After Brockman

A Symposium

Abyss Publications - 1974






The San Francisco Review of Books—Cover Story


by Jay Bail


There are certain writers whose thought is so important that it doesn't matter whether you agree with them or not. A verbal tension so powerful, an ascetic appetite so huge and consuming forces us both to accept the vision as a revelation and to resist it as a duty. ...

For John Brockman is the kind of writer you both agree with and don't agree with at all. Either way you must pay a pro-found attention to what he says in this remarkable book. In short, sharp strokes of words, he breaks through the very for-est of meaning by denying meaning, eschewing traditional forms of activities, thoughts and emotions. It is not what he says that is so valuable; it is his whole manner of negating what can be said. His words backtrack on themselves, stalk their own meanings, and thrash about in the underbrush of our sensibilities. There is a total devastation of language, isolating and withering the very hands our dreams are made of.  

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by Heinz von Foerster


Afterwords undo themselves, including their precursors. Post-Wittgensteinean epistomologists first wrestled with, and are now slowly beginning to understand, the last proposition (No. 7) of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus: "Of which we cannot speak we have to remain silent". Brockman understands. Afterwords silence themselves. His last proposition (No. 292) is: "Nobody knows, and you can't find out". ...

Afterwords takes the mystery of language and puts it right back into its own mystery; that is, Afterwords ex-plains the mystery of language by taking language out ("ex-") of the plane of its mystery, so as to become visible to all before it slips back in to its plane. This in itself is a remarkable achievement that has been denied to almost all linguists, for they stick to the description of the plane without seeing that it is the plane that holds their descriptions.

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by John C. Lilly, M.D.


My debt to John Brockman is great: he taught me the essential non-existence of the screen of words. By defining, with words, the non-existence of definitions, the experience without words becomes the highest value in the hierarchy. The injunctive use of words (as in a cookbook) pointing to experience yet to be had is the only worthwhile residuum of "filmiest of screens separating ordinary reality from the non-ordinary realities inside one's inner spaces.

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by Richard Kostelanetz


What distinguishes this trilogy is not their informing hypotheses, which are familiar to various degrees, but the author's unfettered exploration of their implications.

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by Hugh Fox


    Brockman's Afterwords is the first comprehensive post-modern Primer, the only book to date which extends a guiding hand back through Modernism to the Pre-Modern where most "intellectuals" still live. Afterwords represents a practical mode of updating into the NOW. It is a book for meditation, carrying back into the cloisters and chewing on them until the cloisters themselves disappear.

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by Bern Porter


     Are not we physicists still bombarding the spaces between the subdivisions of identifiable matter with gigantic electron accelerators? Hoping to get through?...

     Brockman, alone on the other side, in that quiet there, quiet because he is the only one there, can hope the rest of us may yet make it.

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by Alan Sondheim


   John Brockman's work is the newspaper of consciousness. It is frankly, enormously important on a number of different levels. I shall try to make some of these clear in this article.

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by Michael Perkins


[Brockman] is fact's razor, cutting away everything — everything — knowledge, meaning, emotion, that we have let grow around us to keep out the cold of nothingness. If he follows his own lines, there is nothing left for him to say, but like Beckett, I suppose he will go on writing. Ideally, as in Zen, his ideas would be demonstrated, but unspoken. It won't be difficult for future critics to find his weak spots- the attention-getting anger, the simplistic generalizations which sometimes dominate a page—but I doubt that anyone who reads him with understanding will be able to escape his thinking.

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Molly Crockett: "The Neuroscience of Moral Decision Making"


  • Conversations

Imagine we could develop a precise drug that amplifies people's aversion to harming others; on this drug you won't hurt a fly, everyone taking it becomes like Buddhist monks. Who should take this drug? Only convicted criminals—people who have committed violent crimes? Should we put it in the water supply? These are normative questions. These are questions about what should be done. I feel grossly unprepared to answer these questions with the training that I have, but these are important conversations to have between disciplines.

L.A. Paul: "The Transformative Experience"


  • Conversations

We're going to pretend that modern-day vampires don't drink the blood of humans; they're vegetarian vampires, which means they only drink the blood of humanely farmed animals. You have a one-time-only chance to become a modern-day vampire. You think, "This is a pretty amazing opportunity, do I want to gain immortality, amazing speed, strength, and power? But do I want to become undead, become an immortal monster and have to drink blood?

David Rand: "How Do You Change People's Minds About What Is Right And Wrong?"


  • Conversations

There are often future consequences for your current behavior. You can't just do whatever you want because if you are selfish now, it'll come back to bite you. In order for any of that to work, though, it relies on people caring about you being cooperative. There has to be a norm of cooperation. The important question then, in terms of trying to understand how we get people to cooperate and how we increase social welfare, is this: Where do these norms come from and how can they be changed?

Hugo Mercier: "Toward The Seamless Integration Of The Sciences"


  • Conversations

One of the great things about cognitive science is that it allowed us to continue that seamless integration of the sciences, from physics, to chemistry, to biology, and then to the mind sciences, and it's been quite successful at doing this in a relatively short time. But on the whole, I feel there's still a failure to continue this thing towards some of the social sciences such as, anthropology, to some extent, and sociology or history that still remain very much shut off from what some would see as progress, and as further integration. 

The Myth Of AI


  • Conversations

The idea that computers are people has a long and storied history. It goes back to the very origins of computers, and even from before. There's always been a question about whether a program is something alive or not since it intrinsically has some kind of autonomy at the very least, or it wouldn't be a program.

Entwined Fates


  • Conversations

It's a very interdisciplinary subject, there's no question about that. As I've said, a community of fate is about evoking norms and beliefs about the way in which the world works. That was part of what the great capacity of the leadership was—to change people's beliefs about whether they could do something and change something. The notion of beliefs of that sort comes from economics, comes from Bayesianism, comes from philosophy, comes from psychology.

Edgies on Extinction

Part II: Edge, Live in London 2014


Molly Crockett introduces and moderates an event of four 10-minute talks by Helena Cronin, Jennifer Jacquet, Steve Jones, and Chiara Marletto, followed by a discussion joined by Hans Ulrich Obrist, and John Brockman. 


HANS ULRICH OBRIST: When we spoke with John Brockman about the Extinction Marathon he suggested, as a second part—as I mentioned in previous marathons we got the Edge community to realize maps and different formulas, and John thought today it would be wonderful to do a panel with UK based scientists who are part of the Edge community. We are extremely delighted that we now will have four presentations by Helena Cronin, by Chiara Marletto, by Jennifer Jacquet, and by Steve Jones. We welcome Steve Jones back to the Serpentine because he was part of the 2007 Experiment Marathon with Olafur Eliasson. The entire panel will be introduced by Molly Crockett. Molly is an associate professor for experimental psychology and fellow of Jesus college at the University of Oxford. She holds a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Cambridge and a B.S. in neuroscience from UCLA. Dr. Crockett studies the neuroscience and psychology of altruism, of morality, and self-control. Her work has been published in many top academic journals including Science, PNAS, and also Neuron. Molly Crockett will now introduce Helena, Chiara, Jennifer, and Steve. We then, together with Molly and all the speakers and John, give a panel after that.

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. ...

... 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

There is a new fundamental theory of physics that's called constructor theory, and was proposed by David Deutsch who pioneered the theory of the universe of quantum computer. David and I are working this theory together. The fundamental idea in this theory is that we forumlate all laws of physics in terms of what tasks are possible, what are impossible, and why. In this theory we have an exact physical characterization of an object that has those properties, and we call that knowledge. Note that knowledge here means knowledge without knowing the subject, as in the thoery of knowledge of the philosopher, Karl Popper.

We’ve just come to the conclusion that the fact that extinction is possible means that knowledge can be instantiated in our physical world. In fact, extinction is the very process by which that knowledge is disabled in its ability to remain instantiated in physical systems because there are problems that it cannot solve. With any luck that bit of knowledge can be replaced with a better one. ... 

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

I dream about the sea cow or imagine what they would be like to see in the wild, but the case of the Pinta Island giant tortoise was a particularly strange feeling for me personally because I had spent many afternoons in the Galapagos Islands when I was a volunteer with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Lonesome George’s den with him. If any of you visited the Galapagos, you know that you can even feed the giant tortoises that are in the Charles Darwin Research Station. This is Lonesome George here.
He lived to a ripe old age but failed, as they pointed out many times, to reproduce. Just recently, in 2012, he died, and with him the last of his species. He was couriered to the American Museum of Natural History and taxidermied there. A couple weeks ago his body was unveiled. This was the unveiling that I attended, and at this exact moment in time I can say that I was feeling a little like I am now: nervous and kind of nauseous, while everyone else seemed calm. I wasn’t prepared to see Lonesome George. Here he is taxidermied, looking out over Central Park, which was strange as well. At that moment realized that I knew the last individual of this species to go extinct. That presents this strange predicament for us to be in in the 21st century—this idea of conspicuous extinction. ...

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

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 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

[Return to "Edge: Live, in London 2014"]

DE-EXTINCTION: Stewart Brand & Richard Prum with Hans Ulrich Obrist and & Brockman

Part I: Edge, Live in London 2014



STEWART BRAND is the Founder of the "The Whole Earth Catalog" and Co-founder of The Long Now Foundation and Revive and Restore; Author, Whole Earth DisciplineStewart Brand's Edge Bio Page

RICHARD PRUM is an Evolutionary Ornithologist at Yale University, where he is the Curator of Ornithology and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. He is working on a book about duck sex, aesthetic evolution, and the origin of beauty. Richard Prum's Edge Bio Page

HANS ULRICH OBRIST: We are very, very delighted to now introduce the next section. It’s a whole entire section. We call it the Edge-Serpentine section. It’s our long-time, long-term collaboration with John Brockman. We’re incredibly grateful for John. Ever since the Experiment Marathon in 2007, we have regular collaborations between the Serpentine marathons and Edge. In 2007, with Experiment Marathon and Olafur Eliasson, we asked the participants to come up with a formula for the 21st century and John Brockman asked the entire Edge community to do so, and it created a wonderful collaboration.

We have an entire section guest curated by John, bridging our marathon to science. We are very, very delighted that this continues here today, for the first time, not only with one section, but with two sections. John suggested for the Extinction Marathon, first of all, a conversation between Stewart Brand and Richard Prum, which he and I will moderate. Then we’d have a second chapter, which will involve different scientists who are part of the Edge community: Chiara Marletto, Helena Cronin, Steve Jones, Jennifer Jacquet, and also Molly Crockett, who will be in conversation and also make presentations connected to the topic of extinction.

John Brockman is a cultural impresario who has worked in the art world with science, with software, and the Internet. In the ‘60s he coined the word  "intermedia" and pioneered the notion of intermedia connecting environments in art, theater, and commerce. It’s very interesting that in 2014 his seminal book, By the Late John Brockman, has been re-edited and re-published and exists now as an e-book, and soon is also again available as a printed book. In ’73, Brockman founded Brockman, Inc., the literary agency, and then in ’96 he founded the nonprofit Edge Foundation. He is the publisher and the editor of Edge: "To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge" as he always says. We really believe Edge is one of the great platforms to go beyond the fear of scientific knowledge, which, as you know, is also what the marathons try to do.

John invited Stewart Brand. Stewart doesn't need an introduction. He is one of the most well-known, great thinkers of our time. He finds things and found things. He’s the co-founder of Revive and Restore, the serial inventor of so many, many things he's founded. It’s a long list: The Long Now Foundation, The Well, the Global Business Network. He’s also the founder and editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, which is a very big inspiration for the art world. Recently there has been an exhibition in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, which completely was inspired by The Whole Earth Catalog. He’s also one of the co-founders of the Clock of the Long Now, which is also a book. His many books include also the Whole Earth Discipline, How Buildings Learn and The Media Lab. He is trained as a biologist and, as he told me earlier today very importantly, also as an ecologist at Stanford, and we are very excited that he is here.

We are also very excited that John invited Richard Prum, who is the William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology at Yale University, and the Curator of Ornithology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. His research interests include avian evolution, mating behavior, song, feather evolution, and also development as well as mate choice. He has conducted fieldwork throughout the world, and he is currently working on a book on the aesthetic evolution. Together with Brand and Prum and John Brockman we will now be discussing the topic of de-extinction. Please give a very, very warm welcome to John Brockman, to Stewart Brand, to Richard Prum.


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