Edge 182 — May 22, 2006
(4,500 words)



THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS [5.22.06]
A Talk with Daniel Gilbert


[enlarge]
Q: Why is this man happy? (A: He married up.)

Marilynn Oliphant & Daniel Gilbert

When people think of "science," they naturally think of atoms, planets, robots — things they can touch and see. They know that subjective experiences such as happiness are important, but they believe that such experiences can't be studied scientifically. That belief is dead wrong.

DANIEL GILBERT is he Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of Harvard's Hedonic Psychology Laboratory.

He is the author of the recently published Stumbling on Happiness.

DANIEL GILBERT'S Edge Bio Page

[continue]


GÖDEL IN A NUTSHELL [5.14.06]
By Verena Huber-Dyson

The essence of Gödel's incompleteness theorem is that you cannot have both completeness and consistency. A bold anthropomorphic conclusion is that there are three types of people; those that must have answers to everything; those that panic in the face of inconsistencies; and those that plod along taking the gaps of incompleteness as well as the clashes of inconsistencies in stride if they notice them at all, or else they succumb to the tragedy of the human condition.

[continue]


THE NEW VIEW [5.19.06]
The Opening Of The 24/7 New York City Apple Store Viewed From the Terrace at Edge Global Headquarters at Grand Army Plaza

The Good News:
Jobs' impeccable design sense comes to New York


[enlarge]

The Bad News:
There goes the neighborhood?

[enlarge]



Nathan Myhrvold, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jurvetson, Linda Stone,
Steve Lohr, John C. Dvorak, Jaron Lanier

[continue]



[5.29.06]
Ideas: Intelligent Defense
By Jerry Adler

May 29, 2006 issue - Why, of all the assertions of modern science, does evolution by natural selection attract the most dissent? As the philosopher Daniel Dennett points out, Darwin's theory is no more implausible than the claim by quantum mechanics that an electron can appear to be in two places at once, yet physicists don't have to endlessly explain and justify their theories to a skeptical public. Dennett's answer is that natural selection, "by executing God's traditional task of designing and creating all creatures great and small, also seems to deny one of the best reasons we have for believing in God's existence." Which should leave no one in doubt about the source of the attack on Darwinism in the guise of intelligent design: it comes from religion.

The intelligent-design movement suffered a political setback last December when a federal judge ordered a Pennsylvania school district to stop talking about it in high school, but it lives on as an idea, to the bemusement and occasional frustration of most serious scientists. Sixteen of them, including Dennett, contributed essays in defense of evolution to a small anthology called "Intelligent Thought," published last week. It was compiled by John Brockman, better known as the editor of the Web site edge.org, the thinking man's Drudge Report. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins deconstructs the claim by ID proponents that the "designer" could be an intelligent alien rather than God, and psychologist Steven Pinker shows how moral sensibility can arise by way of natural selection. "Evolutionary biology certainly hasn't explained everything that perplexes biologists," Dennett concludes, "but Intelligent Design hasn't yet tried to explain anything at all."

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[5.18.06]
Eyeballing the new 24/7 Apple store in NY
By Xeni Jardin

It's just an empty glass box now, but this site will become the world's most powerful nerd magnet tomorrow. Expect to see geeks flying through the air towards it, whoosh! over Manhattan, like steel dust drawn to a neodymium disc. Many thanks to literary uber-agent John Brockman for the photo. Link to full-size (jpeg). Steve Jurvetson has some thoughts about it here.

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Volume 6, Issue 4 [Summer 2006]
The Genius's Genius

Intellectuals are not just people who know things, but people who shape the thoughts of their generation...


Edge is not so much the "Internet as highbrow cocktail party," as it is the "Internet as Center for Advanced Studies." Here, Brockman and the
leading thinkers in a raft of scientific and social disciplines exchange ideas and build theories…and we get to watch.

Brockman has both a new book slated for spring release and another just out in paperback. The first, Intelligent Thought: Science Versus The Intelligent Design Movement, is a collection of essays discussing the merits — or lack thereof — of intelligent design at a time when courts, statehouses, and family dinner tables are given over to the controversy. He has gathered an impressive list of thinkers (fresh from the Edge's roster) including the aforementioned Dennett and Dawkins, as well as Frank J. Sulloway, Stuart A. Kauffman, and Steven Pinker to
discuss evolution, "much more than a foundational concept of a scientist's
work," but "a thing of beauty, grandeur, and significance."

His other book, What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers On Science In The Age Of Certainty , grew out of his annual custom of asking a provocative question of 100 leading thinkers, in this case soliciting micro-essays about the personal theories his respondents cannot demonstrate with certainty. The book walks an interesting line — since most of the writers are scientists, there is some trepidation and reluctance about offering beliefs that, by definition, cannot be proven. Still, Brockman's colleagues come through with flying colors, addressing everything from economic inequality to free will.

Brockman's work has been to midwife the best work of others and to get it out to the rest of us. "There is a new set of metaphors to describe ourselves, our minds, the universe, and all of the things we know in it, and it is the intellectuals with these new ideas and images — those scientists doing things and writing their own books — who drive our times," he has written. Brockman may not be a scientist himself, but he is that rare creature — a synthesizer, a salon host, and a genius's genius.

[...continue]


 


When people think of "science," they naturally think of atoms, planets, robots — things they can touch and see. They know that subjective experiences such as happiness are important, but they believe that such experiences can't be studied scientifically. That belief is dead wrong.

THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS [5.22.06]
A Talk with Daniel Gilbert


[enlarge]
Q: Why is this man happy? (A: He married up.)

Marilynn Oliphant & Daniel Gilbert

Introduction by John Brockman

Dan Gilbert doesn't have an instruction manual that tells you how to be happy in four easy steps and one hard one. Nor is he the kind of thinker who needs Freud, Marx, and Modernism to explain the human condition.

Gilbert, the Director of Harvard's Hedonic Psychology Laboratory, is a scientist who explores what philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral economics have to teach us about how, and how well the human brain can imagine its own future, and about how, and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy.

Below he talks about a wide range of matters that include how we measure a person's subjective emotional experience; the role of "positive hedonic experience"; science as an attempt to replace qualitative distinctions with quantitative distinctions; the role negative emotions play in our lives; the costs of variety; and the need to abandon the romantic notion that human unhappiness results from the loss of our primal innocence.

JB

DANIEL GILBERT is he Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and Director of Harvard's Hedonic Psychology Laboratory.

He is the author of the recently published Stumbling on Happiness.

DANIEL GILBERT'S Edge Bio Page


THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS

(DANIEL GILBERT:) When people think of "science," they naturally think of atoms, planets, robots — things they can touch and see. They know that subjective experiences such as happiness are important, but they believe that such experiences can't be studied scientifically. That belief is dead wrong.

What does it take to study something scientifically? One word: Measurement. If you can measure something, you can study it scientifically. Can we measure a person's subjective emotional experience? You bet. People can tell you with both words and actions what they are experiencing — what they are seeing, hearing, smelling, thinking, and feeling—and these reports are the essential data on which the science of experience is built. If you don't think such reports are reliable or valid, then you should feel free to discard my research papers.

But just to be consistent, you should also discard your glasses or contact lenses, because optometry is another one of those sciences that is built entirely on people's reports of subjective experience. The one and only way for an optometrist to know what your visual experience is like is to ask you, "Does it look clearer like this or (click click) like this?"

On the basis of your answers, the optometrist is able to create a lens that corrects your vision quite precisely. Indeed, without your report of your subjective visual experience, optometry would be impossible. No "objective test" — no eye test, no blood test, and no brain test — can provide this information. In short, people can reliably report on their subjective experiences and those reports can be objectively collected and analyzed. As long as people can say how happy they are at the moment you ask them, you can build a science of happiness. In fact, there is no other way to build such a science.

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People often bristle at the suggestion that human behavior is merely an attempt to attain happiness. They offer two objections. First (they say), people care about many things other than happiness — for example, truth, justice, and the American way — and thus there is more to life than happiness. Second (they add), there are different kinds of happiness — for example, the deep, moral happiness I feel when I save starving orphans isn't the cheap, bovine happiness I feel when I save money. Both objections are wrong.

First, people clearly value many things — from the base to the sublime, from Belgian chocolate to marital fidelity — but I believe they value these things entirely because of their hedonic consequences. Plato was very clear about this when he asked us to think about what it is that makes anything good. "Are these things good for any other reason except that they end in pleasure, and get rid of and avert pain? Are you looking to any other standard but pleasure and pain when you call them good?" I'm with the guy in the toga on this score. To my mind, "positive hedonic experience" is what valuing means. We can't say what's good without saying what it is good for, and if you look at all the many things people think are good, you will notice they are all good for making people happy.

The second argument is also wrong. Yes, the experience of saving money is not the same as the experience of saving orphans. But both experiences can be described as a set of locations on multiple dimensions, and one of those dimensions is happiness. The two experiences give rise to different amounts of happiness, but not different kinds. The reason the experiences feel so different is that they entail different amounts of happiness as well as different amounts of everything else.

This sounds like a semantic abstraction, and it isn't. It is a deeply important point. Science is an attempt to replace qualitative distinctions with quantitative distinctions. Once upon a time there were two kinds — hot and cold — and it was a huge breakthrough when scientists realized that these two kinds were simply manifestations of different amounts of molecular motion. The same was true when scientists realized that oxygen and iron were not different kinds of stuff, but rather, were different amounts of stuff, namely, protons, neutrons, and electrons. Similarly, different subjective experiences contain different amounts of happiness, which is a basic dimension or basic ingredient of experience. Experiences that have different amounts of happiness can feel as different as air and iron, as different as hot and cold. But if orphan-saving and money-saving feel different, that fact does not invalidate my claim any more than the different rigidities of iron and air invalidates atomic theory.

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For the last decade I've been obsessed with one problem: How well can the human brain predict the sources of its own future satisfaction? If the answer were "Very well, thank you," then I'd be out of a job. Research suggests that I will be employed for a long time to come.

We are often quite poor at predicting what will make us happy in the future for two reasons. First, we have been given a lot of disinformation about happiness by two sources: Genes and culture. Both genes and cultures are self-perpetuating entities that need us to do things for them so that they can survive. Because we are interested in our own happiness and not theirs, both entities fool us into believing that's what is good for them is also good for us. We believe that having children will make us happy, that  consuming goods and services will make us happy. But the data show that money has minor and rapidly diminishing effects on happiness, and that parents are generally happier watching TV or doing housework than interacting with their children.

So what happens if we try to disregard the genetic and cultural imperatives and just figure it all out for ourselves? What happens if we just close our eyes, imagine different possible futures, and try to decide which one would make us happiest?

My research with Tim Wilson shows that when people try to simulate future events — and to simulate their emotional reactions to those events — they make systematic errors. Modern people take the ability to imagine the future for granted, but it turns out that this is one of our species' most recently acquired abilities — no more than three million years old. The part of our brain that enables us to simulate the future is one of nature's newest inventions, so it isn't surprising that when we try to use this new ability to imagine our futures, we make some rookie errors. The main error, of course, is that we vastly overestimate the hedonic consequences of any event. Neither positive nor negative events hit us as hard or for as long as we anticipate. This "impact bias" has proved quite robust in both field and laboratory settings.

Oddly, we don't seem to learn all that much from our own experience. To learn from experience requires that we be able to remember it, and research shows that people are about as bad at remembering their past emotions as they are predicting their future emotions. That's why we make the same errors again and again. For example, in one of our studies, Democrats predicted they'd be devastated if Bush won the 2004 presidential election, and as we always find, they were not nearly as devastated as they predicted. But several months after the election, they remembered being just as devastated as they had expected to be. It turns out that this is a very common pattern of memory errors. Retrospection and prospection share many of the same biases and hence reinforce each other.

_____________________

You may think that it would be good to feel happy at all times, but we have a word for animals that never feel distress, anxiety, fear, and pain: That word is dinner.

Negative emotions have important roles to play in our lives because when people think about how terribly wrong things might go and find themselves feeling angry or afraid, they take actions to make sure that things go terribly right instead. Just as we manipulate our children and our employees by threatening them with dire consequences, so too do we manipulate ourselves by imagining dire consequences. People can be so anxious that their anxiety is debilitating, but that's the extreme case. Anxiety and fear are what keep us from touching hot stoves, committing adultery, and sending our children to play on the freeway. If someone offered you a pill that would make you permanently happy, you would be well advised to run fast and run far. Emotion is a compass that tells us what to do, and a compass that is perpetually stuck on north is worthless.

People make errors when they try to forecast their future feelings. I am often asked whether there is some evolutionary advantage to making such errors. Sure, I can make up a story about why an affective forecasting error provides a selective advantage (e.g., I overestimate how bad I'll feel if my children die, hence I go to extraordinary lengths to protect them). But then you can make up a story about how it provides a disadvantage (e.g., I overestimate how bad I'll feel if I am rejected, hence I fail to ask women for sex). At the end of our story-telling we will have several stories and not a whole lot more. What we need, and what we do not have, is some principled way to calculate and then compare the costs and benefits of these errors.

In the meantime and until someone convinces me otherwise, I am inclined to take the obvious positions: Errors are bad; it is better to be able to predict the future than not; knowing what will make us happy increases our ability to attain it; and so on. These don't seem like particularly controversial claims to me. We have great big brains that can foresee the future in a way that no other animal ever has, and in a way that our own species could not just a few million years ago. Foresight isn't twenty-twenty, and sometimes it seems to be legally blind, but in general it allows us to glimpse the long-term consequences of our actions and to take measures to avoid the bad ones and promote the good ones.

__________________________

We're all told that variety is the spice of life.  But variety is not just over-rated, it may actually have a cost. Research shows that people do tend to seek more variety than they should. We all think we should try a different doughnut every time we go to the shop, but the fact is that people are measurably happier when they have their favorite on every visit — provided the visits are sufficiently separated in time.

Those last four words are the important ones. If you had to eat 4 donuts in rapid succession, variety would indeed spice up your experience and you'd be wise to seek it. But if you had to eat 4 donuts on 4 separate Mondays, variety would lower your overall enjoyment. The human brain has tremendous difficulty reasoning about time, and thus we tend to seek variety whether the doughnuts are separated by minutes or months.

__________________________

Even in a technologically sophisticated society, some people retain the romantic notion that human unhappiness results from the loss of our primal innocence. I think that's nonsense. Every generation has the illusion that things were easier and better in a simpler past, but the fact is that things are easier and better today than at any time in human history.

Our primal innocence is what keeps us whacking each other over the head with sticks, and it is not what allows us to paint a Mona Lisa or design a space shuttle. It gives rise to obesity and global warming, not Miles Davis or the Magna Carta. If human kind flourishes rather than flounders over the next thousand years, it will be because we embraced learning and reason, and not because we surrendered to some fantasy about returning to an ancient Eden that never really was.


 

The essence of Gödel's incompleteness theorem is that you cannot have both completeness and consistency. A bold anthropomorphic conclusion is that there are three types of people; those that must have answers to everything; those that panic in the face of inconsistencies; and those that plod along taking the gaps of incompleteness as well as the clashes of inconsistencies in stride if they notice them at all, or else they succumb to the tragedy of the human condition.

GÖDEL IN A NUTSHELL [5.14.06]
By Verena Huber-Dyson

Introduction

Verena Huber-Dyson, a Swiss national born in Naples in 1923, was educated in Athens before returning to Zurich to study mathematics (with minors in physics and philosophy). She moved to the United States in 1948, where she pursued her two particular areas of interest — group theory and formal logic. She got to know Kurt Gödel while living in Princeton, and for the last fifty years she has been actively encouraging a correct interpretation of his work.

JB

VERENA HUBER-DYSON is emeritus professor of the Philosophy department of the University of Calgary, Alberta Canada, where she taught graduate courses on the Foundations of Mathematics, the Philosophy and Methodology of the sciences. 

Before the Vietnam war she was an associate professor in the Mathematics department of the University of Illinois. She taught in the Mathematics department at the University of California in Berkeley. She is the author or a monograph, Gödel's theorems: a workbook on formalization, which is based on her experience of teaching graduate courses and seminars on mathematical logic, formalization and its limitations to mathematics, philosophy and interdisciplinary students at the Universities of Calgary, Zürich and Monash.

She lives in Berkeley, California.

VERENA HUBER-DYSON's Edge Bio Page


GÖDEL IN A NUTSHELL

(VERENA HUBER-DYSON): The essence of Gödel's incompleteness theorem is that you cannot have both completeness and consistency. A bold anthropomorphic conclusion is that there are three types of people; those that must have answers to everything; those that panic in the face of inconsistencies; and those that plod along taking the gaps of incompleteness as well as the clashes of inconsistencies in stride if they notice them at all, or else they succumb to the tragedy of the human condition.

The first kind are prone to refer to authorities; religion, bureaucracy, governments and their own prejudices.  They postulate a Supreme Being that knows all the answers because everything must have an answer. With inconsistencies they deal by hopping over them, brushing them aside, sweeping them under a rug, ignoring them or making fun of them.  These people are unpredictable and exasperating to deal with, though often disarmingly charming.

The second kind are the more heroic and independent thinkers. They are not afraid of vast expanses of the unknown; they forge ahead and rejoice over every new question opened up by questions answered.  But when up against the walls of inconsistencies they go berserk.  These claustrophobics are in fact the scientific minds.

And then, finally, there are the ordinary humans who make do with both inconsistencies and gaps in their experience of life and the world.  Some of those, when driven to the brink of endurance by roadblocks of paradox and pitfalls of the unknown, go mad.


 

THE NEW VIEW
The Opening Of The 24/7 New York City Apple Store Viewed From the Terrace at Edge Global Headquarters at Grand Army Plaza

The Good News:
Jobs' impeccable design sense comes to New York


[enlarge]

The Bad News:
There goes the neighborhood?

[enlarge]



Nathan Myhrvold, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jurvetson, Linda Stone,
Steve Lohr
, John C. Dvorak, Jaron Lanier


NATHAN MYHRVOLD
CEO, Intellectual Ventures; Former CTO, Microsoft Corporation

It is unusual in that Apple typically isn't quite so derivative in its designs. They tend to be more original, whereas this is clearly based on I.M. Pei's Louvre pyramid, complete with spiral stairway... Did Pei do this?


STEVE WOZNIAK
Co-Founder, Apple Computer

It's great — about time someone did this in NYC.

Many Apple products, even the iThing nomenclature, gathered great ideas from around the world.

Heck, they say the same things about the Apple ][! And everyone likes to credit PARC for the Macintosh.

To me, this is taken more from the Cube. I have noticed that notions Steve gets (like no fans) continue strong forever in his thinking. Of course it's probably unfair to assume he was on top of this particular store architecture.


STEVE JURVETSON
Venture Capitalist; Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson

Ah yes, the cubist leitmotif.... It looks like an x-ray of a fully-populated NeXT cube to me...

The new Apple Store will open in NY tomorrow... and as is appropriate for the city that never sleeps, it will be open 24/7. I'm still pondering that.

Dvorak posits that Jobs personally designed the store. The design reminds me of an x-ray of the original NeXT Cube continuing the cubist design leitmotif.

And for those who doubt that the Apple CEO would get involved in the details of retail architecture, I am reminded of my first days on the job at NeXT. As we walked around the building, my colleagues shared in hushed voices that Jobs personally chose the wood flooring and various appointments. He even specified the outdoor sprinkler system layout.

I witnessed his attention to detail first hand during a marketing reorg meeting. Jobs requested that the org charts be reprinted with the particular blue and green colors of his choosing, and provided the Pantone numbers to remove any ambiguity.


LINDA STONE
Hi-Tech Industry Consultant; Former Executive at Apple Computer and Microsoft Corporation

Terrific photo. The brand rules.

Speaking of brand, I'm sure you've seen this....[click here]


STEVE LOHR
Technology Correspondent, The New York Times

Since everyone from NathanM to Woz weighed in on the glass cube at the Apple store on Fifth Avenue, I thought I might pass along what Steve Jobs said yesterday when I asked him about it. Which I didn't use in today's story.

On the I.M. Pei influence: "It is reminiscent of the entrance to the Louvre." In designing the Apple store, he said, "We took that cue."

Steve said he has worked with Pei in the past, but Pei's retired now and was not involved in the Fifth Avenue store. Steve then went on to discuss how much glass technology has matured since Pei did his pyramid entrance to the Louvre. The result is that you can do a lot more now with glass "fins," fitting the 558 sheets of glass in the 32 foot-on-a-side without using a lot of metal. The only metal joins are 480 fasteners, which look like big shiny rivets.

The overall design concept, Steve said, was to create something that looked "really good without being loud — minimal and really beautiful, because that's how we make our products."

I thought of the Apple cube computer as well.


JOHN C. DVORAK
PC Industry Pundit

Despite its derivation this is a gorgeous piece of art and a true statement. That said I can only imagine the results of the crazy concept that the store will be open 24/7. What kind of freaks will appear at 3:30 in the morning thinking this is a satanic temple or public restroom? I'm sure it's going to stink to high heaven along the stairwell after a couple of weeks.


JARON LANIER
Computer Scientist and Musician

Found myself in a mid-town hotel, jet-lagged, up before dawn. Tried to browse myself back to sleep on the laptop and read the news of Apple's cube right around the corner, so went to visit. Was perhaps the only moment in the inaugural 24 hours when hardly anyone was around.

The store was already functioning as a public space, though. Inside, on the round ledge under the glass spiral staircase, a few art kids and oddballs were huddled, innocently listening to music. Reminded me of the old scene on the ledge of the fountain in Washington Square Park in the 70s.

The cube sits beautifully in its site. Enhances buildings and spaces around it. A success.

Jobs is the only digital mogul with taste. I wish there were others like him.

The store's design communicates something about the nature of a Macintosh. Stylish wrapping, but the real goods are hidden deep inside.

Some of the apparent symbolism is awkward: Featherweight Mecca? The American Louvre is a storefront? Throw energy efficiency out the window?

Even so, this will be a good thing for mid-town and nightlife. Expect it to quickly become the new 3AM rendezvous for bright kids living their New York years. The next Breakfast at Tiffany's or Annie Hall or Sex in the City will have a great kiss scene in the cylindrical glass elevator as it tumesces out of the shadows.


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