—October 3, 2007
THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER
"WHAT IS YOUR FORMULA? YOUR EQUATION? YOUR ALGORITHM?"
THE REALITY CLUB
Marc D. Hauser
EDGE IN THE NEWS
THE BISMARK TRIBUNE
THIRD CULTURE NEWS
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
I recently paid a visit to the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, London to see Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, a long-time friend with whom I have a mutual connection: we both worked closely with the late James Lee Byars, the conceptual artist who, in 1971, implemented "The World Question Center" as a work of conceptual art.
I was delighted to find the walls of Obrist's office covered with single pages of size A4 paper on which artists, writers, scientists had responded to his question: "What Is Your Formula?" Among the pieces were formulas by quantum physicist David Deutsch, artist and musician Brian Eno, architect Rem Koolhaas, and fractal mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot.
Within minutes we had hatched an Edge-Serpentine collaboration for a World Question Center project, which would further the reach of Obrist's question by asking for responses from the science-minded Edge community, thus complementing the rich array of formulas already assembled from distinguished artists such as Marina Abramovic, Matthew Barney, Louise Bourgeois, Gilbert & George, and Rosemarie Trockel.
For the purposes of this collaboration, the question was been broadened to:
"WHAT IS YOUR FORMULA? YOUR EQUATION? YOUR ALGORITHM?"
Nearly one hundred members of the Edge community have sent in "pages" for the exhibition. Obrist, in an email to the contributors, wrote:
The Serpentine Gallery Experiment Marathon
In addition to the exhibition of the formulas, Edge has been invited to organize a segment of the Serpentine Gallery Experiment Marathon from 10:00 am to 1:30 pm on Sunday 14 October. The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007, commissioned by Serpentine Director Julia Peyton-Jones and designed by Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorson will host the Marathon convened by Eliasson and Obrist on 13 and 14 October. The Serpentine announcement notes that:
Haidt is certainly one of our most creative and influential social
psychologists today. His views on morality, and especially moral
intuitions fueled by emotions, have opened a new wave of research. In fact, if it
hadn’t been for Haidt’s important conceptual work in
the early 2000s, most of us, myself included, would not be doing
the kind of work we are doing today. Since several commentators
have already discussed Haidt’s critique of the new atheists,
I would like to take a different approach here, and pick on a few
points that come up in his essay. In brief, though there is
much to admire in Haidt’s psychological perspective on morality
and religion, there is much lacking in his evolutionary theorizing.
main reason many biologists, Dawkins included, have classically rejected
group selection thinking in favor of individual or gene level selection
is because of both the explanatory power of the latter, as well
as the predictions that follow from thinking about the world from
a gene’s eye view. In particular,
as soon as Hamilton, Williams and Trivers turned our attention to the level of
the gene, the empirical torrent that followed was overwhelming. There were, and
continue to be, literally thousands upon thousands of confirmatory papers on
insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals, humans included. Much, much less
can be said of the "new" group selection, and this includes work
on humans. So Dawkins’ rejection is anything but facile, though it
may appear so in a popular book which doesn’t really have as
its main target, these kinds of details.
Brooks’ result is of interest, but perhaps a more fundamental question is whether religious background influences moral judgment? This kind of question attempts to distinguish issues concerning the evolution of morality as a biological faculty that guides our intuitive judgments of right and wrong from the ways in which cultural factors, including religion, can alter what we do in explicit cases. Though the results are only beginning to emerge, my sense is that the effects of religious background are small or non-existent when it comes to aspects of our intuitive judgments, especially when we move away from familiar and well rehearsed cases. Consider a classic fantasy dilemma in moral philosophy, first articulated by Judy Thomson—the so-called violin case.
Thomson’s interest at the time (circa 1970)
was the debate over abortion. In particular, she wanted to
explore the claim, often assumed without argument, that the fetus
has an obligatory right
to the mother’s body. In her hypothetical case, a woman wakes up one morning
to find a man, lying unconscious, next to her. Another man introduces himself
and says "I am from the Society for Music Lovers. The man lying unconscious
next to you is the world’s most famous violinist. He is in kidney failure. While
you were asleep, we plugged him into you. If you stay plugged in for the next
nine months, he will survive. But if you unplug now, he will certainly die." In
one version of the story, the woman unplugs immediately; in a second
version, perhaps approximating current cases of abortion more closely
(i.e., restrictions on when it is legally permissible to abort),
the woman unplugs after two months.
The experiment is a bad one: do religious people give more because of religion or because they would have given more anyways? Perhaps the people who join a religion would have been bigger altruists even if they had never entered the church, synagogue, or mosque. We simply can’t tell from such data. Dennett may be wrong, but Haidt isn’t correct in his interpretation of such results. Fortunately, the kinds of insights that Haidt has brought forward in this domain means that we need not rely on armchair intuition to resolve such issues. We are in a new period of empirical enlightenment. Let the science of morality guide the way brother jon.
Return to MORAL PSYCHOLOGY AND THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF RELIGION By Jonathan Haidt
beliefs, core values online
Another great site to visit is Edge (http://www.edge.org). The mission is to "promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society."
That, alone, is a lot to ponder. But what the site is best known for is its series of provocative questions posed to the world's leading scientists and thinkers. One year, the question was, "What do you believe to be true even though you cannot prove it?" Another question was, "What do you consider to be your most dangerous idea?"
In answering these and other questions, the writers and readers explore fundamental ideas, concepts and beliefs that everyone has considered at one point in their lives to which they discover there is no final answer.
For example, French physicist Carlo Rovelli writes, "I am convinced, but cannot prove, that time does not exist; that is, there is a consistent way of thinking about nature that makes no use of the notions of time and space at the fundamental level."
Communications expert Howard Rheingold writes, "I believe that we humans, who know so much about cosmology and immunology, lack a fundamental framework for thinking about why and how humans cooperate."
The Edge Web site questions prompted the publication of several books cataloging hundreds of the responses.
You can read those short essays online as well as examine other issues and topics put out for public discussion. This site is a nice complement to the "This I Believe" site and concept.
These sites and the topics discussed are examples of how the Internet can be used in a positive manner. It seems we hear so much about what's wrong with the Internet that, on those rare occasions when something positive can be found in the digital world, that news needs to be loudly and widely recognized. ...
...Over the next decade, improvements in energy production will likely come to depend far more on understanding the biology of energy than its chemistry. As we grow bugs that like to eat sulfur, it will be a lot easier and cheaper to turn heavy crude into sweet crude. As we understand the microbial communities that lead to differential pressures in wells, we can become far better at extracting oil than by finding one more drilling fluid or learning new ways to fracture wells.
We have barely begun to scratch the surface. Today's efforts to use plants to power our SUVs are primitive at best. Plants are not programmed to make gasoline, nor are bacteria. Ethanol is simply a complex and expensive byproduct. But then again yesterday's corn and wheat were not programmed to grow fast, large and golden. That change required biologists.
The same will be true of today's primitive biofuels. Last month Science magazine reported the first full transplant of DNA from one cell to another. That is the first step in being able to program cells specifically for energy production on a massive and efficient scale. It is the birth of a new and potentially very large industry, one comparable in scale to biotechnology. ...
The show's publicists gave the Los Angeles Times exclusive dibs on the TV-centric story. (A few goofs in the LAT's first post: Boing Boing began as a printed magazine, not a "webzine" -- there was no World Wide Web in 1989 -- and didn't go online until 1998. Editor David Pescovitz is based in San Francisco, not Paris. Cory Doctorow is in London rather than Tokyo. And here we thought old media factchecked.) But what Net geeks want to know is: Why does Ted Turner's TBS own the boingboing.tv domain? The show's URL will be tv.boingboing.net. ...
...Attaching a label to something carries real liabilities, especially if the thing you are naming isn’t really a thing at all. And atheism, I would argue, is not a thing. It is not a philosophy, just as “non-racism” is not one. Atheism is not a worldview—and yet most people imagine it to be one and attack it as such. We who do not believe in God are collaborating in this misunderstanding by consenting to be named and by even naming ourselves.
Another problem is that in accepting a label, particularly the label of “atheist,” it seems to me that we are consenting to be viewed as a cranky sub-culture. We are consenting to be viewed as a marginal interest group that meets in hotel ballrooms. I’m not saying that meetings like this aren’t important. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was important. But I am saying that as a matter of philosophy we are guilty of confusion, and as a matter of strategy, we have walked into a trap. It is a trap that has been, in many cases, deliberately set for us. And we have jumped into it with both feet.
While it is an honor to find myself continually assailed with Dan [Dennett], Richard [Dawkins], and Christopher [Hitchens] as though we were a single person with four heads, this whole notion of the “new atheists” or “militant atheists” has been used to keep our criticism of religion at arm’s length, and has allowed people to dismiss our arguments without meeting the burden of actually answering them. And while our books have gotten a fair amount of notice, I think this whole conversation about the conflict between faith and reason, and religion and science, has been, and will continue to be, successfully marginalized under the banner of atheism. ...
rosy future, according to Freeman Dyson
What do you think of what Richard Dawkins is doing.
I think Richard Dawkins is doing a lot of damage. I disagree very strongly with the way he's going about it. I don't deny his right to be an atheist, but I think he does a great deal of harm when he publicly says that in order to be a scientist, you have to be an atheist. That simply turns young people away from science. He's convinced a lot of young people not to be scientists because they don't want to be atheists. I'm strongly against him on that question. It's simply not true what he's saying, and it's not only not true but also harmful. The fact is that many of my friends are much more religious than I am and are first-rate scientists. There's absolutely nothing that stops you from being both.
Dawkins calls religion as a virus.
I disagree totally. He has the arrogance to say that anyone who does not share his views is infected with a virus. No wonder he cannot coexist peacefully with them.
You've mentioned that you believe in God. How would you characterize your religion?
For me, religion is much more about a community of people than about belief. It's fine literature and music. As far as I can tell, people who belong to my church don't necessarily believe anything. Certainly we don't talk about that much. I suppose I'm a better Jew than I am a Christian. Jewish religion is much more a matter of community than it is of belief, and I think that's true of us Christians to a great extent, too. ...
Have we already solved the mystery of life?; A parasite odyssey (and theodicy); The problem of biological cooperation; The real deal on group selection; Searching for a definition of life; Alien microbes and little green men; Thinking way, way ahead about biology. ...
Inc. is a nonprofit private operating foundation under Section 501(c)(3)
of the Internal Revenue Code.