Conversations

Farewell To My Friend Frank Schirrmacher

[6.18.14]


OBITUARY BY HUBERT BURDA
Farewell to my friend Frank Schirrmacher

by Hubert Burda, Focus Magazine (June 17, 2014)
 

FAZ co-editor Frank Schirrmacher died at the age of 54 years

[Rough translation:]

The editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frank Schirrmacher, died at 54 years. Germany has lost a great thinker. An obituary by Hubert Burda.

Thursday last week: I had invited Frank Schirrmacher and his wife Rebecca Casati to have dinner with Michael Bloomberg, former Mayor of New York, in the "Hotel Adlon" in Berlin. Also on the list were German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and a group of donors, philanthropists and intellectuals. Days earlier he had emailed me:

"Dear Hubert, we are looking forward to this apparently exciting evening! Yours, Frank. "

This is the last message I received from my friend, an unusually ingenious thinker, a brilliant helsman of debates that moved our country forward in the last two decades.

When he began as co-editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on January 21, 1994, he was just 34 years. old. We German publishers all wondered whether it would work. Joachim Fest, his predecessor in office, and to some extent also his teacher, the legendary historian of the Nazi period and subtle art lover, could hardly conceal his skepticism.

The dashing, youthful literary editor of the FAZ (from 1989 on) who liked to pit the realism of an Ernst Jünger against the ideological literature of the day, soon became a stubborn culture czar seldom given to a moment of self doubt.  Eventually, his orchestration of the  Ignatz-Bubis-Martin-Walser debate in 1998/1999 made him someone that everyone was talking about. Even the international press was impressed by him.

BRILLIANT HEAD—FRANK SCHIRRMACHER

He began his career at FAZ as one of the youngest editors ever with a doctorate in literature, soon followed Marcel Reich-Ranicki as head of the literary department and finally, at only age 34 years, he took over from Joachim Fest as a publisher. His books are bestsellers.

In July 2000, we met for a long walk on the island of Rügen. He had gone through a dramatic change. After having passionately participated with great passion as a Feuilleton journalist in the affairs of literary and political life, he had morphed into a a stupendously erudite diagnostician, exploring the revolution of science and technology at the end of the last century which he was clearly fascinated by.

On 27 June 2000, the FAZ devoted six pages to the publication of the abstract set of letters of the human genome first deciphered by the genomics researcher Craig Venter. The headline: "Craig Venter's last words."

On our tour of the romantic island we talked a lot about Craig Venter, John Brockman, the New York agent who had great success in selling rights to the works of the most important scientific authors of the English-speaking to international book publishers, and of course, in his activities via the Internet. Our one-to-one talks ever since were always about the future of journalism and the fate publishers in times of Google. "Lousy pennies", nothing more was left for us by the media giant, we agreed. Our optimism for the future was mixed occasionally with anger.

Of course, Michael Bloomberg and Schirrmacher at dinner would have resulted in dazzling talk about Google, its visions of the future and attempts at transforming the lives of people. Both would have come to an agreement that rules must be established to limit global monopolies at the European and transatlantic level.

Frank Schirrmacher was an entirely new intellectual type, a non-ideologue who wasn't interested in preaching a right or left worldview. He was especially interested in the processes of social upheavals, the intellectual and technological revolutions. First of all, he wanted to understand them without any prejudice, which was what he was after.

The range of his interests was greater than that of his teachers and sometimes disciplinarians, such as Siegfried Unseld, Joachim Fest, and Marcel Reich-Ranicki. He was the first to note that because the world we live in is one of global change, for responsible journalists "culture" and "science" must be seen in a new context of applied natural sciences.

Information, communication, our thoughts and feelings are changing rapidly. Schirrmacher's concerns: In an IT-controlled environment, is there still a place for humans? Are we, as responsible citizens, capable of retaining our commitment to freedom?

I bow before a great journalist. One of the transcendent minds of our time will henceforth be the silent partner of my thinking.

[Link: Original German Language article]

 

MAN OF THE FUTURE: Frank Schirrmacher has died at the age of 54 years

[6.16.14]

[Excerpt...]

. . .  Not a traditional man of culture 

Schirrmacher had a large double talent: he could create new topics and get them out early. He knew—months before others knew it—what would be the language in the Federal Republic. And he was great in terms of the agreement with important people. He wrote his articles rather quickly. In addition, however, he wanted to get involved, to have his fingers everywhere.  He succeeded in both.

Frank Schirrmacher was not just a traditional man of culture, although he had followed in the footsteps of two pillars of post-war cultural life in Germany, namely historian Joachim C. Fest and literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki. He was not only a fierce social critic of the conservative mold, He was not only a great journalist, having launched one of the last newspaper projects to be both successfull and profitable, which is FAZ's weeked edition FAS. He was one of the first "digerati", i.e. one of those 21st century intellectuals on the cusp between the humanities and natural sciences who detect a technology-driven future that opens up new worlds. But because he came from the European tradition of critical thinking, he was largely immune to the seductive euphoria that was blowing from the American shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Sure, there seemed to be no limits to the enthusiasm with which he threw himself into the new themes. Unforgettable was the Features section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of 27 June 2000, in which the only thing to read on the first six pages were abstract letters of the human genome which were first completely deciphered by the biochemist Craig Venter. The headline read: "Craig Venter's last words."

The persistence with which Schirrmacher presented his themes not only continued, but the illumination from all sides, from all involved and uninvolved, was unique. Just the recent debates about the dangers of digital culture due to the monopolistic tendencies of the Silicon Valley companies, and the global spying programs of the NSA alone, showed the intellectual verve he brought to debates, illuminating the ups and downs which had been kept hidden behind impenetrable techno-jargon and a blind faith in the future. There aren't that many great critical minds in this field so far.

Journalistic Instincts

Schirrmacher not only recognized kindred spirits early, he gave them his full support: David Gelernter, Evgeny Morozov, Constanze Kurz, George Dyson, or this year's recipient of the German book seller's association's prestigious peace prize Jaron Lanier. In the pages of FAZ's Feuilleton he gave them the type of space and the continuous presence normally known only from academic journals. Still he edited them with the journalistic instincts that enabled him and his authors again and again to aquaint Central Europe's educated public life with California thinking.

This side made Frank Schirrmacher also part of the debate on the other side of the Atlantic. You could even encounter him in America much more often than he actually travelled there. You could for example be high above Central Park on the terrace of New York literary agent John Brockman, who is something of a global Weltgeist of science, which Schirrmacher perceived in the very Hegelian way. It happened quite a few tines on occasions like this, that Brockman's cellphone would be ringing, followed by Brockman greeting the caller with a delighted "Frank!", followed by a lengthy phone conversation about the latest in evolutionary biology, behavioural economics or genetic engineering. If Schirrmacher was in hot pursuit of a topic it could happen that the cell would be ringing five, ten times a day, each call greeted by an excited "Frank!" That's when you knew that in this instance the future would arrive in Europe much faster than usual.

It was not only his insatiable curiousity and his almost childlike excitability that helped him in his search for ever new topics. He also had very powerful gift to win people over. When he met the visionary Yale computer scientist David Gelernter during prep for a panel discussion at the DLD conference in Munich in January of 2010, he immediately recognized in him one of those kindred spirits.

That's why he didn't leave it at the panel. For two days he more or less didn't leave the American scientist's side. He circled Gelernter's complex thinking first with probing questions, he discovered common thoughts and passions. A bit later he sifted through his enormous body of readily available European knowledge and was able to bring intellectual nuggets to the table himself. The encounter lead to a transatlantic friendship that enriched the pages of his Feuilleton for years to come. ...

...Protagonist of future debates

Soon it was Frank Schirrmacher not just a participant but the protagonist of debates about the future. In 2009 he published his book Payback, which became a bestseller, then The Methuselah Conspiracy, his warning of the coming generation gap of an aging society,  and his book MinimumPayback was the first intellectual engagement with the digital culture that appeared in Germany. 

The subtext of his agenda: Why are we forced in the information age to do what we do not want to do, and how do we regain control over our thinking. It was one of the first great intellectual struggles with the dangers of digital technologies that did not come from the digital circles themselves, and thinking not from the strongholds of the computer scientists, but from the tradition of European humanities. It was a sharp reckoning with the zeitgeist that looked something like a promise of salvation in the digital media. And he made himself so at first not only popular. 

"It is very important to emphasize that we are not talking about cultural pessimism," Schirmacher said in an interview with John Brockman, published on edge.org in autumn of 2009. "We're talking about a new technology, which is de facto a brain technology that has to do with intelligence, thus with thinking, and this new technology collides in a very material way with the history of ideas of European thinking.”  However, it was not holy for him. But he saw the danger that arises when one breaks with the gesture of revolution with the story. When idealism becomes ideology.

When John Brockman first learned of Frank Schirrmacher's death, he was not just sad and shocked like many others. Immediately he exclaimed: "This is a loss that will be felt not only in Germany, but all over the world. He is irreplaceable. He managed to make intellectual life in Germany trump that of America because he dared to put issues on the table that no one in America wanted on the agenda". 

After Payback, his next book was Ego: The Game of Life, in which he analyzed the effects of a Internet-based world economy driven by greed. At the same time he presented an ever-sharper critique of capitalism in the once very conservative Feuilleton of the FAZ. On Thursday Frank Schirrmacher died in Frankfurt of a heart attack. . He leaves his wife, an adult son and a small daughter. Not only the man will be missed, but also his many unwritten books, his unguided debates. He was 54 years old. 

[German language original article.]

Frank Schirrmacher 1959-2014

[6.18.14]

[Photo: Copyright © Julia Zimmerman]

We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on. There is one comment on Edge which I love, which is in Daniel Dennett's response to the 2007 annual question, in which he said that we have a population explosion of ideas, but not enough brains to cover them.

—Frank Schirrmacher, 2009

Frank Schirrmacher died on June 12th of a heart attack. He was the influential German journalist, essayist, best-selling author, and since 1994 co-publisher of one of the leading national German newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), where he was Editor of the Feuilleton, cultural and science pages of the paper. FAZ is a non-profit company based on a foundation mode. He was one of five "Herausgeber," literally translated "publisher," but in reality he was a mix of head of Feuilleton, co-editor in chief and CEO. 

Schirrmacher's death is a loss that will be felt not just in Germany but throughout the world. He is irreplaceable. It's fair to say that he has no equivalent here in the United States. He was a beacon of light, a visionary thinker who initiated international conversations on the emerging questions that mattered, including the human genome, the third culture, the role of technology in a society. He will be greatly missed. 

We were introduced in early 2000 by German media mogul and digital pioneer Hubert Burda, and began a conversation which lasted until the week of his death. In May of 2000, based on our several long telephone calls, Schirrmacher wrote a manifesto,  a call-to arms, entitled "Wake-Up Call for Europe Tech," published in FAZ, which called for Europe to adopt the ideas of the third culture. His agenda: to change the culture of the newspaper and to begin a process of change in Germany and Europe. In the final paragraph he wrote:

"Over the next few months, to ensure we are informed slightly in advance, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will be running a series of articles by the theoreticians of what John Brockman has dubbed the 'third culture'. Europe should be more than just a source for the software of ego crisis, loss of identity, despair, and Western melancholy. We should be helping write the code for tomorrow."

The manifesto, and Schirrmacher's publishing program, was a departure for FAZ which at that time had a somewhat conservative profile. It was widely covered in the German press and made waves in intellectual circles.

Within weeks following publication of his manifesto, Schirrmacher began publishing articles by notable third culture thinkers, began to provide extensive FAZ coverage of Edge features and events, and became an Edge contributor himself.  On many occasions we published pieces simultaneously on Edge and in FAZ. In 2009, I interviewed him in his Frankfurt office, the result being the publication of "The Age of the Informavore: A Talk with Frank Schirrmacher." "The term informavore," Schirrmacher noted, "characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food." Among the Edgies commenting on the piece in the ensuing Reality Club conversation were  Daniel Kahneman, George Dyson, Jaron Lanier, Nick Bilton, Nicholas Carr, Douglas Rushkoff, Gerd Gigerenzer, John Perry Barlow, Steven Pinker, John Bargh, George Dyson, John Brockman, David Gelernter, and Evgeny Morozov.

Writing a few months later in Stuttgarter ZeitungGabor Paal took note of the effect of FAZ's sustained coverage of the third culture on German intellectual life. Researchers such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, anthropologist Gregory Bateson, mathematician Roger Penrose, biologist Lynn Margulis, geographer Jared Diamond, psychologist Steven Pinker ..."come from the 'exact' sciences, take care of basic questions of human existence. And they write about their work in thick books in which they—like 'real' humanists—take hundreds of pages to present their own thesis. Inspired by Brockman's thesis beginning in the late 1990s, the FAZ Feuilleton began to deal with developments in the natural sciences. At about the same time, Der Spiegel regularly began publishing "third culture" topics on the front page, and entices its readers with article on the origin of language, the end of the universe, or about Neurotheology." 

It's now been fourteen years since publication of his manifesto, and the national conversation he began in Germany continues in the pages of FAZ, and has also been joined in a robust way by the Feuilleton of Süddeutsche Zeitung, the other of the two national newspapers in Germany.

As a tribute, Edge turns over its front page to remember Schirrmacher by presenting "Maybe He Was The Only True Futurist-Humanist," a piece organized by Schirrmacher's long-time colleague Jordan Mejias, FAZ's U.S. Cultural editor; an excerpt from the Süddeutsche Zeitung obituary "Man of The Future," co-authored by  Andrian Kreye, editor of the SZ Feuilleton and Edge contributor; impressions in the German press regarding his involvement with third culture ideas in "FAZ Co-Editor Is Dead: Frank Schirrmacher Set The Central Issues Of Our Time," a piece by Peter von Becker, in Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten; a re-publication of Schirrmacher's Edge feature "The Age of the Informavore"; Hubert Burda's obituary in his Focus Magazine, "Farewell to my friend Frank Schirrmacher"and finally, the 2010 EDGE @ DLD panel, "Informavore," featuring a video of Schirrmacher, Andrian Kreye, David Gelernter, and myself.



Frank Schirrmacher & John Brockman, Munich, January 2010

At some point I plan to write more about Schirrmacher, the man, his agenda, and the intellectual inspiration he provided in the quest for a second enlightenment, one which would be built on the ideas of the third culture. But now is not that time. Now is a time for remembering.

John Brockman

Frank Schirrmacher's Edge Bio Page



MAYBE HE WAS THE ONLY TRUE FUTURIST-HUMANIST

Literary agent John Brockman, Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier, science and technology historian George Dyson and computer scientist and artist David Gelernter remember Frank Schirrmacher. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 13, 2014) [MORE...]



FAREWELL TO MY FRIEND FRANK SCHIRRMACHER
by Hubert Burda

The editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frank Schirrmacher, died at 54 years. Germany has lost a great thinker. Focus Magazine (June 17, 2014) [MORE...]



ON THE DEATH OF FRANK SCHIRRMACHER
MAN OF THE FUTURE

An Obituary by Gustav Seibt, Franziska Augstein and Andrian Kreye

... Not a traditional man of culture ... Schirrmacher had a large double talent: he could create new topics and get them out early. He knew—months before others knew it—what would be the language in the Federal Republic. And he was great in terms of the agreement with important people. He wrote his articles rather quickly. In addition, however, he wanted to get involved, to have his fingers everywhere. He succeeded in both. Süddeutsche Zeitung (June 12, 2014) [MORE...]



FAZ CO-EDITOR IS DEAD
Frank Schirrmacher Set The Central Issues Of Our Time by Peter von Becker

What is happening today in the Internet or in the biotech laboratories, raises pressing legal and moral questions. Frank Schirrmacher had the intellectual antenna and the fire of passionate journalist. Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten (June 13, 2014) [MORE...]



THE AGE OF THE INFORMAVORE
A Talk With Frank Schirrmacher 

We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on. Edge (October 25, 2009) [MORE...]



Edge  & DLD: INFORMAVORE

In 2010, Edge was in Munich for DLD 2010 and an Edge & DLD event. The event, entitled "Informavore," is a discussion featuring Frank Schirrmacher, Editor of the Feuilleton and Co-Publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Andrian Kreye, Feuilleton Editor of Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich; and Yale computer science visionary David Gelernter, who, in his 1991 book Mirror Worlds presented what's now called "cloud computing." [MORE...]


Touched By The Tremendum (March 27, 1990)

From the Reality Club Archives
[6.24.14]

 

This is our birthright. It is profoundly our birthright in the same way that our sexuality is our birthright. The notion that a person would call themselves intelligent and aware and present in the world and that they would go from the cradle to the grave without ever having a psychedelic experience is nothing short of obscene; it's absurd. It makes my flesh crawl in the same way that celibacy and virginity make my flesh crawl. What a horrible, horrible waste of a human life.

TERENCE MCKENNA (1946-2000) was one of the leading authorities on the ontological foundations of shamanism and a fixture of popular counterculture. An innovative theoretician and spellbinding orator, he traveled extensively in Asia and the New World Tropics and specialized in shamanism and ethnomedicine in the Amazon Basin and emerged as a powerful voice for the psychedelic movement and the emergent societal tendency he called The Archaic Revival. He is the author of Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide; The Archaic RevivalFood of the GodsTrue Hallucinations; and coauthor, with his brother Dennis McKenna, of The Invisible Landscape. Terence McKenna's Edge Bio page


TOUCHED BY THE TREMENDUM (March 27, 1990)

First of all, I am delighted to be here. The great thing about being here in New York is you don’t have to worry that you’re the smartest person in the room. What impels me to talk to groups like this is the conviction that a major aspect of what it means to be a human being has received short shrift in our civilization for at least a couple of millennia. And that, to some degree, the solution to the mega-crisis that is bearing down on Western institutions is to be found in a revivifying of the archaic. And this takes many different kinds of forms. It's nothing to do with what is popularly presented as the new age. It's, to my mind, a much larger and deeper and persistent phenomenon than that. In fact, the entire intellectual tone of the 20th century can be seen as a groping toward a recapturing of this archaic mentality.

This is what psychoanalysis was about. This is what cubism, surrealism, and, in the political zone, negative phenomena such as national socialism. All of these various intellectual concerns, to my mind, can be traced back to a kind of unconscious nostalgia for the archaic.

Intellectual Enzyme

[6.9.14]

[ED. NOTE: The legendary curator Hans Ulrich Obrist (known a "HUO"), Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programmes at London's Serpentine Gallery. Since 2009, he has been ranked  #1 #2 #2, #10, and #5 in Art Review's "Power 100", a ranked list of the contemporary artword's most powerful figures. A long-time Edge collaborator, we have been interviewing each other for fifteen years. Below, he talks to me in Munich. In the next Edge edition, I bring my camera to The Serpentine Gallery in London and return the favor. —JB]


INTELLECTUAL ENZYME


Teamwork, from left: John Brockman, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan in 1966 in the New York Factory (Photo: Nat Finkelstein) Click to expand.
 
The idea of the autonomy of art has led to the fact that even today it amounts to a breach of taboo if one wants to bring art and artists into dialogue with other disciplines such as technology, science or politics. One person who never had any time for such a separation is John Brockman. He is a writer, literary agent, curator, worked in business, and for the White House in Washington. He sees it as his main role to bring experts from the most different disciplines down from their ivory towers so that they can converse not only with their peers but also with the wider public and with the luminaries of other subjects.

Stewart Brand, author of the legendary Whole Earth Catalog and the forerunner of the ecological movement, has called Brockman “an intellectual enzyme”, bringing the thoughts, visions and knowledge of the most different people together and catalysing them. Prototypical of this idea are his Edge Foundation and its website, edge.org, a platform for the exchange of ideas among the intellectual elite. Prototypical of this, too, was the collaboration between artists such as Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg in 1965 in New York that led to an invitation by MIT whereby biophysicists, cyberneticists, musicians, painters and theatre directors held an interdisciplinary symposium.

Finally Brockman has also proved his own talent for synthesis as a writer. In his first book By The Late John Brockman, he considers the world through the lens of information theory, in 37 through Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and in Afterwords as a verbal construct. Above all, his first work was a magnificent combination, not just in content but also in form, of philosophy and experimental literature, which he presented in 1968 in a six-part reading of the book in the New Yorker Poetry Center. Each page of the book contained only one paragraph, composed of citations from the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein or Samuel Beckett. The very? process of reading is supposed to create a performance, freely after Marcel Duchamp’s dictum that an artist makes the material available but that it is up to the observer or reader to make an artwork out of it.

A new edition of By The Late John Brockman, 37 and Afterwords will be published this September by Harper Collins Publishers in the US and UK under the title By The Late John Brockman, and in Germany by S. Fischer under the title Nachworte: Gedanken des Wegbereiters der Dritten Kultur.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST is curator and co-director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. His most recent book is Ways of Curating.

Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up At Night

[5.31.14]


@

Edge @ World Science Festival: REAL SCENARIOS THAT KEEP SCIENTISTS UP AT NIGHT
Date: Saturday May 31, 2014
Time: 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM
Venue: NYU Kimmel Center
Register Now

Science and Story Café: Meet the Authors

What should we be worried about? That is the question John Brockman, founding editor of the celebrated science website Edge, posed in 2013 to our planet’s most influential minds. Five leading scientists share their worries and discuss their own recent books.

Host:
JOHN BROCKMAN
Editor, Edge.org; Chairman of Brockman, Inc.; Author, By the Late John Brockman, The Third Culture

Featuring:
HELEN FISHER
Biological Anthropologist, Rutgers University; Author, Why Him? Why Her?: How to Find and Keep Lasting Love
AMANDA GEFTER
Consultant, New Scientist; Founding Editor, "CultureLab"; Author, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything
SETH LLOYD
Professor of Quantum Mechanical Engineering, MIT; Author, Programming the Universe: A Quantum Computer Scientist Takes on the Cosmos
STEVEN PINKER
Johnstone Family Professor, Department of Psychology; Harvard University; Author, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
MAX TEGMARK
Physicist, MIT; Researcher, Precision Cosmology; Scientific Director, Foundational Questions Institute; Author, Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality

[Ed. Note: The 2014 World Science Festival takes place May 28-June 2 in New York City. Under the leadership of cofounders Tracy DayEmmy Award-winning journalist,  and Brian Greene, a physicist and author of The Elegant Universe the Festival, founded in 2008, has evolved into a deep and rich city-wide intellectual feast, available to all. Highly recommended. Don't miss it! For information, schedule and tickets, click here. —JB]

 

“Reads like an atlas of fear.”
—New York Times

“Substantial and engrossing.  . . .Brockman and the Edge contributors offer fresh and invaluable perspectives on crucial aspects of our lives.”
Booklist (starred review)

"The most stimulating English-language reading to be had from anywhere in the world." 
—The Canberra Times

“This collection helps us see the myriad possible concerns laid out before us, articulating the various elements of fear that we need to fear.”
—Washington Post

"An awakening read in its entirety."
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

 

The Way We Live Our Lives in Stories

[7.28.14]

We think of stories as a wildly creative art form but within that creativity and that diversity there is a lot of conformity. Stories are very predictable. No matter where you go in the world, no matter how different people seem, no matter how hard their lives are, people tell stories, universally, and universally the stories are more or less like ours: the same basic human obsessions, and the same basic structure. The structure comes down to: stories have a character, the character has a predicament or a problem—they're always problem-focused—and the character tries to solve the problem. In its most basic terms, that's what a story is—a problem solution narrative. 

JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL is a Distinguished Research Fellow in the English Department at Washington & Jefferson College. He is the author or editor of six books, including The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (a New York Times Editor’s Choice Selection and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize). Jonathan Gottschall's Edge Bio Page


THE WAY WE LIVE OUR LIVES IN STORIES

There's a big question about what it is that makes people people. What is it that most sets our species apart from every other species? That's the debate that I've been involved in lately.

When we call the species homo sapiens that's an argument in the debate. It's an argument that it is our sapience, our wisdom, our intelligence, or our big brains that most sets our species apart. Other scientists, other philosophers have pointed out that, no, a lot of the time we're really not behaving all that rationally and reasonably. It's our upright posture that sets us apart, or it's our opposable thumb that allows us to do this incredible tool use, or it's our cultural sophistication, or it's the sophistication of language, and so on and so forth. I'm not arguing against any of those things, I’m just arguing that one thing of equal stature has typically been left off of this list, and that’s the way that people live their lives inside stories.

#1 AT AMAZON: SCIENCE & MATH

[5.2.14]

For the second year in a row, the 2012 Edge Annual Question book, This Explains Everything: 150 Deep Beautiful, And Elegant Theories Of How The World Works —HarperCollins, 2013—(http://amzn.to/1hkdL2y), has made the main Amazon Bestseller list (all titles, fiction & nonfiction). Last year it was #8; and in April it re-appeared at #23 on the overall list and #1 on Amazon's Best Sellers in Science & Math. 

And it continues. The recently published book on the 2013 Q: What *Should* We Be Worried About: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Awake At Night (http://amzn.to/OlfJbC), hit #3 on the Los Angeles Times nonfiction paperback list and also made appearences on the NPR and IndieBound lists. And if the stream of global press about Edge is a reliable indicator, the series, and the Edge website itself, is now a global phenomenon. 

Next: We have just delivered the manuscript for What Scientific Ideas Should Be Retired? to our international publishers. To date, editions are in the works in the following languages: English (US/UK markets), German, Dutch, Korean, Croatian, Spanish (World), Japanese, Chinese, Romanian, and Russian.  —JB

 

TULIP 2014

[5.2.14]

"TULIP 2014"

Copyright © 2014 Katinka Matson. All rights reserved. 
katinkamatson.com
"Imagine a painter who could, like Vermeer, capture the quality of light that a camera can, but with the color of paints. . . .  She is at the forefront of a new wave in photography.". —Kevin Kelly, Executive Editor, Wired
 
"As the moving lens slides along the surface of one of Matson's tulips, it is able to view the flower from all sides; her floral pictures are so intense that looking at them, you almost get the feeling that you are able to peer around the flowers themselves." —The New York Times Magazine 
 
KATINKA MATSON is Edge cofounder and resident artist.
 

ON KAHNEMAN

[3.27.14]

Introduction

On the occasion of Daniel Kahneman's 80th birthday on March 5, 2014, Edge celebrated with a reprise of a number of his contributions to our pages. (See Edge Master Class 2007, "A Short Course in Thinking About Thinking";  Edge Master Class 2008, "A Short Course in Behavioral Economics"; Kahneman's talk on "The Marvels and Flaws of Intuitive Thinking" at the Edge Master Class 2011, "The Science of Human Nature."

In the first Edge Master Class, "Thinking About Thinking"  (2007), Kahneman was the teacher and the students were the founders and architects of Microsoft, Amazon, Google, PayPal, and Facebook, i.e. the individuals responsible for rewriting our global culture. Why did Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sergey Brin (Google), Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft), Sean Parker (Facebook), Elon Musk (Space X, Tesla), Evan Williams (Twitter), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), among others, travel to Napa that year, and again in 2008, to listen to Kahneman? Because all kinds of things are new. Entirely new economic structures and pathways have come into existence in the past few years: New ideas in psychology, cognitive science, behavioral economics, law, and medicine that take a new look at risk, decision-making, and other aspects of human judgment.

"Danny Kahneman is simply the most distinguished living psychologist in the world, bar none," writes Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. "Trying to say something smart about Danny's contributions to science is like trying to say something smart about water: It is everywhere, in everything, and a world without it would be a world unimaginably different than this one."

"It's not an exaggeration to say that Kahneman is one of the most influential psychologists in history and certainly the most important psychologist alive today," adds Harvard research psychologist Steven Pinker. "He has made seminal contributions over a wide range of fields including social psychology, cognitive science, reasoning and thinking, and behavioral economics, a field he and his partner Amos Tversky invented."

His longtime colleague, (and co-teacher of the 2008 Edge Master Class, behavioral economist Richard Thaler, suggested that Edge follow up the birthday announcement by doing what it does best—asking Edgies who work in fields including, but not limited to, psychology, cognitive science, behavioral economics, law, and medicine a question.

For their responses to Thaler's question—"How has Kahneman's work influenced your own? What step did it make possible?"—we asked a select group of Edgeis to include inspired leaps off of Kahneman's shoulders, not just applications of his ideas. We used a comment made by Steven Pinker in the Q&A following Kahneman's talk at the 2011 Edge Master Class, as an example. Pinker said:

If somebody were to ask me what are the most important contributions to human life from psychology, I would identify this work [by Kahneman & Tversky] as maybe number one, and certainly in the top two or three. In fact, I would identify the work on reasoning as one of the most important things that we've learned about anywhere. When we were trying to identify what any educated person should know in the entire expanse of knowledge, I argued unsuccessfully that the work on human cognition and probabilistic reason should be up there as one of the first things any educated person should know.

One way to consider the long and illustrious career of a great thinker such as Kahneman is not as a summation, but as a commission, one that gives us permission to move forward in certain ways. (Think Newton's "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.") As social psychologist Richard Nisbett noted, "It's not just a celebration of Danny. It's a celebration of behavioral science."

— John Brockman

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