Information Gardens


On Sunday, October 16th, Edge, at the invitation of London's leading curator, and long-time collaborator, Hans Ulrich Obrist (HUO), co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, participated in The Serpentine Gallery Garden Marathon, the sixth in the Gallery’s acclaimed Marathon series. The Garden Marathon explored the concept of the garden.

[Photo: Stefano Boeri, Vertical Forest, © Stefano Boeri] 

As Obrist noted:

A product of the creative encounter between the man-made and the natural, between order and disorder, the garden can offer productive metaphors for the interactions between human life and time, care, thought or space.

The event is directly inspired by the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011, designed by Peter Zumthor. The encounter of architecture and garden creates a contemplative space that is both set within – and meditatively separated from – the wider surroundings of Kensington Gardens.

Participations will range from the fields of horticulture, design and architecture to explore the creation of gardens and their spatial, urban and scientific importance, through to works by artists and readings by poets and writers exploring the significance of the garden in our experience of the world.

Other recent collaborations between Edge and HUO have included "What is your Formula, Your Equation, Your Algorithm: Formulae for the 21st Century" in 2007. "Maps for the 21st Century" in 2010. HUO and I have also had the pleasure of writing about each other. See "Brockman's Taste for Science, or how to entertain the smartest people"  by Hans Ulrich Obrist, and "A Rule of the Game: A Talk with Hans Ulrich Obrist" on Edge. 

INFORMATION GARDENS consisted of talks by Mark Pagel, Jennifer Jacquet, and Brian Eno.

A History of Violence: Edge Master Class 2011


I am going to speak about what may the most important thing that has ever happened in human history. Violence has declined by dramatic degrees all over the world in many spheres of behavior: genocide, war, human sacrifice, torture, slavery, and the treatment of racial minorities, women, children, and animals.

STEVIN PINKER is a Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology; Harvard University. Author, The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, and The Better Angels Of Our Nature: How Violence Has Declined  (forthcoming, October 6th).

Steven Pinker's Edge Bio Page

photo credit: Max Gerber

In July, Edge held its annual Master Class in Napa, California on the theme: "The Science of Human Nature".  In the six week period that began September 12th, we are publishing the complete video, audio, and texts:  Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman on the marvels and the flaws of intuitive thinking; Harvard mathematical biologist Martin Nowak on the evolution of cooperation; Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker on the history of violence; UC-Santa Barbara evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides on the architecture of motivation; UC-Santa Barbara neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga on neuroscience and the law; and Princeton religious historian Elaine Pagels on The Book of Revelation.

For publication schedule and details, go to Edge Master Class 2011: The Science of Human Nature.

A History of Violence

STEVEN PINKER: Believe it or not—and I know most people do not—violence has been in decline over long stretches of time, and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species' existence. The decline of violence, to be sure, has not been steady; it has not brought violence down to zero (to put it mildly); and it is not guaranteed to continue. But I hope to convince you that it's a persistent historical development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars and perpetration of genocides to the spanking of children and the treatment of animals.

I'm going to present six major historical declines of violence; in each case, cite their immediate causes in terms of what historians have told us are the likely historical antecedents in that era; and then speculate on their ultimate causes, in terms of general historical forces acting on human nature.

The first major decline of violence I call the "Pacification Process." Until about five thousand years ago, humans lived in anarchy without central government. What was life like in this state of nature? This is a question that thinkers have speculated on for centuries, most prominently Hobbs, who famously said that in a state of nature "the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." A century later he was countered by Jean Jacques Rousseau, who says, "Nothing could be more gentle than man in his primitive state."

In reality, both of these gentlemen were talking through their hats:  They had no idea what life was like in a state of nature. But today we can do better, because there are two sources of evidence of what rates of violence were like in pre-state societies.

One is forensic archaeology. You can think of it as "CSI Paleolithic". What proportion of prehistoric skeletons have signs of violent trauma, such as bashed-in skulls, decapitated skeletons, femurs with bronze arrowheads embedded in them, and mummies found with ropes around their necks?

There are 20 archaeological samples that I know of for which these analyses have been done. I've plotted here the percentage of deaths due to violent trauma. They range as high as 60 percent, and the average is a little bit more than 15 percent.

Let’s compare that rate with those of modern states, and let's stack the deck against modernity by picking some of the most violent eras that we can think of. This is the United States and Europe in the 20th century. This is the entire world in the 20th century—and I've thrown in not only the wars, but also the genocides and the manmade famines. It's about three percent, compared to the 15 percent rate in pre-state societies. And here is the world in the first decade of the 21st century. The bar in the graph would be less than a pixel, about a three one-hundredths of one percent.

New Books from Edge


"We'd certainly be better off if everyone sampled the fabulous Edge symposium, which, like the best in science, is modest and daring all at once." — David Brooks, New York Times column

Future Science, edited by Max Brockman

18 original essays by the brightest young minds in science: Kevin P. Hand - Felix Warneken - William McEwan - Anthony Aguirre -Daniela Kaufer and Darlene Francis - Jon Kleinberg - Coren Apicella - Laurie R. Santos - Jennifer Jacquet - Kirsten Bomblies - Asif A. Ghazanfar - Naomi I. Eisenberger Joshua Knobe - Fiery Cushman - Liane Young - Daniel Haun - Joan Y. Chiao

"A fascinating and very readable summary of the latest thinking on human behaviour." — [More]

"Cool and thought-provoking material. ... so hip." — Washington Post

The Best of Edge: The Mind, edited by John Brockman

by Maria Popova

18 conversations and essays on the brain, memory, personality and happiness: Steven Pinker - George Lakoff - Joseph LeDoux -Geoffrey Miller - Steven Rose - Frank Sulloway - V.S. Ramachandran - Nicholas Humphrey - Philip Zimbardo - Martin Seligman -Stanislas Dehaene - Simon Baron-Cohen - Robert Sapolsky - Alison Gopnik - David Lykken - Jonathan Haidt

"For the past 15 years, literary-agent-turned-crusader-of-human-progress John Brockman has been a remarkable curator of curiosity, long before either "curator" or "curiosity" was a frivolously tossed around buzzword. His has become an epicenter of bleeding-edge insight across science, technology and beyond, hosting conversations with some of our era's greatest thinkers (and, once a year, asking them some big questions). Last month marked the release of The Mind, the first volume in The Best of Edge Series, presenting eighteen provocative, landmark pieces—essays, interviews, transcribed talks—from the Edge archive. The anthology reads like a who's who ... across psychology, evolutionary biology, social science, technology, and more. And, perhaps equally interestingly, the tome—most of the materials in which are available for free online—is an implicit manifesto for the enduring power of books as curatorial capsules of ideas."

"(A) treasure chest ... A coffer of cutting-edge contemporary thought, The Mind contains the building blocks of tomorrow's history book—whatever medium they may come in—and invites a provocative peer forward as we gaze back at some of the most defining ideas of our time." [More]

The Best of Edge: Culture, edited by John Brockman

by Maria Popova

17 conversations and essays on art, society, power and technology: Daniel C. Dennett - Jared Diamond - Denis Dutton - Brian Eno -Stewart Brand - George Dyson - David Gelernter - Karl Sigmund - Jaron Lanier - Nicholas A. Christakis - Douglas Rushkoff Evgeny Morozov - Clay Shirky - W. Brian Arthur - W. Daniel Hillis - Richard Foreman - Frank Schirrmacher

"We've already ravished The Mind -- the first in a series of anthologies by editor John Brockman, curating 15 years' worth of the most provocative thinking on major facets of science, culture, and intellectual life. On its trails comes Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Societies, Art, Power, and Technologya treasure chest of insight true to the promise of its title. From the origin and social purpose of art to how technology shapes civilization to the Internet as a force of democracy and despotism, the 17 pieces exude the kind of intellectual inquiry and cultural curiosity that give progress its wings. (A) lavish cerebral feast ... one of this year's most significant time-capsules of contemporary thought." [More]

Sci Foo 2011

Googleplex, Mountain View, California — August 12-14, 2011

Sing, O Muse, of my wanderings at Google, where I encountered strange ideas, heros and demigods, at Sci Foo 2011.  
— Frank Wilczek, Recipient, Nobel Prize in Physics (2004)

The sixth annual Science Foo Camp (Sci Foo) was held August 12-14 at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, organized and sponsored by the interesting consortium of Nature, Google, and O'Reilly Media. "Foo" Camp is an idea originated by Tim O'Reilly. It stands for "Friends of O'Reilly." At Sci Foo, about 200 leading scientists, technologists, writers, and other thought-leaders gather for a weekend of unbridled discussion, demonstration, and debate. For a sense of what goes on, check out previous Edge reports: Sci Foo—2007 by George Dyson,  A Slice of Sci Foo—2008 by Frank Wilczek, Sci Foo 2009 and Sci Foo Photo Album—2009.  

Sci Foo is different from all the other sci-tech-digerati conferences that have proliferated. In terms of signal to noise ratio for a conference, it's the cleanest signal you can find: everybody you meet, look at, talk to, listen to, is someone you want to know, someone you should know. It's unique in that regard, and it's the best couple of days of the year for most of the people that are fortunate enough to be invited to attend. There's a spirit, an energy, and ebulliance from all concerned about the scientific enterprise.

So who are these characters? I was able to corral a few dozen of them and ask them to ...

"Ask the question you are asking yourself. You have one minute."

Google's Open Sourcerer and Sci-Foo co-organizer, Chris Dibona and 30 other Sci-Foo attendees answer.

Martin ReesPresident Emeritus, The Royal Society; Professor of Cosmology & Astrophysics; Master, Trinity College, University of Cambridge; Author, Our Final Century: The 50/50 Threat to Humanity's Survival ; Hans Ulrich ObristCurator, Serpentine Gallery, London; Editor: A Brief History of Curating; Formulas for Now; Vittorio Bo,Director, Festival Della Scienzia, Genova; Nicholas Pritzker, Chairman of the Board and CEO of the Hyatt Development Corporation; George DysonScience Historian; Author, Darwin Among the Machines; Project Orion;Larry Brilliant, President of the Skoll Urgent Threats Fund and Senior Adviser to Jeff SkollJonathan Schooler, Professor of Psychology, University of California Santa BarbraJuan EnriquezCEO, Biotechonomy; was Founding Director, Harvard Business School's Life Sciences Project; Author,The Unti, States of America; Philip Campbell, Editor-in Chief, NatureStewart BrandFounder, The Whole Earth Catalog; Cofounder, Chairman, The Long Now Foundation; Author, Whole Earth Discipline ; Frank Wilczek. Herman Feshbach Professor of Physics, MIT; Recipient, Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004; Author, The Lightness of Being;Cat AllmanGoogle’s open source Programs Office, Co-Organizer of SciFooJennifer JacquetPostdoctoral Researcher, Fisheries Centre/Department of Mathematics, University of British Columbia;Mariette DiChristinaEditor in Chief, Scientific AmericanChris DibonaOpen Source and Public Sector, GoogleAlex O. HolcombeSenior Lecturer, University of Sydney; Australian Research Council Future FellowLinda StoneHi-Tech Industry Consultant; Former Executive at Apple Computer and Microsoft Corporation Seth ShostakSenior Astronomer, SETI InstituteCharles SeifeProfessor of Journalism, New York University; formerly journalist, Science magazine; Author, Proofiness ; Michael Vassar,President, Singularity InstituteDavid PizarroPsychologist, Cornell University; Researcher in Moral Judgment;Debbie CachraAssociate Professor of Materials Science, Franklin W Olin College of EngineeringTim O'Reilly,Founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, Inc.Dan ArielyCenter for advanced hindsight, Duke University; James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University; Author, The Upside of Irrationality; Saul GriffithChief Scientist, Other LabManu PrakashAssistant Professor, Bioengineering, Stanford ; Lisa RandallPhysicist, Harvard University; Author, Warped Passages; Alison GopnikPsychologist, UC, Berkeley; Author,The Philosophical Baby ; Eric Weinstein, Mathematician and Economist; Principal, Natron GroupEsther DysonCatalyst, Information Technology Startups, EDventure Holdings; Former Chariman,Electronic Frontier Foundation and ICANN; Author: Release 2.1; Max TegmarkPhysicist, MIT; Researcher, Precision Cosmology; Scientific Director, Foundational Questions InstituteSean CarrollTheoretical Physicist, Caltech; Author, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time; Jennifer Ouellette, Science Writer.

NYU researcher Jennifer Jacquet studies cooperation and the tragedy of the commons.

Several Edge contributors at Sci Foo documented their impressions of the conference. Here are reports from  Frank Wilczek, Jennifer Jacquet, and Timo Hannay

The Local-Global Flip, or, "The Lanier Effect"



"If you aspire to use computer network power to become a global force through shaping the world instead of acting as a local player in an unfathomably large environment, when you make that global flip, you can no longer play the game of advantaging the design of the world to yourself and expect it to be sustainable. The great difficulty of becoming powerful and getting close to a computer network is: Can people learn to forego the temptations, the heroin-like rewards of being able to reform the world to your own advantage in order to instead make something sustainable?"

The Local-Global Flip, or, "The Lanier Effect"



"If you aspire to use computer network power to become a global force through shaping the world instead of acting as a local player in an unfathomably large environment, when you make that global flip, you can no longer play the game of advantaging the design of the world to yourself and expect it to be sustainable. The great difficulty of becoming powerful and getting close to a computer network is: Can people learn to forego the temptations, the heroin-like rewards of being able to reform the world to your own advantage in order to instead make something sustainable?"

"I strongly urge you to read this truly epic interview with Jaron Lanier at Edge. ... It's an extraordinary interview, packed with insight and often grimly funny." Matt Zoller Seitz,

"Fascinating conversation with Jaron Lanier, influential computer scientist. On economics of the Internet – implications of networked technology, destruction of middle class and dark side of new media". — Writing Worth Reading, The

by John Brockman

We used to think that information is power and that the personal computer enabled lives. But, according to Jaron Lanier, things changed about ten years ago. He cites Apple, Google, and Walmart as some of the reasons.

In a freewheeling hour-long conversation, Lanier touches on, and goes beyond the themes he launched in his influential 2006 Edge essay "Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism." What he terms "The Local-Global Flip" might be better expressed as "The Lanier Effect". 


[57:52 minutes]



Subscribe to RSS - CULTURE