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Edge Books

[7.25.17]

Know This: Today's Most Interesting and Important Scientific Ideas, Discoveries, and Developments

Edge Annual Question Series

CONTENTS: Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond on the best way to understand complex problems * author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Carlo Rovelli on the mystery of black holes * Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker on the quantification of human progress * TED Talks curator Chris J. Anderson on the growth of the global brain * Harvard cosmologist Lisa Randall on the true measure of breakthrough discoveries * Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek on why the twenty-first century will be shaped by our mastery of the laws of matter * philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein on the underestimation of female genius * music legend Peter Gabriel on tearing down the barriers between imagination and reality * Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson on the surprising ability of small (and cheap) upstarts to compete with billion-dollar projects. Plus Nobel laureate John C. Mather, Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill JoyWired founding editor Kevin Kelly, psychologist Alison GopnikGenome author Matt Ridley, Harvard geneticist George ChurchWhy Does the World Exist? author Jim Holt, anthropologist Helen Fisher, and more. 

Edgy Summer Reads

Master of Ceremonies in the Cyber Salon

[3.11.17]
 


 
 Edge.org
Master of Ceremonies in the Cyber Salon 
By Andrea Köhler 11.3.2017

For more than half a century John Brockman has been inspiring artists and scientists to ask innovative questions. His website Edge.org has established itself as a forum for forward-looking ideas. 

 
What is a "cultural impresario"? The expression is frequently used to describe John Brockman, as is the curious term "intellectual enzyme." The latter was created by a friend of Brockman—probably to signify that he is not quite what he seems to be: a shrewd book agent, feared by publishers for his capacity to negotiate amazingly profitable contracts for his clients. After all, he got acquainted with the trade in the banking sector.
 
What makes Brockman a "major player" in cultural matters is not, of course, his involvement in the book business—although his bright, minimalist-style offices with a view of the Empire State Building prove without a doubt that his agency gives him financial leeway. He uses it to pursue his passion, the "third culture"; but more on that later.
 
In Warhol's "Factory"
 
To understand the term “intellectual enzyme” correctly, one has to go back a couple of decades, to the time when 23-year-old John Brockman pursued his financial business during the day and at night dived into the fermenting New York art scene of the Sixties. Together with Sam Shepard and Charlie Mingus Jr. the banker stacked chairs at the legendary Theatre Genesis at St. Marks in the Bowery. Then he met with Robert Rauschenberg, Claes Oldenburg or Dalí at the "Cedar Tavern," and ended up in Andy Warhol's Factory. "It was a period of incredible creativity," says Brockman. "I practically flew through the streets."

"The world of money, says Brockman,
never really interested him.
'My interests were always strictly cultural.'"

One day when Brockman was in Central Park playing his banjo, the avant-garde director Jonas Mekas followed him around filming him—then he offered the banjo player an attractive job. Brockman was to organize a festival. The “New Cinema I” Festival (aka “Expanded Cinema”) in which artists, composers, dancers and avant-garde filmmakers transcended the borders of traditional genres became a mega-hit. "A kind of event of a lifetime,"—the first of several more Brockman was to call into being.
 
"The art scene," he says, "was on the cybernetics trip at the time; they were all studying the mathematical theory of communication." He even underwent a special initiation into the subject when the composer John Cage handed a book to him during one of his legendary "Mushroom Dinners.” Brockman eagerly devoured Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics, Control and Communication in Living Beings and Machines. Cage never talked to him again. A mutual friend explained: "Cage is a Zen master. You no longer need him." The book, Brockman says, still has a special place in his living room library.
 
It was the age of psychedelic counterculture, of Albert Hofmann and Timothy Leary. Brockman himself avoided drugs. Even Cage's mushroom dishes were of a purely culinary and highly intellectual nature; among the ideas explored at length was Marshall McLuhan’s notion of "the collective conscious." The world of money, says Brockman, never really interested him. "My interests were always strictly cultural."

KNOW THIS - On Sale Now!

Today's Most Interesting and Important Scientific Ideas, Discoveries, and Developments
[2.15.17]


Image Map  

CONTENTS: Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond on the best way to understand complex problems * author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics Carlo Rovelli on the mystery of black holes * Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker on the quantification of human progress * TED Talks curator Chris J. Anderson on the growth of the global brain * Harvard cosmologist Lisa Randall on the true measure of breakthrough discoveries * Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek on why the twenty-first century will be shaped by our mastery of the laws of matter * philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein on the underestimation of female genius * music legend Peter Gabriel on tearing down the barriers between imagination and reality * Princeton physicist Freeman Dyson on the surprising ability of small (and cheap) upstarts to compete with billion-dollar projects. Plus Nobel laureate John C. Mather, Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill JoyWired founding editor Kevin Kelly, psychologist Alison GopnikGenome author Matt Ridley, Harvard geneticist George ChurchWhy Does the World Exist? author Jim Holt, anthropologist Helen Fisher, and more. 

Katinka Matson's "Spiders" in "Plant: Exploring the Botanical World" (Phaidon)

[10.25.16]

“Imagine a painter who could, like Vermeer, capture the quality of light that a camera can, but with the color of paints.”  — Kevin Kelly  

Guardian2LIFO3LIFO2LIFOGuardian"Spiders"2Plant2Plant"Spiders"LIFO3Guardian2

Phaidon has just published Plant: Exploring the Botanical Worlda visually stunning survey celebrating “the most beautiful and pioneering botanical images ever” from around the world across all media—from murals in ancient Greece to a Napoleonic-era rose print and cutting-edge scans. Included are botanical works by Carl Linnaeus, Leonardo da Vinci, Pierre-Joseph Redoute, Charles Darwin, Emily Dickinson, van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Edge co-founder and resident artist, Katinka Matson.

"Spiders," first exhibited by Edge, is also featured in the first serial excerpt of the book, now appearing in major international news publications...to date, The Guardian and LiFO.com (Athens).

“This huge canvas by New York-based artist Katinka Matson uses magnification to emphasize the spider-like forms of petals of the spider chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum morifolium). At the start of the 21st century Matson developed a new way of portraying flowers by using a flatbed scanner, Adobe Photoshop and an ink-jet printer. Slowly scanning the flowers captures their exact appearance, without the distortion created by a single-lens photograph.” —The GuardianHer work has been featured on Edge since 2002.

[Further reading: Kevin Kelly, "Introduction to 'Twelve Flowers'"; "On Scanner Photography."]  

 

David Bunnell (1947-2016): A Remembrance

[10.21.16]

DAVID BUNNELL (1947-2016)


PC MEMORIES, HOW I CREATED THE PC
A Conversation with David Bunnell [3.13.00]

My epiphany came while I was looking at microfiched back issues of Scientific American. I came across an article penned by a nerdy Xerox scientist named Alan Kay. The article discussed some experiments for which Kay had built a prototype "personal computer" called the Alto that used a mouselike pointing device and a keyboard to communicate through a connected video screen. The great, unbelievable thing about this was that no one at that point had commercialized the idea because each Alto machine cost a few hundred thousand dollars to build. And Xerox was a bit lame in any case.

My vision started to take shape: As chips got cheaper and faster and could hold more memory, the day would come when we could build a true personal computer—one that was affordable to most people. 

[See John Markoff's New York Times obituary; "Adapting 60's Sensibilities to the Internet" by Steve LohrThe New York Times, 6.19.1995.

Infrastructure As Dialogue

[9.20.16]

One of the things that has been of particular interest to me recently is how you get the connectivity amongst all of these different constituents in a city. We know that we have high-ranking elites, leaders who promote and organize the development of monumental architecture. We also know that we have vast numbers of ordinary immigrants who are coming in to take advantage of all the employment, education, and marketing and entrepreneurial opportunities of urban life. 

Then you have that physical space that becomes the city. What is it that links all of these physical places together? It’s infrastructure. Infrastructure is one of the hottest topics in anthropology right now, in addition to being a hot topic with urban planners. We realize that infrastructure is not just a physical thing; it’s a social thing. You didn’t have infrastructure before cities because you don’t need a superhighway in a village. You don’t need a giant water pipe in a village because everybody just uses a bucket to get their own water. You don’t need to make a road because everyone just walks on whatever pathway they make for themselves. You don’t need a sewer system because everyone just throws their garbage out the door.

MONICA SMITH is a professor of anthropology at the University of California, Los Angeles. She holds the Navin and Pratima Doshi Chair in Indian Studies and serves as the director of the South Asian Archaeology Laboratory in the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. Monica Smith's Edge Bio Page

Summer Reading: Highlights From the Edge Archive

Topic/Category: 

Date: 

[7.18.16]

Event Date: 

[ Mon. Jul. 11. 2016 ]

"Deliciously creative, the variety astonishes. Intellectual skyrockets of stunning brilliance. Nobody in the world is doing what Edge is doing...the greatest virtual research university in the world.
— Denis Dutton, Founding Editor, Arts & Letters Daily

[ED NOTE: It’s summer and a good time to reflect on twenty years of Edge. Each week through the rest of the season, we will revisit five highlights from the Edge archives worthy of your time and attention. — JB]


What is the self? How does the activity of neurons give rise to the sense of being a conscious human being? Even this most ancient of philosophical problems, I believe, will yield to the methods of empirical science. It now seems increasingly likely that the self is not a holistic property of the entire brain; it arises from the activity of specific sets of interlinked brain circuits. But we need to know which circuits are critically involved and what their functions might be. It is the "turning inward" aspect of the self—its recursiveness—that gives it its peculiar paradoxical quality.

[Continue...]


I invited a group of cosmologists, experimentalists, theorists, and particle physicists. Stephen Hawking came. We had three Nobel laureates: Gerard 't Hooft, David Gross, Frank Wilczek; well-known cosmologists and physicists such as Jim Peebles at Princeton, Alan Guth at MIT, Kip Thorne at Caltech, Lisa Randall at Harvard; experimentalists, such as Barry Barish of LIGO, the gravitational wave observatory; we had observational cosmologists, people looking at the cosmic microwave background; we had Maria Spiropulu from CERN, who's working on the Large Hadron Collider—which, a decade ago, people wouldn't have thought it was a probe of gravity, but now due to recent work in the possibility of extra dimensions it might be.

[Continue...]


We know there's a law of nature—he second law of thermodynamics—that says that disorderliness grows with time. Is there another law of nature that governs the complexity of what happens? That talks about multiple layers of the structures and how they interact with each other? Embarrassingly enough, we don't even know how to define this problem yet. We don't know the right quantitative description for complexity. This is very early days. This is Copernicus, not even Kepler, much less Galileo or Newton. This is guessing at the ways to think about these problems.

[Continue...]


I'm interested in bending the edges of the spectrum to make the abstract and the concrete hit one another more directly.

[Continue...]


MOUSE MODELS
Azra Raza
[January 1, 2014]

It's time to let go of the mouse models—at least, as surrogates for bringing drugs to the bedside. Remember what Mark Twain said: "What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know; it's what we know for sure that just ain't so."

[Continue...]


Today, what you want is to have resilience and agility, and you want to be able to participate in, and interact with the disruptive things. Everybody loves the word "disruptive innovation." Well, how and where does disruptive innovation happen? It doesn't happen in the big planned R&D labs; it happens on the edges of the network. Most important ideas, especially in the consumer Internet space, but more and more now in other things like hardware and biotech, you're finding it happening around the edges.

[Continue...]


DIGITAL REALITY
Neil Gershenfeld
[January 23, 2015]

Today, you can send a design to a fab lab and you need ten different machines to turn the data into something. Twenty years from now, all of that will be in one machine that fits in your pocket. This is the sense in which it doesn't matter. You can do it today. How it works today isn't how it's going to work in the future but you don't need to wait twenty years for it. Anybody can make almost anything almost anywhere.              

[Continue...]


With Big Data we can now begin to actually look at the details of social interaction and how those play out, and are no longer limited to averages like market indices or election results. This is an astounding change. The ability to see the details of the market, of political revolutions, and to be able to predict and control them is definitely a case of Promethean fire—it could be used for good or for ill, and so Big data brings us to interesting times. We're going to end up reinventing what it means to have a human society.

[Continue...]


One of the fundamental questions here is, is extinction a good thing? Is it "nature's way?" And if it's nature's way, who in the world says anyone should go about changing nature's way? If something was meant to go extinct, then who are we to screw around with it and bring it back? I don't think it's really nature's way. I think that the extinction that we've seen since man is 99.9 percent caused by man.

[Continue...]


I'm increasingly thinking that this idea that modernity puts us in a world without meaning—philosophers have banged on about this for a century-and-a-half—may be completely wrong. We may be living in an intellectual building site, where a new story is being constructed. It's vastly more powerful than the previous stories because it's the first one that is global. It's not anchored in a particular culture or a particular society. This is an origin story that works for humans in Beijing as well as in Buenos Aires. 

It's a global origin story, and it sums over vastly more information than any early origin story. This is very, very powerful stuff. It's full of meaning. We're now at the point where, across so many domains, the amount of information, of good, rigorous ideas, is so rich that we can tease out that story. 

[Continue...]


SHAMING AT SCALE
Jennifer Jacquet
[November 18, 2014]

Shaming, in this case, was a fairly low-cost form of punishment that had high reputational impact on the U.S. government, and led to a change in behavior. It worked at scale—one group of people using it against another group of people at the group level. This is the kind of scale that interests me. And the other thing that it points to, which is interesting, is the question of when shaming works. In part, it's when there's an absence of any other option. Shaming is a little bit like antibiotics. We can overuse it and actually dilute its effectiveness, because it's linked to attention, and attention is finite. With punishment, in general, using it sparingly is best. But in the international arena, and in cases in which there is no other option, there is no formalized institution, or no formal legislation, shaming might be the only tool that we have, and that's why it interests me. 

 

[Continue...]

Quantum Hanky-Panky

[8.22.16]

Thinking about the future of quantum computing, I have no idea if we're going to have a quantum computer in every smart phone, or if we're going to have quantum apps or quapps, that would allow us to communicate securely and find funky stuff using our quantum computers; that's a tall order. It's very likely that we're going to have quantum microprocessors in our computers and smart phones that are performing specific tasks.

This is simply for the reason that this is where the actual technology inside our devices is heading anyway. If there are advantages to be had from quantum mechanics, then we'll take advantage of them, just in the same way that energy is moving around in a quantum mechanical kind of way in photosynthesis. If there are advantages to be had from some quantum hanky-panky, then quantum hanky‑panky it is. 

SETH LLOYD, Professor, Quantum Mechanical Engineering, MIT; Principal Investigator, Research Laboratory of Electronics; Author, Programming the UniverseSeth Lloyd's Edge Bio Page

Right now, there's been a resurgence of interest in ideas of applying quantum mechanics and quantum information to ideas of quantum gravity, and what the fundamental theory of the universe actually is. It turns out that quantum information has a lot to offer people who are looking at problems like, for instance, what happens when you fall into a black hole? (By the way, my advice is don't do that if you can help it.) If you fall into a black hole, does any information about you ever escape from the black hole? These are questions that people like Stephen Hawking have been working on for decades. It turns out that quantum information has a lot to give to answer these questions.                                

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