reuben Hersh
As a part-time member of the old-fashioned humanists (a habitual reader of the New York Review of Books!) I can imagine some responses...."Your optimistic scientists seem, by your account, to live entirely on the cognitive plane. Perhaps even with some workaholic tendencies. Optimism is the only emotion you report....May one wonder if they live in a particular placeperhaps, many of them, in the U.S.A.?....Do they breathe air? drink water? consume nourishment?....Have some of them aged parents? How do they relate to such parents, how are such parents cared for? [more....]
REUBEN HERSH is professor emeritus at the University of New Mexico and author of What is Mathematics, Really?
At Stanford University, surrounded as we are by the world's greatest concentration of cutting edge digital technology companies and the related communication/entertainment industries, some of us have been thinking about what this change means in terms of scholarship and education. What will it mean to be an "educated person" in the Being Interactive world? What will constitute the Core Curriculum in the new liberal arts of the twenty first century and beyond? [more....]
KEITH DEVLIN is a mathematician at Stanford University, and author of The Math Gene.
From: James O'Donnell
Most interesting and most correct. Has a particular personal zing because I've just been appointed Provost of Georgetown as from 1 July, and so I now "own" a bunch of humanists and scientists in a fresh and challenging way. Got some ideas, but . . . [more....]
J. O'DONNELL, a classicist and Vice Provost of University of Pennsylvania,
is the author of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace.
On 1 July 2002, he will become Provost of Georgetown University.
From: Clifford Pickover
Although Nicholas Humphrey would disagree with me, I'm on your side when you suggest that science is expanding and providing a never-ending geyser of interesting and profound problems. One of my heroes, Isaac Asimov, had the key when he wrote, "I believe that scientific knowledge has fractal properties; that no matter how much we learn, whatever is left, however small it may seem, is just as infinitely complex as the whole was to start with. That, I think, is the secret of the Universe." [more....]
CLIFFORD PICKOVER is a research staff member at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center and author of The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience.
I have major problems with the essay. In particular, I don't find the identification of Science and Optimism at all convincingon either of your two counts. [more....]
NICHOLAS HUMPHREY is a theoretical psychologist at LSE and The New School and author of The Mind Made Flesh.
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