On Edge

On Edge

Foreword to "The Last Unknowns"
Daniel Kahneman [5.22.19]

Introduction

On June 4th, HarperCollins is publishing the final book in the Edge Annual Question series entitled The Last Unknowns: Deep, Elegant, Profound Unanswered Questions About the Universe, the Mind, the Future of Civilization, and the Meaning of Life. I am pleased to publish the foreword to the book by Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, and a frequent participant in Edge events (presenter of the first Edge Master Class on "Thinking About Thinking" in 2007;  co-presenter, with colleagues Richard Thaler and Sendhil Mullainathan, of the second Master Class, "A Short Course in Behavioral Economics" in 2008. Below, please find Daniel Kahneman's foreword to The Last Unknowns and the table of contents of the 282 contributors. Thanks to all for your support and attention in this interesting and continuing group endeavor.   

John Brockman
Editor, Edge


ON EDGE
by Daniel Kahneman

It seems like yesterday, but Edge has been up and running for twenty-two years. Twenty-two years in which it has channeled a fast-flowing river of ideas from the academic world to the intellectually curious public. The range of topics runs from the cosmos to the mind and every piece allows the reader at least a glimpse and often a serious look at the intellectual world of a thought leader in a dynamic field of science. Presenting challenging thoughts and facts in jargon-free language has also globalized the trade of ideas across scientific disciplines. Edge is a site where anyone can learn, and no one can be bored.

The statistics are awesome: The Edge conversation is a "manuscript" of close to 10 million words, with nearly 1,000 contributors whose work and ideas are presented in more than 350 hours of video, 750 transcribed conversations, and thousands of brief essays. And these activities have resulted in the publication of 19 printed volumes of short essays and lectures in English and in foreign language editions throughout the world.

The public response has been equally impressive: Edge's influence is evident in its Google Page Rank of  "8", the same as The Atlantic, The Economist, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, in the enthusiastic reviews in major general-interest outlets, and in the more than 700,000 books sold. 

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the increasingly eager participation of scientists in the Edge enterprise. And a surprise: brilliant scientists can also write brilliantly! Answering the Edge question evidently became part of the annual schedule of many major figures in diverse fields of research, and the steadily growing number of responses is another measure of the growing influence of the Edge phenomenon. Is now the right time to stop? Many readers and writers will miss further installments of the annual Edge question—they should be on the lookout for the next form in which the Edge spirit will manifest itself.

What is the secret of Edge’s success? To begin with, the charisma of John Brockman, its founder and leader. Add to that his eclectic but discerning taste in the choice of participants. The two major formats of Edge activities are no less important. The interviews are edited to make the interviewer invisible. Masking the questioner is not new, but remarkable skill is required to elicit both clarity and depth in seamless expositions of the participants’ ideas. Edge interviews read and sound like coherently constructed informal lectures—a surprising feat when the flow of the content is entirely driven by the interviewer’s questions.

The short-essay format of the Edge Annual Question is a daring innovation and a striking success. Apparently, 600-1,000 words is the sweet spot for introducing one big idea. The brevity disciplines the author and allows the reader to grasp the essential point—and to remain hungry for more even as she moves to another essay.

The unifying message in the story of Edge is that ideas matter, and they matter to many. They can be told with elegance, sometimes with wit, never with condescension. There is a large audience eager to learn what scientists in various disciplines are up to, and a large group of scientist-teachers eager to tell their stories. And certainly, there will be more stories.

~~

DANIEL KAHNEMAN is Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus, Princeton University, and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. He is the winner of the 2013 Presidential Medal of Honor, and the recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Daniel Kahneman’s Edge Bio Page.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Scott Aaronson • Anthony Aguirre • Dorsa Amir • Alun Anderson • Chris Anderson • Ross Anderson • Samuel Arbesman • Dan Ariely • Noga Arikha  • W. Brian Arthur • Scott Atran • Joscha Bach • Mahzarin Banaji • Simon Baron-Cohen • Lisa Feldman Barrett • Andrew Barron • Thomas A. Bass • Mary Catherine Bateson • Gregory Benford • Laura Betzig • Susan Blackmore • Alan S. Blinder • Paul Bloom • Giulio Boccaletti • Ian Bogost • Joshua Bongard • Nick Bostrom • Stewart Brand • Rodney A. Brooks • David M. Buss • Philip Campbell • Jimena Canales • Christopher Chabris • David Chalmers • Leo M. Chalupa • Ashvin Chhabra • Jaeweon Cho • Nicholas A. Christakis • Brian Christian • David Christian • George Church • Andy Clark • Julia Clarke • Tyler Cowen • Jerry A. Coyne • James Croak • Molly Crockett • Helena Cronin • Oliver Scott Curry • David Dalrymple • Kate Darling • Luca De Biase • Stanislas Dehaene • Daniel C. Dennett • Emanuel Derman • David Deutsch • Keith Devlin • Jared Diamond • Chris Dibona • Rolf Dobelli • P. Murali Doraiswamy • Freeman Dyson • George Dyson • David M. Eagleman • David Edelman • Nick Enfield • Brian Eno • Juan Enriquez • Dylan Evans • Daniel L. Everett • Christine Finn • Stuart Firestein • Helen Fisher • Steve Fuller • Howard Gardner • David C. Geary • James Geary • Amanda Gefter • Neil Gershenfeld • Asif A. Ghazanfar • Steve Giddings • Gerd Gigerenzer • Bruno Giussani • Joel Gold • Nigel Goldenfeld  • Rebecca Newberger Goldstein • Daniel Goleman • Alison Gopnik • John Gottman • Jonathan Gottschall • William Grassie • Kurt Gray  • A.C. Grayling • Tom Griffiths • June Gruber • Jonathan Haidt • David Haig • Hans Halvorson • Timo Hannay • Judith Rich Harris • Sam Harris • Daniel Haun • Marti Hearst • Dirk Helbing • César Hidalgo • Roger Highfield • W. Daniel Hillis • Michael Hochberg • Donald D. Hoffman • Bruce Hood • Daniel Hook • John Horgan • Sabine Hossenfelder • Nicholas Humphrey • Marco Iacoboni  • Isabel Behncke Izquierdo • Nina Jablonski • Matthew O. Jackson • Jennifer Jacquet • Dale W. Jamieson • Koo Jeong-A • Lorraine Justice • Gordon Kane • Stuart A. Kauffman • Brian G. Keating • Paul Kedrosky • Kevin Kelly • Gary Klein • Jon Kleinberg • Brian Knutson • Bart Kosko • Stephen M. Kosslyn  • John W. Krakauer • Kai Krause • Andrian Kreye • Coco Krumme • Joseph Ledoux • Cristine H. Legare • Martin Lercher • Margaret Levi • Janna Levin • Andrei Linde • Antony Garrett Lisi • Mario Livio • Seth Lloyd • Tania Lombrozo • Jonathan B. Losos • Greg Lynn • Ziyad Marar • Gary Marcus • John Markoff • Chiara Marletto • Abigail Marsh • Barnaby Marsh • John C. Mather • Tim Maudlin • Annalena Mcafee • Michael Mccullough • Ian Mcewan • Ryan Mckay • Hugo Mercier • Thomas Metzinger • Yuri Milner • Read Montague • Dave Morin • Lisa Mosconi • David G. Myers • Priyamvada Natarajan • John Naughton • Randolph Nesse • Richard Nisbett • Tor Nørretranders • Michael I. Norton • Martin Nowak • Hans Ulrich Obrist • James J. O’donnell • Steve Omohundro • Toby Ord • Tim O’reilly • Gloria Origgi • Mark Pagel • Elaine Pagels • Bruce Parker • Josef Penninger • Irene Pepperberg • Clifford Pickover • Steven Pinker • David Pizarro • Robert Plomin • Jordan Pollack • Alex Poots • Carolyn Porco • William Poundstone • William H. Press • Robert R. Provine • Matthew Putman • David C. Queller • Sheizaf Rafaeli • Vilayanur Ramachandran • Lisa Randall • S. Abbas Raza • Syed Tasnim Raza • Martin Rees • Ed Regis • Diana Reiss • Jennifer Richeson • Gianluigi Ricuperati • Matthew Ritchie • Siobhan Roberts • Andrés Roemer • Phil Rosenzweig • Carlo Rovelli • Douglas Rushkoff • Karl Sabbagh • Todd C. Sacktor • Paul Saffo • Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran • Buddhini Samarasinghe • Scott Sampson • Laurie R. Santos • Robert Sapolsky • Dimitar D. Sasselov • Roger Schank • René Scheu • Maximilian Schich • Simone Schnall • Bruce Schneier • Peter Schwartz • Gino Segre • Charles Seife • Terrence J. Sejnowski • Michael Shermer • Olivier Sibony • Laurence C. Smith • Monica L. Smith • Lee Smolin • Dan Sperber • Maria Spiropulu • Nina Stegeman • Paul J. Steinhardt • Bruce Sterling • Stephen J. Stich • Victoria Stodden • Christopher Stringer • Seirian Sumner • Leonard Susskind • Jaan Tallinn • Timothy Taylor • Max Tegmark • Richard H. Thaler • Frank Tipler • Eric Topol • Sherry Turkle • Barbara Tversky • Michael Vassar • J. Craig Venter • Athena Vouloumanos • D. A. Wallach • Adam Waytz • Bret Weinstein • Eric R. Weinstein • Albert Wenger • Geoffrey West • Thalia Wheatley • Tim White • Linda Wilbrecht • Frank Wilczek • Jason Wilkes • Evan Williams • Alexander Wissner-Gross • Milford H. Wolpoff • Richard Wrangham • Elizabeth Wrigley-Field • Richard Saul Wurman • Victoria Wyatt • Itai Yanai • Dustin Yellin • Eliezer S. Yudkowsky • Dan Zahavi • Anton Zeilinger • Carl Zimmer



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