• MIND

BANAJI: What is remarkable about this test, which is called the Implicit Association Test—the IAT—is that it allows you to be a subject in your own experiment. Most scientists do not have the remarkable experience of being the object of study in their own research.



BANAJI: What is remarkable about this test, which is called the Implicit Association Test—the IAT—is that it allows you to be a subject in your own experiment. Most scientists do not have the remarkable experience of being the object of study in their own research.

GREENWALD: The IAT provides a useful window into some otherwise difficult-to-detect contents of our minds. In some cases, we find things we did not know were there. It may be "an inconvenient truth" that what's there is not what we thought was there or want to be there. But I think it is generally something we can come to grips with.

[Click here to take the "PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES IAT"]

MAHZARIN BANAJI, psychologist, is Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Harvard University. ANTHONY GREENWALD is Professor of Psychology, University of Washington.

Mahzarin Banaji's Edge Bio Page
Anthony Greenwald's Edge Bio Page

[14:04 minutes]



It might seem obvious to you that contractual societies are good, modern, creative and free, whereas beehive societies reek of feudalism, fascism, and patriarchy. And, as a secular liberal I agree that contractual societies such as those of Western Europe offer the best hope for living peacefully together in our increasingly diverse modern nations (although it remains to be seen if Europe can solve its current diversity problems).

I just want to make one point, however, that should give contractualists pause: surveys have long shown that religious believers in the United States are happier, healthier, longer-lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people.

JONATHAN HAIDT is Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he does research on morality and emotion and how they vary across cultures. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

Jonathan Haidt's Edge Bio Page

THE REALITY CLUB: David Sloan Wilson, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, PZ Myers, Marc D. Hauser; Jonathan Haidt responds 

Master Class 2007: A Short Course In Thinking About Thinking


Edge Master Class 2007

Auberge du Soleil, Rutherford, CA, July 20-22, 2007

(click for slideshow)

PARTICIPANTS: Daniel Kahneman, Psychologist; Nobel Laureate, Princeton University; Sergey Brin, Founder, Google; Stewart Brand, Co-founder, Long Now Foundation, Author, How Buildings LearnGeorge Dyson, Science Historian; Author, Darwin Among the MachinesSalar Kamangar, Google; Jimmy Wales, Founder, Chair, Wikimedia Foundation (Wikipedia); George Smoot, Physicist, Nobel Laureate, Berkeley, Co-author, Wrinkles In TimeW. Daniel Hillis, Computer Scientist; Co-founder, Applied Minds; Author, The Pattern on the StoneDean Kamen, Inventor, Deka Research; Peter Diamandis, Space Entrepreneur, Founder, X Prize Foundation; Nathan Myhrvold, Physicist; Founder, Intellectual Venture, LLC; Event Photographer; Katinka Matson, Co-founder, Edge Foundation, Inc.; Jeff Bezos, Founder, Amazon.com; Larry Page, Founder, Google; John Brockman, Edge Foundation, Inc.; Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc.; Seth Lloyd, Quantum Physicist, MIT, Author, Programming The Universe;  Tim O'Reilly, Founder, O'Reilly Media;  Anne Treisman, Psychologist, Princeton University.

By John Brockman

Recently, I spent several months working closely with Danny Kahneman, the psychologist who is the co-creator of behavioral economics (with his late collaborator Amos Tversky), for which he won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002.

My discussions with him inspired a 2-day "Master Class" given by Kahneman for a group of twenty leading American business/Internet/culture innovators—a microcosm of the recently dominant sector of American business—in Napa, California in July. They came to hear him lecture on his ideas and research in diverse fields such as human judgment, decision making and behavioral economics and well-being.

Dean Kamen

Jeff Bezos

Larry Page

While Kahneman has a wide following among people who study risk, decision-making, and other aspects of human judgment, he is not exactly a household name. Yet among many of the top thinkers in psychology, he ranks at the top of the field.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness) writes: "Danny Kahneman is simply the most distinguished living psychologist in the world, bar none. 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." And according to Harvard's Steven Pinker (The Stuff of Thought): "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. 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."

Jimmy Wales

Nathan Myhrvold

Stewart Brand

Here are some examples from the national media which illustrate how Kahneman's ideas are reflected in the public conversation:

In the Economist "Happiness & Economics " issue in December, 2006, Kahneman is credited with the new hedonimetry regarding his argument that people are not as mysterious as less nosy economists supposed. "The view that hedonic states cannot be measured because they are private events is widely held but incorrect."

Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column, "Quagmire Of The Vanities" (January 8, 2007), asks if the proponents of the "surge" in Iraq are cynical or delusional. He presents Kahneman's view that "the administration's unwillingness to face reality in Iraq reflects a basic human aversion to cutting one's losses—the same instinct that makes gamblers stay at the table, hoping to break even."

His articles have been picked up by the press and written about extensively. The most recent example is Jim Holt's lede piece in The New York Times Magazine, "You are What You Expect" (January 21, 2007), an article about this year's Edge Annual Question "What Are You Optimistic About?" It was prefaced with a commentary regarding Kahneman's ideas on "optimism bias."

In Jerome Groopman's New Yorker article, "What's the trouble? How Doctors Think" (January 29, 2007), Groopman looks at a medical misdiagnosis through the prism of a heuristic called "availability," which refers to the tendency to judge the likelihood of an event by the ease with which relevant examples come to mind. This tendency was first described in 1973, in Kahneman's paper with Amos Tversky when they were psychologists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Kahneman's article (with Jonathan Renshon) "Why Hawks Win" was published in Foreign Policy (January/February 2007); Kahneman points out that the answer may lie deep in the human mind. People have dozens of decision-making biases, and almost all favor conflict rather than concession. The article takes a look at why the tough guys win more than they should. Publication came during the run up to Davis, and the article became a focus of numerous discussions and related articles.

The event was an unqualified success. As one of the attendees later wrote: "Even with the perspective a few weeks, I can still think it is one of the all time best conferences that I have ever attended."

George Smoot

Daniel Kahneman

Sergey Brin

Over a period of two days, Kahneman presided over six sessions lasting about eight hours. The entire event was videotaped as an archive. Edge is pleased to present a sampling from the event consisting of streaming video of the first 10-15 minutes of each session along with the related verbatim transcripts.


DANIEL KAHNEMAN is Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology, Princeton University, and Professor of Public Affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He is winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his pioneering work integrating insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.

Daniel Kahneman's Edge Bio Page
Daniel Kahneman's Nobel Prize Lecture



  • MIND

"As I look through the structure of the words and the structure of the sentences, it just becomes clear that they don't have recursion. If recursion is what Chomsky and Mark Hauser and Tecumseh Fitch have called 'the essential property of language', the essential building block—in fact they've gone so far as to claim that that might be all there really is to human language that makes it different from other kinds of systems—then, the fact that recursion is absent in a language — Pirahã — means that this language is fundamentally different from their predictions."



As I look through the structure of the words and the structure of the sentences, it just becomes clear that they don't have recursion. If recursion is what Chomsky and Mark Hauser and Tecumseh Fitch have called "the essential property of language," the essential building block—in fact they've gone so far as to claim that that might be all there really is to human language that makes it different from other kinds of systems—then, the fact that recursion is absent in a language—Pirahã—means that this language is fundamentally different from their predictions.

DANIEL L. EVERETT, a former evangelical Christian missionary to the Pirahãs in the Brazilian Amazon for more than 20 years, is chair of languages, literatures, and cultures and professor of linguistics and anthropology at Illinois State University. Dan Everett's Edge Bio Page

The Reality Club: Steven Pinker, Dan Everett, Robert D. Van Valin, Jr., David Pesetsky, Dan Everett

April 16, 2007

In this issue, John Colapinto reports on his visit to the Pirahã tribe in the rain forest of northwestern Brazil. Here is a portfolio of Martin Schoeller’s images of the trip, along with one of Schoeller at work, taken by his assistant, Markian Lozowchuk.


The Interpreter
John Colapinto

Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?

Dan Everett believes that Pirahã undermines Noam Chomsky’s idea of a universal grammar.

[ED. NOTE: Thanks to the New Yorker for making available the link to John Colapinto's article.]

June 10, 2007

Shaking language to the core
By Ron Grossman

NORMAL, Ill. -- To get some idea of the brouhaha currently enveloping linguists, occupants of a usually quiet corner of the ivory tower, suppose a high-school physics teacher found a hole in the theory of relativity.

Students of language consider Noam Chomsky the Einstein of their discipline. Linguistics is a very old science, but beginning in the 1950s, Chomsky so revolutionized the field that linguists refer to the time prior to his work as B.C., or before Chomsky.

They may have to add another marker: A.D., after Dan.

Daniel Everett, a faculty member at Illinois State University, has done field work among a tiny tribe in the Amazon. He reports that their obscure language lacks a fundamental characteristic that, according to Chomsky's theory, underlies all human language.

With that declaration, Everett pitted himself against a giant in the field, and modest ISU against the nation's elite universities. In the process, he drew national attention to this arcane field and enveloped scholars around the world in a battle that plays out over and over in -- this is academia, after all -- conferences and seminars. ...

June 30, 2007 

Challenging Chomsky
Universal grammar is the most important theory in linguistics. Has the language of one tribe now disproved it?

By Philip Oltermann

In 2005, the American anthropologist Daniel Everett published an article in Current Anthropology in which he presented his insights into Pirahã life, acquired over years spent living with the tribe. Pirahã culture, Everett claimed, was unique: it was totally focused on immediate experience and it lacked basic number skills, a vocabulary for colours, a past perfect tense and a creation myth....




"...little is known about the psychology of heroism. There’s a scant body of empirical literature, and most of it consists of interviews with people weeks, months, or decades after they have done a heroic deed. Much of the first work on heroism came from interviewing Christians and others who helped Jews during the Holocaust. Nobody asked the question “did anybody help?” until 20 years later. People helped in every country,where the lives of Jews were on the Nazi stake. However, the main response that researchers got during interviews with these people was, “it wasn’t special.” Regardless of what they did, or where they did it, or how they did it, these heroes typically said, “I am not a hero. I did what had to be done. I can’t imagine how anybody in that situation who wouldn’t do it.” Some of these heroes tended to be more religious than not, and tended to have parents who had been active in various kinds of causes. However, many more religious people with socially-politically active parents did nothing to help."

Introduction by Russell Weinberger

In the summer of 1971, Philip Zimbardo and his team of reseachers at Stanford University designed and conducted a landmark psychology experiment that would forever change our understanding of human behavior.  24 volunteer college students were randomly assigned to roles of prisoners or guards in a mock prison located in the basement of the psychology building at the university.  The results were shocking. Within days, the "guards" turned authoritarian and sadistic while the "prisoners" became passive and started to show signs of severe depression.  What was supposed to be a 2 week experiment had to be shut down after only six days.  

Known simply as the Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo's study is one of the most famous experiments in social psychology and remains, along with Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiments, one of the most shocking. But that was just the beginning of the story.

The results of Zimbardo’s study were clear: human nature is malleable and the wrong situation can bring out the worst in most people.  But what of the exception? What of the individual who does not succumb to the influence of environment and fights the powers that be?

Edge sat down with Zimbardo to discuss his latest thinking on the nature of heroism, where it comes from, and how it can be fostered.


PHILIP ZIMBARDO is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University. He is a founder of the National Center for the Psychology of Terrorism, and creator and co-director of The Shyness Clinic.




In a larger sense, social cognition is an extreme example of a broader issue in biology of mind, and that is social interaction in general. Even here we are beginning to make some rather remarkable progress. Cori Bargmann, a geneticist at the Rockefeller University, has studied two variants of a worm called C elegans, that differ in their feeding pattern. One variant is solitary and seeks its food alone; the other is social and forages in groups. The only difference between the two is one amino acid in an otherwise shared receptor protein. If you move the receptor from a social worm to a solitary worm, it makes the solitary worm social.


In keeping with the theme of this year's Question: "What Are You Optimistic About", Edge asked neuroscientist and Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel for a sampling of recent developments in neuroscience that inspire his optimism. "in a field as broad and as deep as neuroscience," he writes, "it is difficult to select simply four contributions. I therefore consider this a sampling of the contributions that drive my optimism rather than a true selection of the top four. Moreover, I have simplified the task by dividing the field into four areas: Molecular Neuroscience, Systems Neuroscience, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Neuroscience of Psychiatric Disease."

— JB

ERIC R. KANDEL is University Professor at Columbia University in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia and a Senior Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He is the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2000. He is the author In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.

Eric Kandel's Edge Bio Page


The Edge 10th Anniversary Essay

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.

By V.S. Ramachandran

The Edge 10th Anniversary Essay 


V.S. RAMACHANDRAN, a neuroscientist, is Director, Center for Brain and Cognition, University of California, San Diego; Author, A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, and coauthor, Phantoms in the Brain.

V.S. Ramachandran's Edge Bio Page


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