Edge @ Serpentine: Extinction Panel

A Conversation with



HELENA CRONIN is the Co-Director of LSE's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science; Author, The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today. 
Helena Cronin's Edge Bio Page

CHIARA MARLETTO is a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College and Postdoctoral Research Assistnat at the Materials Department at the University of Oxford. 
Chiara Marletto's Edge Bio Page

JENNIFER JACQUET is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU researching cooperation and the tragedy of the commons; Author, Is Shame Necessary 
Jennifer Jacquet's Edge Bio Page

STEVE JONES is a Professor of Genetics at the Galton Laboratory of University College London; Author, The Lanugage of the Genes
Steve Jones's Edge Bio Page

MOLLY CROCKETT is an Associate Professor in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford; Wellcome Trust Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging. 
Molly Crockett's Edge Bio Page

HANS ULRICH OBRIST is the Co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London; Author, Ways of Curating. 
Hans Ulrich Obrist's Edge Bio Page

JOHN BROCKMAN is the Editor and Publisher of; Chairman of Brockman, Inc.; Author, By the Late John Brockman, The Third Culture. 
John Brockman's Edge Bio Page

HANS ULRICH OBRIST:  Maybe before we start to moderate the panel, it would be great to hear a few words from John, who brought us all here together.

JB:  One interesting thing that comes through the disparate talks is what happens when you drop the word "biology" into a conversation. In Helena’s world, or in Steve’s classroom in medical school—in terms of extinction—one thing that’s extinct for a lot of people is science itself. I was interested in an article I read about your experiences in the classroom, if you care to talk about it or not. Helena I’ve heard on the radio debating people about the distinction of sex differences. It seems like what happened in 1975, starting with the work of Robert Trivers, was the introduction of what became known as realistic biology of mind: the idea that we’re mammals, we can be studied the way we study mammals, and we’re biological entities. A lot of people have a problem with that.

Steve Jones on Extinction



What I wanted to talk about is somewhat of a parallel of that in human populations. If you were to go to a textbook on human biology from the time of Darwin or a bit later, you would certainly get an image that looked a bit like this. This is an image of the so-called races of humankind—racial types, as they called them. I’m not going to go into the question of whether there are real races of humankind because there aren’t. It’s interesting to note that until quite recently people assumed, and scientists assumed too, that the human species was divided into distinct groups that were biologically different from each other and had been isolated from each other for a long, long time.


Well, to some extent that was true. Until quite recently, human populations were isolated from each other. That’s changing quite quickly. ...


STEVE JONES is an Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London.  Steve Jones's Edge Bio Page

MOLLY CROCKETT:  Our last speaker is Steve Jones. He’s an emeritus professor of genetics at University College London and he’s an author of several popular science books. He’s one of the world’s top experts on the genetics of snails, and has also studied the genetics and evolution of fruit flies and humans. He frequently lectures and broadcasts on various aspects of biology and other sciences. His career has taken him far and wide to universities in the United States, Australia, and Africa. Let’s welcome Steve for our last talk.

Helena Cronin on Extinction



... A strange thing happened on the way to a better world in pursuit of an admirable quest, that is, a world free of sex discrimination where you’re judged on your own qualities and not your sex. Truth and falsity went topsy-turvy. The truth—the silence of sex differences—became dangerous, unmentionable, and in its place the conventional wisdom, which is a ragbag of ideas that have long been extinct but are kept ghoulishly alive by popularity, became the entrenched orthodoxy influencing public thinking, agendas and policy-making, and completely crowding out science and sense.


My aim is to show you why the current orthodoxy should be abandoned and why, if you really care about a fairer world, the science does matter. It matters profoundly. I’m going to take two examples, both about the professions, because they very well epitomize the orthodox litany: how society systematically discriminates against women, and how at work they are victims of pervasive sexism. 


HELENA CRONIN is the Co-Director of LSE's Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science; Author, The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today.  Helena Cronin's Edge Bio Page

MOLLY CROCKETT:  I’m very, very pleased to introduce Helena Cronin. She’s the co-director of the Center for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science and the director of Darwin at LSE at the London School of Economics. She has many notable publications including the edited series, Darwinism Today, and the award winning, The Ant and the Peacock: Altruism and Sexual Selection from Darwin to Today, that has been featured in the New York Times’ Best Books and Nature’s Best Science Books of the Year. Her current research interests focus on the evolutionary understanding of sex differences. Let’s give a very warm welcome to Helena and welcome her to the stage.

Jennifer Jacquet: "Shaming At Scale"


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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.

Michael McCullough: "Two Cheers For Falsification"


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What I want to do today is raise one cheer for falsification, maybe two cheers for falsification. Maybe it’s not philosophical falsificationism I’m calling for, but maybe something more like methodological falsificationism. It has an important role to play in theory development that maybe we have turned our backs on in some areas of this racket we’re in, particularly the part of it that I do—Ev Psych—more than we should have.

Salon Culture: Network of Ideas



Despite their intense scientific depth, John Brockman runs these gatherings with the cool of an old school bohemian. A lot of these meetings indeed mark the beginning of a new phase in science history. One such example was a few years back, when he brought together the luminaries on behavioral economics, just before the financial crisis plunged mainstream economics into a massive identity crisis. Or the meeting of researchers on the new science of morality, when it was noted that the widening political divides were signs of the disintegration of American society. Organizing these gatherings over summer weekends at his country farm he assumes a role that actually dates from the 17th and 18th century, when the ladies of the big salons held morning and evening meetings in their living rooms under the guise of sociability, while they were actually fostering the convergence of the key ideas of the Enlightenment.

Ever Brockman


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The artist Richard Hamilton once remarked that we only remember exhibitions that invent new rules of the game. This welcome new edition of Brockman's work is a thoroughly inspiring reminder of the fact that this observation can also be applied to books. —Hans Urich Obrist

HANS ULRICH OBRIST is the co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London. He is the author of Ways of Curating.

Hans Ulrich Obrist's Edge Bio Page

[ED. NOTE: Publication day—45 years later. This week marks the re-publication of the new and expanded e-book edition of my early trilogy. By the Late John Brockman was first published in hardcover by Macmillan in 1969, 37 in hardcover by Holt in 1971, and Afterwords, a paperback that included the first two books and a new work, in 1973. The publication of Afterwords was followed that year by a volume of essays entitled After Brockman: A Symposium, essays by artists, poets, writers, scientists about my writing. On it's publication, I stopped writing.

This 2014 e-book edition of the trilogy takes the original title, By The Late John Brockman. The following is the foreword to the new edition by Hans Ulrich Obrist. —JB]

EVER BROCKMAN (Foreword to By the Late John Brockman)

Since the 1960s, John Brockman's pioneering activities have been diverse and multidirectional, marked by a fearlessness and fluidity of thought. He has been a writer, a literary agent, a junction-maker between science and art, a curator, an avant-garde-film programmer, has worked in industry, for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and for The White House. He is also the founder of Edge Foundation and editor of, an important platform for the exchange of knowledge between different fields that aims "to arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge".

Stewart Brand has called Brockman an "intellectual enzyme … an adroit enabler of otherwise impossible things". As Brockman himself puts it, "I look to … those who through their empirical work are changing the nature of ourselves and reality, whether they are scientists or not … people who are using technology and new communications ideologies to radically reboot the whole idea of human communication." First and foremost, he is driven by the question: "Who … will take us to the epistemological crossroads where everything has to be rethought? My entire career has been in pursuit of this vision."

Central to this approach is Brockman's fundamental opposition to the separation of art and science. Instead, he sees art as science and science as art. This way of thinking beyond the boundaries is a guiding theme that defines his activities, which focus on establishing networks. He "celebrates thinking smart versus the anesthesiology of wisdom", where experts ask questions not "in front of their peers in their academic discipline or their field, [but] in front of people who are their equals in other areas." This is why, when I first met him in the summer of 1998 at his farm in Connecticut, he became one of my great inspirations, reinforcing my conviction that pooling knowledge across disciplines is the future.

In one of our many conversations over the last fifteen years, Brockman remarked that "Life is the theatre of one chance." His life and work have been greatly informed by this idea. In 1964, he met the artist and filmmaker Jonas Mekas, who was running the Film-makers' Cinematheque for underground cinema. Brockman was already working with underground film-makers, and video artists, which was at this time a revolutionary art genre. In 1965 Mekas asked him to take over the Cinematheque and to initiate an Expanded Cinema Festival there. He invited many great New York artists working in all fields, including Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman and Claes Oldenburg, to make a work integrating film for a special performance. These activities led to an invitation from leading scientists in biophysics, computation and cybernetics to bring a group of New York artists, film-makers and musicians to MIT in Cambridge Mass., for what was probably the first art-science symposium—an event that would have a lasting impact on his thinking and methods.

Social Pain


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When I think of the work on social pain, and showing that some of the same neural regions that are involved in physical pain are involved in social pain, that can be very validating for people. For anyone who's felt the pain of losing somebody or who's felt the hurt feelings that come from being ostracized or bullied, there's something very validating in seeing this scientific work that shows it's not just in our head. It is in our head because it's in our brain.


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