Edge 202 — February 12, 2007
(13,000 words)

a new exhibition by Katinka Matson

When I explained then in a private letter to you what I had meant, you conceded to me in your private response that you had not seen my point in the light I intended, and that my claim was not in fact the blunder you had said it was-but of course you never chose to recant your criticism in print, so your uncorrected accusation stands to this day. Such a gentleman and a scholar you are! But times have changed. We now have blogs, so this time you can readily respond in public to my open letter.

By Daniel C. Dennett

FROM: Daniel C. Dennett
TO: H. Allen Orr

Dear Allen,

You claim Dawkins ignores the best thinking on the subject. The Selfish Gene, which you rightly admire, doesn't waste any time rebutting Teilhard de Chardin, or any of the perennial would-be defenders of Lamarckism, or even—I might add—many of the murkier claims made by Richard Lewontin over the years. Do you object that he thus "ignores the best thinking on evolution"? No, you say he "wrestled with the best thinkers." So you must have in mind some neglected gems on religion: what arguments and/or thinkers on the topic of religion ought Dawkins to have tackled in detail? What in your opinion is the best thinking on the subject?

I hope that you don't mean the recent reviews. Some of them did indeed "shred" Dawkins' 747 argument, if by that you mean they scoffed and hooted and clawed at it. Did any of them, in your opinion, rebut it soundly? Tom Nagel made some dismissive remarks-not arguments-in passing. Do you count that? I'd really like to know which published critique of the 747 argument you endorse, so I can explain to you, a non-philosopher, what its shortcomings are. Maybe there are some good ones I haven't seen, but I'll lead with my chin. I myself think Dawkins has made some excellent improvements on the standard arguments, improvements any philosopher would be proud to have composed. As I said in my own review, in Free Inquiry:

"Dawkins set out to expose and discredit every source of the God delusion, and even when he is going over familiar ground, as he often must, he almost invariably finds some novel twist that refreshes our imaginations. Some of the innovations are substantial. After flattening all the serious arguments for the existence of God, he turns the tables and frames an argument against the existence of God, exploiting one of the favorite ideas of Intelligent Design demagogues: the improbability of design. The basic argument, that postulating God as creator raises the question of who created God, has been around for years, but Dawkins gives it a proper spine and uses it to show first that "Chance and design both fail as solutions to the problem of statistical improbability, because one of them is the problem, and the other one regresses to it. Natural selection is a real solution. It is the only workable solution that has ever been suggested." (p121) Then he goes on to show how understanding this conclusion illuminates the confusing controversies surrounding the proper use of the anthropic principle. We are accustomed to physicists presuming that since their science is more "basic" than biology, they have a deeper perspective from which to sort out the remaining perplexities, but sometimes the perspective of biology can actually clarify what has been murky and ill-motivated in the physicists' discussions."

I'd be interested to see the 'shreddings" that persuaded you otherwise.

And you say that C.S. Lewis "had already dispensed with" one of Dawkins' claims. Am I to take it that you are now endorsing the quote from Lewis as an adequate rebuttal or pre-refutation of Dawkins?

You misconstrued my NYRB letter in several ways. I didn't say you held Dawkins' book to too high a standard; I said you imposed a goal on the book that was not Dawkins' goal. I didn't say or imply that Dawkins' book was "merely a popular survey" and I didn't say or imply that you were "disturbed by Dawkins' atheism." I said you adopted a double standard-like many atheists, I might add-and were attempting to protect religion from serious criticism, for reasons I am curious to know. These misconstruals do not strike me as unintended, but perhaps you read with a broad brush.

As I write this message, I am reminded of your earlier trashing, more than ten years ago, of my book Darwin's Dangerous Idea, first in Evolution, which does not permit rebuttals from authors, and then, slightly enlarged, in the Boston Review, which does. You leveled very serious charges of error and incomprehension in that review, and when I challenged them, you responded with a haughty dismissal of my objections (in an exchange in the Boston Review). Quoting an example, dealing with the speed of evolution: "Now I've been in the population genetics business for some time and, frankly, I have no idea what Dennett is talking about. And-I can find no polite way of putting this-it's hard to escape the conclusion that Dennett has no idea what he's talking about either." (1996, p37) Now that was rude-even ruder than your reply this time. When I explained then in a private letter to you what I had meant, you conceded to me in your private response that you had not seen my point in the light I intended, and that my claim was not in fact the blunder you had said it was-but of course you never chose to recant your criticism in print, so your uncorrected accusation stands to this day. Such a gentleman and a scholar you are! But times have changed. We now have blogs, so this time you can readily respond in public to my open letter.

Note that I have not yet claimed that you have no idea what you're talking about; we philosophers try not to jump to conclusions. I have however asked you, twice now, to tell us what you're talking about. Please.

I await your reply.

Dan Dennett

Volume 54, Number 3 · March 1, 2007


'THE GOD DELUSION' by Daniel C. Dennett, Reply by H. Allen Orr

In response to A Mission to Convert (January 11, 2007)

To the Editors:

H. Allen Orr, in "A Mission to Convert" [NYR, January 11], his review of Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion and other recent books on science and religion, says that Dawkins is an amateur, not professional, atheist, and has failed to come to grips with "religious thought" with its "meticulous reasoning" in any serious way. He notes that the book is "defiantly middlebrow," and I wonder just which highbrow thinkers about religion Orr believes Dawkins should have grappled with. I myself have looked over large piles of recent religious thought in the last few years in the course of researching my own book on these topics, and I have found almost all of it to be so dreadful that ignoring it entirely seemed both the most charitable and most constructive policy. (I devote a scant six pages of Beraking the Spell to the arguments for and against the existence of God, while Dawkins devotes roughly a hundred, laying out the standard arguments with admirable clarity and fairness, and skewering them efficiently.) There are indeed recherché versions of these traditional arguments that perhaps have not yet been exhaustively eviscerated by scholars, but Dawkins ignores them (as do I) and says why: his book is a consciousness-raiser aimed at the general religious public, not an attempt to contribute to the academic microdiscipline of philosophical theology. The arguments Dawkins exposes and rebuts are the arguments that waft from thousands of pulpits every week and reach millions of television viewers every day, and neither the televangelists nor the authors of best-selling spiritual books pay the slightest heed to the subtleties of the theologians either.

Who does Orr favor? Polkinghorne, Peacocke, Plantinga, or some more recondite thinkers? Orr brandishes the names of two philosophers, William James and Ludwig Wittgenstein, and cites C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, a fairly nauseating example of middle-brow homiletic in roughly the same league on the undergraduate hit parade as Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ (1998) and transparently evasive when it comes to "meticulous reasoning." If it were a book in biology—Orr's discipline—I daresay he'd pounce on it like a pit bull, but like many others he adopts a double standard when the topic is religion. [...more]

H. Allen Orr replies:

Daniel Dennett's main complaint about my review is that I held Dawkins's book to too high a standard. The God Delusion was, he says, a popular work and, as such, one can't expect it to grapple seriously with religious thought. There are two things wrong with this objection. The first is that the mere fact that a book is intended for a broad audience doesn't mean its author can ignore the best thinking on a subject. Indeed it's precisely the task of the popularizer to take this best thinking and present it in a form that can be understood by intelligent laymen. This task is certainly feasible. Ironically, the clearest evidence comes from Dawkins himself. In his popular works on evolution, and especially in The Selfish Gene, Dawkins wrestled with the best evolutionary thinkers —Darwin, Hamilton, and Trivers—and presented their ideas in a way that could be appreciated by a broad audience. This is what made The Selfish Gene brilliant; the absence of any analogous treatment of religion in Dawkins's new book is what makes it considerably less than brilliant.

The second thing wrong with Dennett's objection is that it's simply not true that The God Delusion was merely a popular survey and "not an attempt to contribute to ...philosophical theology." Dennett has apparently forgotten that the heart of Dawkins's book was his philosophical argument for the near impossibility of God. Dawkins presented his so-called Ultimate Boeing 747 argument in a chapter entitled "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God," branded his argument "unanswerable," and boasted that it had stumped all theologians who had met it. I can see why Dennett would like to forget about Dawkins's attempt at philosophy—the Ultimate 747 argument was shredded by reviewers—but it's absurd to pretend now that The God Delusion had no philosophical ambitions. [...more]


By Richard Foreman

February 12, 2007


In 2005, Edge featured Richard Foreman's "The Pancake People, or, 'The Gods are Pounding My Head' " in which he noted that "I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the "instantly available". A new self that needs to contain less and less of an inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance—as we all become "pancake people"—spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button". He then announced his 40+ career as New York's leading avant garde theatrical director had come to an end, and he was going to begin exploring film. Now Foreman is back as a new hybrid vision

Still young and artistically radical as he approaches 70, Richard Foreman's 45th Ontological-Hysteric production plunges into a new world in which human consciousness is turned inside out. Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead! is his second project defining a new kind of theater in which film and live action trace parallel contrapuntal dream narratives.

Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! postulates the invention of the airplane (controlled by a horde of baby-doll pilots) as the death knell of the unconscious mind. Foreman is responding to a world in which visionary sages and poets are being replaced by specialists who make platitudes out of the immediately observable and hand-feed them to the public. In Richard Foreman's universe, his muse and ally, the unconscious, fights back to life in a shape resembling "the stone that rolls up the hill backwards" (the evil one) and from such "evil", life renews itself. [See New York Times review).

February 5, 2007

Throw a Bucket of Ice Water on Your Brain

Those among you who presume you are still alive might be interested to know that Richard Foreman is throwing a funeral for you at the Ontological Theater at St. Mark's Church.

Never mind that your pulse says your heart is still pumping. Mr. Foreman says the most essential part of you — your independent, intuitive mind — is a cold corpse. He has thoughtfully whipped up a memorial service, a dazzling exercise in reality-shifting called "Wake Up Mr. Sleepy! Your Unconscious Mind Is Dead!," that is as invigorating as it is mournful. Who knows? It might indeed be enough to wake the dead.

Two years ago Mr. Foreman, the great gray wizard of experimental theater, announced that he would no longer be creating the exquisitely unsettling dreamscapes that had been his specialty since the 1960s. It was time, he said, to bid farewell to the theater.

You have to be skeptical when brilliant artists declare they are leaving the art they love. Mr. Foreman has continued to ply his exotic trade of nonnarrative, nonlinear play making, set in fun houses crammed with mysterious cultural detritus, but with one essential difference: He has added film to the mix of what had been resolutely and religiously theatrical productions, which would seem to be a case of sleeping with the enemy.

"Wake Up" is Mr. Foreman's second film-theater hybrid. Even more than his first, "Zomboid!," presented last year, it shows how this priest of the theater has embraced his old adversary only to disarm it. Mr. Foreman creates beautiful filmic pictures for his audience's consumption. But he refuses to let us wallow in them.

The theory at work would seem to be that we have come to trust too much in the surfaces of artfully arranged pictures and information. Hooking the mind to such surfaces, Mr. Foreman says, is fatal to the unconscious. ("When the world sees itself, it doesn't," says a line from the script.) While "Wake Up" is clearly a bid to resurrect theatergoers' deeper imaginations, the elegiac undercurrent that courses through the show suggests its creator worries that he may be too late.

... An optimist could say that Mr. Foreman is portraying a rebirth of unconsciousness — a dying that is actually, as the title promises, a reawakening.

Maybe. But as exhilarating as "Wake Up" is, it is also steeped in melancholy. Usually with Mr. Foreman, snatches of music summon the comic frenzy of silent movies. This time the aural backdrop is darker: a mixture of ringing cellphones, a wandering plaintive soprano and a hushed percussive beat that suggests an advancing army. "It can't be fixed" is the mantra that stuck in my head.

But that's probably just my unconscious mind talking. (Yours may have a different opinion.) Hey, that means it's not dead after all. Mr. Foreman appears to have done his job.


[Click on image for Richard Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric Theatre]

Dr. Terry Tommyrot

"No, Richard Dawkins does not exist. I have never seen him. Science has given a full and satisfying explanation of the book alleged to be his handiwork. It is but a collection of fortuitously ordered a's, b's and c's, recombined from previous patterns. There is the alphabet, there is a book of nursery rhymes and there is "The God Delusion" - and one developed from the other, though some of the details of which is the most primitive remain to be sorted out. The links between them may still be missing, but Science will have that worked out at any moment. Anyone who doubts this fact is either lying, mad or stupid (or wicked, but I'd rather not think about that possibility)."


By Brian Eno

Luminous, a new exhibit of 77 Million Paintings by seminial sound and light artist Brian Eno is about to open in central London at Selfridges' London (400 Oxford St, London W1A 2LR), and run between 27 January to 11 March in the Ultralounge, its dedicated space for special projects.

Another Eno installation, Constellations, will be exhibited at the North London BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art from 31 January to 15 April. This is the first time these digital light paintings which are accompanied by a randomly assembled ambient music track have been exhibited in a contemporary UK art gallery.

Eno, primarily known for shattering musical conventions as a founding member of Roxy Music and pioneer of ambient music has created a computer programme that continually fuses his virtual paintings to create 77 million permutations.

'We are used to artists producing defined and finished things, what's interesting about this kind of generative work is that I can't possibly predict the outcome of 77 Million Paintings,' says Eno. More than 300 Eno paintings, most of them scratched or inked onto slides, were digitized to create Constellations (77 Million Paintings). The constantly evolving paintings will be shown on a group of screens installed throughout the Level 4 gallery space.

'The 77 million permutations of the work creates unique moments for each viewer and provides a different experience every time,' adds Eno. It's been estimated that it would take over 9,000 years to watch the entire show at the fastest speed available on the software and it would take several million years to witness all the possible combinations it can create.

Click here for Brian Eno's Edge Bio Page

February 8, 2007

Steven Pinker Explains How The Brain Works in Five Words

[click on image]

... [STEPHEN COLBERT:] Your specialty is the brain and how it works. Right?


It's a complicated subject. How does the brain work? Five words or less.

Brain cells fire in patterns.

Brain cells fire in patterns. Not bad.  And these patterns establish our behavior and stuff like that,

A pattern corresponds to a thought. One patterns causes another pattern, that's what happen when we think.

OK. Let me ask you something. You're also, you're also, uh, language is very important to you. Umm, uhh, wha wha, what, why is language important?

It's the way we get our thoughts across. It's the way we cooperate, the way we share our knowledge…

How important is volume? I find if I'm trying to get an idea across if I shout it at the person I'm saying it to, it makes it seem more important. Is that common?

I think that's common, unfortunately, yes.

Now, uh, your book here, you've got a book called  The Blank Slate, The Human Denial of Nature. What are we denying about human nature, Sir?

A lot of people are upset about the very idea that there is such a thing as human nature. Some people fear that …

Well, that God gave us our nature.

Some people fear that human nature is a product of evolution, rather than a  …

I don’t fear it I deny it. I'm not afraid of evolution because I know it's not really there. I'm not afraid of ghosts either.

Some people are afraid of the idea that if were born with any kind of talent or temperaments,  then different people can be born with different talents and temperaments, and that seems to open the door to discrimination and oppression. Some people are upset that if we have any kind of instincts we may have selfish and nasty instincts and that would seem to get in the way of hopes for social reform. Why try to make the world a better place if people are rotten to the core and we'll just foul it up no matter what you  do.

Well I say some people get it some people just don’t.

Well, that would imply that there are differences among people.

There are.

And there are people that would want to deny that there could be differences among people and if we all start off with nothing then by definition we're all the same.

No, we don't all start off with nothing in my opinion, if I may, and I may because it's my show, I don't think we start off with nothing. I think we can achieve nothing. I think we can become a blank slate. I've worked very hard over the years to stop thinking and now I'm empty inside. What do you think people have, uh, what do you think people have instinctually other than original sin. What do they have when they're born? ...


February 8, 2007

Pinker's Brain Picked On 'Colbert Report'
By Claire M. Guehenno, Crimson Staff Writer

Last night, Colbert—who plays a right-wing pundit on his show "The Colbert Report"—welcomed Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker as a guest on his program. The appearance came just two months after Colbert journeyed to Cambridge himself to record segments for his show at the Institute of Politics.

In last night's segment, entitled "Pinker and the Brain," Colbert and Pinker discussed basic brain function and human nature. Colbert introduced Pinker by saying that because Pinker is a Harvard professor, he "probably thinks I think he's a pompous know-it-all."

Colbert asked Pinker to summarize the brain in five words or less, to which he responded "Brain cells fire in patterns."

Pinker said he was surprised by his own ability to describe the brain in so few words under pressure.

"I never thought I could sum up how the brain works in exactly five words!" he wrote in an e-mail after he taped the show, adding that he was "pretty nervous beforehand."

Most of the discussion focused on Pinker's 2002 book "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature"—a book on evolutionary psychology—as Pinker struggled to explain his beliefs about brain function while Colbert joked and interrupted him.

Colbert also poked fun at Pinker's 2003 move from MIT to Harvard.

"You were at MIT first then went to Harvard? That's like going from the nerds' table to the rich nerds' table," Colbert said.

At the "rich nerds' table," Pinker continues to be a professor of some of the College's most popular classes.

Pinker, who has in the past led the popular core Science B-62, "The Human Mind," is co-teaching Psychology 1002, "Morality and Taboo," with Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz this spring.

There was no specific occasion for Pinker's appearance on the show, as he has not published any major works in the past year. A Comedy Central representative said she could not comment on why Pinker was chosen as a guest.


By Peter Schwartz

What is Davos and how does it work? Officially the meeting is called the World Economic Forum. This is their annual meeting, but there are many other meetings during the year held around the world, but this is their big event they are known for. It was founded and run by Klaus Schwab in the early eighties as mostly a European event, but has grown huge and global with about 2000 participants from all over the world.

[...more below ]

"Danger – brilliant minds at work...A brilliant book: exhilarating, hilarious, and chilling." The Evening Standard (London)

Hardcover - UK
£12.99, 352 pp
Free Press, UK

Paperback - US
$13.95, 336 pp
Harper Perennial
(March 1, 2007)

WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA? Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable With an Introduction by STEVEN PINKER and an Afterword by RICHARD DAWKINS Edited By JOHN BROCKMAN

"A selection of the most explosive ideas of our age." Sunday Herald "Provocative" The Independent "Challenging notions put forward by some of the world's sharpest minds" Sunday Times "A titillating compilation" The Guardian

"...This collection, mostly written by working scientists, does not represent the antithesis of science. These are not simply the unbuttoned musings of professionals on their day off. The contributions, ranging across many disparate fields, express the spirit of a scientific consciousness at its best — informed guesswork "Ian McEwan, from the Introduction, in The Telegraph

Paperback - US
$13.95, 272 pp
Harper Perennial

Paperback - UK
£7.99 288 pp
Pocket Books

WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty With an Introduction by IAN MCEWAN Edited By JOHN BROCKMAN

"An unprecedented roster of brilliant minds, the sum of which is nothing short of an oracle — a book ro be dog-eared and debated." Seed "Scientific pipedreams at their very best." The Guardian "Makes for some astounding reading." Boston Globe Fantastically stimulating...It's like the crack cocaine of the thinking world.... Once you start, you can't stop thinking about that question." BBC Radio 4

Canberra Times, Seed, New York Times, Boston Globe, Toronto Star, Les Affaires, Tonight, Genome Technology Online, Le Monde

February 10, 2007

Peering dangerously into a future of ageless codgers

AN IDEA may be dangerous either to its conceiver or to others, including its proponents. Four hundred years ago, heliocentricity was acutely dangerous to Galileo, whom it led before the Holy Inquisition. Two and a half centuries later, Darwin's notions on natural selection and the evolution of species jeopardised the certainties and imperilled the livelihoods of many professional Christians. To this day, the idea that God does not exist is dangerous enough to get atheists murdered in America.

The editor of this anthology of dangerous ideas, John Brockman, is, among other things, the publisher of Edge, the "Third Culture" website (www.edge.org). He has already published What We Believe but Cannot Prove, to which this volume is a companion. Each year, Brockman asks a question of his contributors. Last year's was: "What is your dangerous idea?" He meant not necessarily a new idea, or even one which they had originated, but one which is dangerous "not because it is assumed to be false but because it might be true". This volume, with an introduction by Steven Pinker and an afterword by Richard Dawkins, publishes the responses given in 2006 by 108 of "Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable".

...There is much in many of these brief essays to astonish, to be appalled at, to mull over or to wish for. Some of them suffer from galloping emailographism, that mannerism of the hasty respondent whose elliptical prose can make even the most pregnant idea indigestible. But most of them, from the three-sentence reminder by Nicholas Humphrey of Bertrand Russell's dangerous idea ("That it is undesirable to believe in a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true") to the five pages of V.S. Ramachandran on Francis Crick's "Astonishing Hypothesis" (that what we think of as our self is merely the activity of 100 billion bits of jelly, the neurons which constitute the brain), are vitally engaging to anyone with an ounce of interest in matters such as being or whatever meaning we might deem being to have.

...Mind you, there is one glimpse of the future which rings grotesque enough to be plausible, Gerald Holton's "Projection of the Longevity Curve", in which we see a future matriarch, 200 years old, on her death bed, surrounded by her children aged about 180, her grandchildren of about 150, her great-grandchildren of about 120, their offspring aged in their 90s, and so on for several more generations. A touching picture, as the author says, "But what are the costs involved?"


February 8, 2007

More from the Vanguard of Science

See what Marc Hauser, Drew Endy, Joshua Greene, and others have to say about where their fields are going in 2007

By Edit Staff

Cosmology and Particle Physics

On the theoretical side, particle phenomenologists will continue to develop physics beyond the Standard Model; string theorists are connecting more strongly to cosmology and astrophysics; and cosmologists are investigating models of dark matter, dark energy, and modified gravity. ...

—Sean Carroll, Caltech

Synthetic Genomics

The goal of synthetic biology is to make possible the engineering of living organisms that behave as expected. Progress in the field is based on three new foundational technologies that go beyond classical genetic engineering: automated DNA synthesis, standardization, and abstraction. Synthesis enables direct construction of genetic material from raw chemicals and information. Standards and abstraction together provide the languages and grammars needed to define the information used by DNA synthesizers. 2007 should witness two important milestones for automated DNA synthesis (which enables direct construction of genetic material from raw chemicals and information). ...

—Drew Endy, MIT


In the last five years the scientific study of morality has exploded. We're now probing the moral brain like never before, using functional neuroimaging, studies of neurological patients, and sophisticated cognitive testing techniques. As a result of this work, it's now clear (to some of us, at any rate) that moral decision-making is neither a pristine rational enterprise, nor simply a matter of emotional expression. ...

—Joshua Greene, Harvard University

High Energy Physics

The coming year will see a number of interesting developments as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) goes online. The enormous amount of data generated by the LHC will force us to refine our methods—and explore new ones—for extracting and interpreting information from high energy collisions. This work should lead to new insights into the masses of elementary particles and the consequences of various models for particle physics and cosmology. ...

Lisa Randall, Harvard University


January 30, 2007

How Do We See Red? Count the Ways
By Natalie Angier

Valentine’s Day is nearly upon us, that sweet Hallmark holiday when you can have anything your heart desires, so long as it’s red. Red roses, red nighties, red shoes and red socks. Red Oreo filling, red bagels, red lox.As it happens, red is an exquisite ambassador for love, and in more ways than people may realize. Not only is red the color of the blood that flushes the face and swells the pelvis and that one swears one would spill to save the beloved’s prized hide. It is also a fine metaphoric mate for the complexity and contrariness of love. In red we see shades of life, death, fury, shame, courage, anguish, pride and the occasional overuse of exfoliants designed to combat signs of aging. Red is bright and bold and has a big lipsticked mouth, through which it happily speaks out of all sides at once. Yoo-hoo! yodels red, come close, have a look. Stop right there, red amends, one false move and you’re dead.

Such visual semiotics are not limited to the human race. Red is the premier signaling color in the natural world, variously showcasing a fruitful bounty, warning of a fatal poison or boasting of a sturdy constitution and the genes to match. Red, in other words, is the poster child for the poster, for colors that have something important to say. "Our visual system was shaped by colors already in use among many plants and animals, and red in particular stands out against the green backdrop of nature," said Dr. Nicholas Humphrey, a philosopher at the London School of Economics and the author of "Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness." "If you want to make a point, you make it in red.


February 5, 2007

Morality play
A Harvard researcher believes that humans have an innate sense of right and wrong, but others say morality is mostly learned

By Carey Goldberg, Globe Staff

Last week, Harvard professor Marc Hauser dropped in to his daughter Sofia's kindergarten class and presented the children with a moral dilemma. You must all keep your eyes closed for 30 seconds, he told them. If none of you raises your hand during that time, you will each get a sheet of stickers when it's over. But if one of you raises your hand, only that child will get all the stickers.

The task brought immediate cries of protest, Hauser recalled. "But that's not fair!" some children exclaimed, shocked at the idea that one child could hog all the stickers.

Some might say that the kindergartners, in their short lives, had already learned much about the nature of justice. But Hauser goes a step further: Morality, he argues, is influenced by cultural teachings but is also so deep and universal an aspect of human existence that it is effectively "hard-wired" into the brain, much like the instinct for language.

At work, he says, are principles as unconscious and yet powerful as the grammar rules we use when we speak -- and the challenge to scientists is to figure out what those built-in moral rules are and how they work.

To that end, Hauser and other researchers are experimenting with children, monkeys, on-line survey takers, brain-damaged patients, and even psychopaths and remote hunter-gatherers.

His theory that morality is based in biology has plunged Hauser into an intellectual fray that spans from the pages of The New York Times to the rows of students who take his evolution classes at Harvard.

A psychologist, evolutionary biologist, and anthropologist, Hauser has felt students grow restless as he talks about the underpinnings of morality. In one class, he said, a student complained, "I know where you're going: Because it's universal, it's biological, and therefore there's no role for religion."

Hauser recalls responding: "I'm not saying you shouldn't derive meaning from religion. I'm just telling you that at some level, the nature of the moral judgments that you make and I make are the same, even though I don't go to church and you do."


Feb 3, 2007

Who believes in God?

Michael Shermer was once a fundamentalist Christian, but is now an agnostic and an advocate for humanist philosophy.

...When Sulloway and I noticed the difference between why people believe in God and why they think other people believe in God, we decided to undertake an extensive analysis of all the written answers people provided in our survey. In addition, we inquired about family demographics, religious background, personality characteristics, and other factors that contribute to religious belief and skepticism. We discovered that the seven strongest predictors of belief in God are:

1. being raised in a religious manner

2. parents' religiosity

3. lower levels of education

4. being female

5. a large family

6. lack of conflict with parents

7. being younger ...


2 février 2007

L'optimisme boursier actuel est inquiétant
Bernard Mooney , Journal Les Affaires

Le marché boursier se distingue à bien des égards. Ainsi, dans la vie de tous les jours, l'enthousiasme, l'optimisme et la confiance sont des valeurs importantes. Mais à la Bourse, ces belles qualités peuvent devenir des pièges coûteux.

Le paradoxe, c'est que notre monde en général est en manque d'optimisme, alors même qu'il y en a probablement trop dans les marchés financiers.

Le site Web Edge.org offre un lieu d'échange à un grand nombre de scientifiques, philosophes, penseurs et intellectuels de tous genres. Le consulter est fascinant. La quantité et la qualité des interventions qu'on y trouve sont vraiment exceptionnelles.

Au début de chaque année, John Brockman, éditeur d'Edge.org, pose une question fondamentale à ses participants. En 2006, la question était "Quelle est votre idée dangereuse?"

Cette année, sa question est "À propos de quoi êtes-vous optimiste?" Et des personnalités comme le psychologue Steven Pinker, le philosophe Daniel Dennett, le biologiste Richard Dawkins, le psychologue Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, le biologiste et géographe Jared Diamond, le physicien Freeman Dyson, le psychologue Daniel Goleman et des dizaines d'autres y ont répondu.


February 1, 2007
South Africa

What Is Your Dangerous Idea?
Question everything, ban nothing, think dangerously
By James Mitchell

Dare to question. Most don't. Indeed, many people get alarmed, agitated, when difficult questions are posed.

Questioning settled assumptions forces people to think, which can be a frightening, radical exercise.

Consider the "dangerous ideas" listed here: "Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?

Were the events in the Bible fictitious — not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires? Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer lifelong damage? Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape? Do men have an innate tendency to rape?

Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy, and morally driven? Are Ashkenazi Jews, on average, smarter than Gentiles because their ancestors were selected for the shrewdness needed in money lending? ...

Steven Pinker, in his introduction, calls these "dangerous ideas - ideas that are denounced not because they are self-evidently false, not because they advocate harmful action, but because they are thought to corrode the prevailing moral order"....

...psychologist Daniel Gilbert employs just 131 words to shoot down the thought "that ideas can be dangerous".

Paradoxically, he states "the most dangerous idea is the only dangerous idea: The idea that ideas can be dangerous."

Whew! I was worried for a moment. Like the meaning of life, there's no simple answer. Which is why so many, desperate for certainty, shy away books like this.

Personally, I relish such questions, and if you have any sort of an open, enquiring mind, then so will you.


January 31, 2007

Keeping the Glass Half Full

The Edge Foundation, an intellectual group of leaders from various fields, has issued its question of the year: What are you optimistic about? While we might rephrase the question to eliminate that irksome preposition, the point today is that genomic heavyweight George Church has sent in his response, and it's worth a read.

Church predicts that 2007 will be the year of the personal genome, with the mainstream public finally getting involved (and interested) in the field and its consequences. "I am optimistic that while society is not now ready, it will be this year," Church writes. Check out his full response here.

And for the record—it's people like George Church who keep us optimistic. Thanks, George!


08 janvier 2007

"Dans quel domaine êtes-vous optimiste? Et pourquoi?"

C'est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 "penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes".

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D'où sa principale source d'optimisme: "le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d'influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l'intérim) pourrait être à l'horizon".

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s'appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l'aide de laboratoires américains pour l'analyse de l'ADN. "Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l'espoir," conclue-t-elle.


What is Davos and how does it work? Officially the meeting is called the World Economic Forum. This is their annual meeting, but there are many other meetings during the year held around the world, but this is their big event they are known for. It was founded and run by Klaus Schwab in the early eighties as mostly a European event, but has grown huge and global with about 2000 participants from all over the world.

By Peter Schwartz


Every year dozens of Edgies are invited to the World Economic Forum event and the dancing bears to perform for the corporate and govermental elite. Attending this years conference were Peter Schwartz, Larry Brilliant, John Markoff, Paul Saffo, Lord Martin Rees, Adam Bly, Dan Dubno, and Yossi Vardi. Peter Schwartz, founder of Global Business Network (GBN), is equally at home and astute in the worlds of science, technology and the corporate boardroom. This year, he wrote a blog which is is distilled into this report.


PETER SCHWARTZ is cofounder and chairman of Global Business Network (GBN), now part of the Monitor Group. From 1982 to 1986, Schwartz headed scenario planning for the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Companies in London. Before joining Royal Dutch/Shell, he directed the Strategic Environment Center at SRI International. He is the author of Inevitable Surprises, and The Art of the Long View, and co-author of The Long Boom, When Good Companies Do Bad Things, and China's Futures.

Peter Schwartz's Edge Bio Page


Day 1. Tuesday 1-23-07

The Set Up
What is Davos and how does it work? Officially the meeting is called the World Economic Forum. This is their annual meeting, but there are many other meetings during the year held around the world, but this is their big event they are known for. It was founded and run by Klaus Schwab in the early eighties as mostly a European event, but has grown huge and global with about 2000 participants from all over the world.

The participants range from corporate CEOs, heads of state, cabinet ministers, politicians, intellectuals, journalists, scientists, academics, celebrities and many hangers on. I have been coming to Davos off and on for a little over 20 years. The Monitor Group is represented here by Mark Fuller and me.

The meeting is organized around three kinds of sessions. In the main Kongress Hall are major speeches (e.g. Tony Blair on Saturday) and high level panels (I will be moderating the one on WEB 2.0 on Saturday with Bill Gates, the head of Nike and the founder of YouTube….which directly proceeds Blair's talk, meaning we will have a very large audience trying to make sure they have seats.). The second kinds of session are panels on a large variety of topics in the smaller meeting rooms. Finally there are the breakfasts, lunches and dinners at the local hotels on a great many subjects.  

I will be going to one Wed evening on climate change and national security hosted by Global Business Network (GBN) network member John Holdren and another on future IT hosted by another network member Paul Saffo. Around all the sessions is non stop talking in the many lounges and sitting areas of the Kongress Centre. Not surprisingly these are among the most interesting parts of being here. The day begins with early meetings and goes very late. Before and after the dinners are many receptions, cocktail parties sponsored by companies and governments. The India one always has the best food, but the Accel/Google party has among the most interesting people. And there is, of course, the NERDS dinners on Saturday evening.

Today is mostly registration an early dinner and meeting up with a few friends. My first panel as a participant will be Wed afternoon on the main theme of the conference, "The Shifting Power Equation: Technology and Society".

Day 2. Wednesday 1-24-07

First Sessions
Began the morning with coffee with Geoffery Moore, Shai Agassi, Orville Schell and Baifang Liu, who brought along the former Chinese ambassador to China, and then John Holdren joined us.

I am currently in a fairly large session on Making Green Pay. It is a televised debate on CNN on several environmental and energy issues. (It will be broadcast at 6 EST on Jan 28.) The first proposition was in favor of nuclear and clean coal. The affirmative was presented by Jim Rodgers, CEO of Duke and old friend (we chatted before the session.) and the negative by Vinod Khosla, a VC. At this session we get to vote electronically on the propositions. The audience was asked to vote and the nukes and coal lost by 3-1, much to my surprise. Of course my friends Orville Schell and Baifang Liu, sitting next to me voted the wrong way.

Dan Yergin is speaking now in favor of the second proposition on markets vs regulation, The Chinese ambassador has just weighed in on the government side. (one of the speakers just cited The Long Tail as an argument in favor of markets.) The audience voted 3-1 against markets, but Jim Rodgers just weighed in against the either or nature of the propositions. And the third proposition is on a global carbon tax now being argued against by Jose Goldemberg because setting the tax rate is very hard and would produce serious inequities around the world. He is in favor carbon caps and trading and efficiency regulation. He is not surprisingly, as a Brazilian for a strategy similar to what they did with respect to biofuels.

Nicholas Stern is now arguing in favor of the carbon tax because of the scale and urgency of the risk. There appears to be some degree of consensus on the need to set a price for carbon, John Holdren and Lester Brown ended up on opposite sides. The carbon tax won 2-1. It was a surprisingly good debate…though made a bit artificial by the extreme nature of the propositions.

The next couple of hours were spent in the large buffet lunch in which one talks buts eats little in a multilevel hall packed with a couple thousand people all with the same objectives, talk to the people you want to, avoid the people you want to and maybe get a bite to eat.

A number of interesting conversations in which energy and climate change figured large. More with Jim Rodgers (one of the ten US CEOs who came out for carbon caps last week) on how to bring the country around on nuclear power.Coincidentally followed by a conversation with an old friend whom I had not seen in years, Prof Robert Socolow of Princeton. He is the recent author of a seminal paper on how to deal with climate change, in which he thoughtfully considered nuclear and how Al Gore had used his ideas but avoided the nuclear dimension.

Just as I finally made it to the buffet table Richard Quest of CNN the moderator of the next panel of which I am a member to join him and the others in the preparations. Our topic was the technological and societal dimensions of the major power shifts now going on, with the focus on things like virtual communities, the rise of the download generation and the increasing youthful elderly.

The others on the panel included Shai Agassi of SAP, Bill Mitchell the CEO of Arrow electronics, (visual note: if anyone wants a visual model of what a fantasy CEO and his wife look like, Bill Mitchell and his wife are it.)  and David Rothkopf of the Harvard negotiation project. There was some whining about people losing authentic contact with each other because of new media and e-mail, etc…but I was the strongest advocate that far more had been gained in extending the breadth and depth of our communications and knowledge access. Not surprisingly I also argued for the growing power of the youthful elderly.

Looking out at the audience at Davos can also be a daunting experience because you know almost everyone out there could just as well be on the stage as you. I saw Joe Nye and Larry Summers of Harvard, the head of Bus Dev of Cisco, Richard Levin the President of Yale, Ernesto Zedillo the former President of Mexico, the Indian Ambassador to the UN…..and it goes on.

In parallel to our session were several others structured similarly on economics, geopolitics and business. At the end the rapporteurs came to the big hall to report to all the delegates on the panels and their audiences' views. We were to vote on the most important issues and the ones we were least prepared for.

After much discussion…some of it quite good…a member of the audience said "but what about climate change?" And then we voted and climate change wiped out everything else, fundamentally undermining the process the Davos organizers had so carefully put together to create a neat web of interconnected issues.

But Ged Davis manfully came up at the end and gracefully recovered the conclusions from the panels that such phenomena as the emergence of China and India and the return of Russia to the world stage might also be very important, and the huge generational transformations that are underway also might be consequential. But climate change remains the topic everyone keeps coming back to.

More conversations followed among them with Alan Gershenfeld, the brother of Neil and the CEO of a new kind of web start up designed to enable creative types, eg musicians to find their audiences. But as always talking with Martin Wolf the economics columnist of the FT was a highlight. We had a great debate with Joe Nye …who drew in others on whether the US would invade Iran before Bush left office, with Martin convinced that he would.

Ran into our chairman Mark Fuller at the end of the debate and he and I headed over to the Yale reception at the Steigenberger hotel. It is the one ancient grand hotel of Davos and where most of the pseudo VIPS stay. (The real VIPS stay in rented chalets). At the Yale reception spoke with Zedillo about the impact of the biofuels industry in the US on Mexico…pricing corn out of the tortilla market for the poor of Mexico. They may have to break NAFTA to survive the US move in ethanol.

On to dinner on climate change and national security chaired by John Holdren. The highlights happened to be two Brits, Sir Nicholas Stern and James Cameron, the young new head of the Conservative Party. Sir Nicholas basically summarized his now very influential report arguing strongly that the cost of doing little was far more costly in the long run than taking strong action today. But it was Cameron who really surprised me. He wholeheartedly supported Sterns conclusions, (Stern is Labour)  and then went on to argue that we need an international emissions authority… a kind of global EPA….not at all Tory like.

A Pakastani general described the horror of his work in relief in a 1971 Tsunami that killed nearly 2 million people in Bangladesh as the waves washed over them. It was the future he feared from climate change. And Nick Kristoff, the NYT columnist, chimed in with the idea that maybe the WEB 2.0 phenomenon of bottoms up action might become a novel means of environmental enforcement…creating a kind of global ecological transparency.

At my table were two  amazing young woman, a member of the Brazilian Congress and one of a small group fighting hard on environmental issues in Brazil and a Lebanese educator and mother who is trying to preserve some hope for the future for her kids and students while trying to teach them something about the interconnected world of ecosystems in the midst of a dreadful conflict.

Day 3. Thursday 1-25-07

Thursday Morning
The morning began at 7 with a breakfast conversation with David Cameron, the Tory leader. He joined me because of a comment I had made at the dinner the evening before. I must say I continued to be surprised by him. He intends to really lead on environmental issues in Britain. He said, "After all shouldn't a conservative be for conservation."  That was followed by an interview with the Dutch Financial Times on my views of the issues here at Davos. Then ran into Jim Rodgers again along with Tom Stewart the editor  of HBR and Jim and I agreed to do an article for HBR on how a CEO addresses anticipatory investments in light of long term issues like climate change. Then along came Paul Saffo to enrich the conversation. That was all before 8:30 AM

Now I am in the great hall in panel on Iraq, chaired by Richard Haas, the President of the Council on foreign Relations with a Sunni and Shiite VP of Iraq. Much to our surprise the panel was modestly positive. They focused on how to get beyond the politics of exclusion. On the other hand they argued they would need peace keepers for a long time, even possibly under a UN mandate, as a last resort. They even agreed that they were not far from reaching agreement on oil revenue sharing. Graham Allison of Harvard rose to ask whether the Iraquis would really come with their own security forces. And the Sunni VP gave a fairly detailed response on how the forces would develop and intervene. And even the Shiite VP agreed strongly that Iraq would remain one country.

On the way to the next session ran into Peter Gabriel who had arrived late last night. He was on his way to a Reuters interview that they were doing in Second Life.

Now in a session on local energy solutions with people like Amory Lovins, Tim Wirth, David Victor, Angela Belcher from MIT, Bunker Roy from India and Bill McDonough. At the session with me are Bill Gross and Marcia Goodstein from Idea Labs, and sitting next to me is Orville Schell. Amory is now speaking and reminding everyone on how much is actually already underway all over the world. Angela Belcher spoke on the major leaps now underway in advanced materials that will enable new solar technologies.

A Chinese delegate, CS Kiang argued that China can do a great deal because they are so inefficient… a lot of low hanging ‘grapes" as he said. He'll be in Berkeley in a few weeks and we will meet. An Ecuadorian Rose grower just spoke about how they are becoming carbon neutral. The Chief Investment Officer of Citibank and interested in how energy investing can represent a major new opportunity…..well a bit more later.

Early afternoon…just had lunch with Laura Tyson, discussing the upcoming Presidential election. She is hoping for another Clinton White House with her in the cabinet. In any event she has returned to Berkeley from London and I am hoping she will do a bit with us. Toward the end we were joined by Sergay Brin and Larry Page and the conversation went Google. Also spent a bit of time with Kishore Mahbubani the Dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore talking Asian Geopolitics. And with Bob Friedman from Fortune, who is doing a special Green Issue of Fortune and would like me to do an article on our EPA work. …more after the upcoming China session…on What China Wants.

Just finished three conversations: First was Richard Cooper of Harvard and former head of the NIC. The main subject was Niall Ferguson of whom Richard had a mixed opinion…loved some things, e.g. arguments around. But thought Ferguson was on weaker ground when he dealt with economics. While talking with Richard, a hand from behind reached out and it was Tom Friedman. We went off to discuss his next column which will be about George Bush cleaning out his desk now that he has been fired last November. And that the Democrats ought to put  strong climate change bill and an Iraq bill on his desk, inviting a veto.

Then it was Baroness Susan Greenfield, a British biologist with whom I discussed the future of human biology for my upcoming Nature article. She believes the next great leap will be a deep understanding of how the brain generates consciousness.

Then it was off to China. Cheng Siwei Vice Chairman of the People's Congress emphasized the commonalities that China had with all other nations. Pei Minxin of the Carnegie Endowment asked whether China knows what it really wants. Kishore Mahbubani raised whether the competing global visions would shape China. He made the argument that others echoed that China has become a status quo power with a deep investment in the current order.

Bob Zoelleck  enmphasized China's participation in international institutions. Wang Jianshou the head of China Mobile made a surprising point to emphasize the scale. When he started the company, there were less than three million phone subscribers in all of China. Today China mobile has over 300 million customers. William Donaldson former head of the SEC not surprisingly emphasized the rule of law in China and China's political role in the developing world. The moderator Robert Thomson of the Times of London tried to get Kishore to define China as an enemy and a problem.

Thomson observed that China will be defined by how the world sees it. Kishore said that was the wrong way to think about the issue. China defines itself through its history. Cheng also emphasized that China must take responsibility for the international system, but only a limited sense given its limited capabilities. He also pointed out that China's trading partners in places like Africa and Latin America are interesting but no where near as important as the US. Cheng was asked by SKY news… "What about human rights?" he replied that they are aiming to steadily increase the scope of human rights toward a much more free society. The next big step will be passing a new bill granting basic property rights to all people.

Also had a brief conversation with Dave Gergen who was sitting behind me about the Obama phenomenon. He thought that Obama was for real but has a big challenge to difine himself in substance…so far it is all about authenticity and not issues. And he has until this fall to do it. Interestingly he observed that Obama's biggest rival would be Edwards as the other non Hilary. But his number two at the Kennedy school has just left to join the Obama campaign as the deputy campaign manager.

Then went to a session on petropolitics moderated by Tom Friedman with Rex Tillerson the CEO of Exxon, Jeroen VanderVeer, CEO of Shell (and an old friend), Sam Bodman US Energy Secretary, and a few more. It was content free. They all avoided Tom's questions and the audiences…not a great performance.

This evening it was to be the IT governors cocktail party and dinner, but…I screwed up…sort of. The World Economic Forum as a series of industry groups that also meet and help guide the program of the forum. Tonight was a joint cocktail party of the Media governors and the IT governors and then I thought a shared dinner. In fact Paul Saffo and I had discussed what we would say at the dinner as intellectual fare for the evening along with the other guests.

As we were going down the stairs from the cocktail party to the dinner, Bob Wright the CEO of NBC/Universal grabbed me and invited me to join him for dinner which did. We had great discussions on many including the work we are doing with SCI FI Channel one of his networks. We were entertained by a fascinating interview in which Sir Martin Sorrel, another friend, interviewed Rupert Murdoch and founder of MySpace a recent acquisition of NewsCorp. Watching Murdoch make the poor young man dance was almost painful…but it was also clear that Murdoch has a very well focused and articulate vision of managing the digital transition.

As I looked around the room I could not find Paul Saffo or my other fellow panelists. And no one ever called on me to speak. Only as we were leaving the dinner when I ran into Bill Gross and Joe Schoendorf who had spoken at the IT dinner that I found out that there were two dinners and I went to the wrong one. I had missed the IT governors dinner altogether. What an idiot!

After dinner it was off to another climate change event. This time it was the Young Global Leaders of Tomorrow (YGLs) who were organizing the event. This is a group of young future leaders (mostly 20 -30 year olds) had decided to take on climate change as an issue last year and this year they were launching a campaign that they had worked on for the last year.

The project looks hopeful. It is an effort to tie highly valued brands to climate action. But it was an all star event. At one point a photographer captured Claudia Schiffer, Hakken the studly young Crown Prince of Norway and I all in conversation. Shimone Peres also spoke and he is always remarkable and inspiring. And it appears he will be named President of Israel in the next few days. By the way the Prince and I will  be together most of next week at an energy meeting in Norway.

Day 4. Friday 1-26-07

Friday Morning
The morning began with a highly productive working breakfast with Larry Brilliant to discuss whether GBN would be willing to do for the AIDS initiative what we did for Pandemics last year. He and I will be meeting with Peter Piot the head of the initiative who is here, to help formulate the process.

My first session of the day was The Procreation Choice…about reproductive technologies and all the issues surrounding them. I was the moderator but the panel was terrific. A Columbia Professor Raymond Fisman who has studied how people choose at sperm banks (what is really desirable sperm) and how they choose dates, Prof. Robert Winston of Imperial College, London who argued that gender choice was about to become a real issue, but the rest of the issue was irrelevant.

But most profound was Ingrid Mattson, the first woman head of the Islamic Society of North America. She took the conversation in a surprising direction focusing on the immigration issue and how some countries are now trying to raise their birthrates through technology to avoid becoming immigrant societies. She also pointed out that, of course, limiting reproduction has been and continues to be the most critical reproductive decision that women are making today.

Now in a session on African Geopolitics.

Thabo Mbeki is speaking mainly on African security issues and the challenges of sovereignty. He argued that focusing on poverty as a source of conflict was the answer and that until we eliminate poverty we won't end the violence.  I must say it seems backwards to me. He is also arguing for a relationship with the world from an African perspective for example seeking an equitable relationship with China…not perpetuating the old colonial model. Africans need to develop the strength to really negotiate with China.

Richard  Haas said that Africa is now part of globalization …not just an internal matter for the continent. Now linked to the world in at least ten ways…energy, HIV/AIDs, terror, developmental, trade (as negotiators), conflicts, genocide, governance, role of AU, role of external powers. He argued that there is a need for the US and China to come together on how to deal with Africa. CEO of Total, said Africa is now 11% of world oil production but soon 15% with a growing competition with the Chinese for access.

He was emphasizing traditional approaches for joint ventures. The Nigerian finance minister, Nenadi Usman, who was really impressive, emphasized the need for new leadership. Africa has to pull itself up. We need to determine what we want to be. Need to reinforce good behavior. Need for good governance…then can do everything else. Can shed the weight of the past. We are now seeing even best practices in Nigeria. US General James Jones the former head of  NATO argued for NATO  to be engaged in Africa, training, etc. and be involved in the variety issues in Africa, especially terrorism…need for steady presence. I asked a question of Mbeki on Zimbabwe.

How could they deal with the misery that Mugabe is producing there?  Mbeki replied that they were working on the internal parties none of whom want foreign military intervention. It was a self serving and vacuous answer that annoyed many of the panel.

My lunch event was on extending human lifespan. In the end there was a lot of agreement on the technology potential but the real issue they focused on was cost and associated inequities. If we can't all live longer should anyone?

On the way back to the hall I ran into Moises Naim the editor of Foreign Policy who raved about his work with GBN. And he and I agreed that he would publish the debate that Niall Ferguson and I will do in September on applied history: the optimist vs the pessimist. Also ran into Steve Case, who much to my surprise was a big fan of GBN. Also ran into Mike Porter today…this is where we end up seeing each other most often.

The afternoon session was "The Next Limits of Growth".

Martin Wolf the moderator and said  that  Malthus was wrong for 200 years because of innovation and the availability of fossil fuels leading to rising agricultural productivity. Brabeck-Letmathe CEO of  Nestle argued that innovation will continue unabated and that there really no are limits, if  markets work (right price matters.) His big issue was water because markets don't work in water. Sam DiPiazza, CEO of PWC also said no limits and reported on their current survey of 1000 CEOS. They are optimistic about growth (90%) but energy is a concern, along with climate change and resource scarcity. Isdell, CEO  of Coke also said no limits.

The biggest threat is that we lose confidence in the growth oriented system as a result of income gaps, and job insecurity, Kindle of ABB also said no limits but the necessary energy substitution would lead to much higher costs. Chukwuma Soludo the head of the Nigerian Central Bank and also quite impressive said most of Africa's limits were internal limits.  Water kept coming up as perhaps the greatest constraint. Soludo, when the population issue came up, suggested open the borders and let population poor countries absorb some of the excess from the population rich countries.

You can imagine how the Europeans reacted to the suggestion of vast numbers of Nigerians arriving on their shores seeking work.. The politics of water and immigration, not technology are the real constraints to solutions, they all seemed to agree. Van Jones of Oakland expressed a great deal of skepticism at the panels relative optimism and spoke for many others in the room.

Jimmy Wales, of Wikipedia has just arrived and rang in desperation. I am off to help him solve the problem that no one at registration knows anything about him…a big oops. It turns out the invitation was for next year and someone in Bono's entourage screwed up in inviting him now but we managed to get Jimmy in any way.

So Jimmy and I headed over to an event organized by Marc Benioff the CEO of Salesforce.com to launch his book on social entrepreneurship and to honor some of people featured in the book such as Peter Gabriel, Michael Dell and Alan Hassenfeld, CEO of Hasbro. It was a delight to see Peter and Alan getting well deserved respect.  As I was leaving for dinner, for the first time, ran into Gavin Newsom who promised to come by our new office to officially "bless" it. The mayor, as always, was in great form.

On the way to dinner I stopped at the Accel Partners party…they always have the best wine, champagne and food…in a very beautiful modern art museum. But this year unlike the last few years they did not do it with Google who was having their own party later on that evening. Accel was a much smaller event as a result.

Then it was on to a Davos dinner which for me was a real treat. The main guest, who was at my table, was Mike Griffin, the Director of NASA. The other guests were the Chief Scientifc Advisor to the Prime Minister of Japan and an old friend the cosmologist Lord (Martin) Rees, Master of Trinity College and President of the Royal Society. Griffin was astonishing, candid, insightful, imaginative, open minded, (a bit arrogant), though willing to listen, and willing to admit that he got something wrong. And not at all like a typical bureaucrat. His vision is one of a space faring civilization and he doesn't mean the US, he means humankind. He loves the idea of space based solar power, Stewart Brand will be pleased to hear. He has funded some of the best innovative rocket technology like Elon Musk's Space X. So for me this was a really exciting evening.

As it happens sitting next to me was another space buff, Abdullatif Al-Othman, the CFO of Saudi Aramco, someone I have worked with before. He was an excited fan too, but he also had very kind words about the impact we have had on Aramco and invited us back.

Then things got weird…

So after dinner I decided to go the Google party which was beginning at 10:30. After putting on my warm clothes to march back up the frozen hill to the Steignberger, I had not gotten twenty feet from the front door of the hotel when I was hijacked by an Arabian oil mogul whom I've know for some time and mainly see here at Davos. He leaned in close and whispered urgently to me…"Shimone Peres is about to speak here at your hotel and I need to listen to him, but I can't walk in there alone. If any of the Arab press see me I am in deep trouble, but I have to be there. Please take me in there so I can be anonymous." So what could I do but turn around and take him in.

The event was a night cap with several Nobel laureates including Joe Stiglitz, Ron Engle and Berkeley' Steve Chu and soon to arrive Shimone Peres. But Peres got trapped at the Accel party and never showed. The speakers were great though. When Larry Summers who was interviewing them asked Joe Stiglitz "what is the one fallacy in the air around Davos that would undermine some common beliefs?" Joe, replied, "Only one?"And then he went on to attack the discussion on the need for a new round of trade agreements. He argued that no deal is better than a bad deal. And the last round was a bad deal." That would indeed be a very controversial position around Davos.

At the end of the session my Arabian friend salvaged his evening when I introduced him to Joe Stiglitz and he got to ask Joe about the future of oil and he replied…"biofuels!" And as it happened I had just introduced him to Jay Kiesling, one of the leaders in synthetic biology whose new start up company will soon be focusing on bacteria to produce biofuels. He immediately asked Kiesling if he could invest as this is obviously the future. We ended the evening by a discussion of whether or not we cold help him deal with the security issues facing his country. By then it was too late to head up the hill. So for me, even if I missed the Google party, perhaps something of value will flow from this, the Noble event was really interesting anyway and I was able to help an old friend.

Day 5. Saturday 1-27-07

Saturday, The Final Day
The morning was dominated by a set of meetings and interviews. The most interesting was a meeting at the suggestion of Larry Brilliant with Peter Piot, the head of the UN AIDS program. GBN, working with Larry about eighteen months ago organized an enormously consequential meeting on dealing with Pandemics. The AIDS program is looking ahead to the next phase of the pandemic and wants to develop scenarios and strategy and have asked us to help them in the way we worked on the possible influenza epidemic. Their project called AIDS 2031 is likely to be an extended process over the next eighteen months involving a great variety of actors. I think it is an honor to be asked and I hope we can make some difference in what is obviously one of the grave issues the world is facing.

After the meeting, Peter Piot and I were headed down the hill and about to get in his car, when Peter Gabriel came out of the same hotel overstuffed into a snowsuit. He needed a ride too, so all three Peter's piled into the back seat of this not very large Audi. Try to imagine the scene with a UN Deputy Secretary General, a rock star looking a bit like the Michellin Man and me all smunched in together.

This morning Tom Friedman quoted me in his column on what Bush should be doing on energy and the environment. As a result as the day went on many of the participants came up to comment, agree or disagree and it became one of the background notes of the day.

The afternoon for me was dominated by the panel I moderated in the main hall on WEB 2.0, with Bill Gates, Mark Parker, CEO of Nike , the founders of YouTube and Flickr, Chad Hurley and Caterina Fake, and Viviane Reding the Information commissioner of the EU, with a challenge from Dennis Kneale of Forbes. The panel went well, everyone played by the rules and it really became a conversation about the empowerment of the individual by the new technology. I began with the "Benjamin effect." The reason I got onto this early was not brilliance on my part. It was watching my son Ben uploading light saber fighting movies he had made for a competition with dozens of other kids and downloading original Lego designs from other Lego maniacs. Gates really was quite good with a detailed and imaginative vision of how people were going to use technology, a picture of rich and dense ubiquitous mobile access.

The next major event was Tony Blair's valedictory address. It was insightful, articulate, witty, bold and even controversial. He had a wonderful self deprecating sense of humor. He had, for example, recently been at a signing of a bilateral climate agreement with the state of California where he had been standing next to our Gov. Schwarzenegger and said "it was the first time I had ever experienced body envy of another politician." He addressed three major challenges, climate change, trade and security.

Blair argued that China, India and the United States needed to accept binding CO2 agreements. He went on to say that there was an opportunity for business to find an alignment between their sense of moral purpose and their business strategy in dealing with climate change and poverty. His really bold strokes came in arguing for a new  framework of international institutions and instruments of shared action in several areas. Blair argued for the reinvention of the Security Council, new peacekeeping tools, new international means of nation building and a G8+5. The head of the WEF asked me to throw out the first question which I did…on how blair was going to convince the Greens of Britain about his new positive position on nuclear power? And he gave a highly informed and nuanced answer…but it was basically that we can't reduce green house gases enough withoutnukes.

John McCain was on the closing panel and made one very important point…that Congress would pass a strong climate change bill and that Bush would sign it. You can imagine that was well received especially coming from him.  I must say he did not look well and wondered if he was up to the rigors of a Presidential campaign.

Davos for me ended with an event that I always look forward to, The Nerds Dinner.

On Saturday evening the World Economic Forum holds a blacktie gala in the Kongress Hotel and it is a real drag. Imagine over 4000 people jammed in face to face in penguin suits and gowns, with men smoking cigars, drinking bad wine, fighting to get access to tables filled with bad food, irrelevant music blaring in the background with everyone shouting at the person next to them so that they can be heard…a nightmare to be avoided.

And, oh by the way, the really cool people…CEOs, heads of state and major celebrities are not in the hall. They are having elegant private dinners.

Well,about fifteen years ago Paul Saffo organized a dinner for the Silicon Valley types who weren't cool enough yet and definitely did not want to be in the hall, which came to be known as the Nerds dinner. Joe Schoendorf of Accel Partners has really become the sponsor, organizer and provider of the really great wines. Orville Schell always does a brilliant and hilarious poem about the participants and there are truly hysterical moments.

So first of all who was there…a partial guest list: The head of NIMH, Rob Socolow of Princeton, the founders of Facebook, Steve Chu of Berkeley (Noble in physics), Yossi Vardi, Israel's top VC and funniest, the founders of Flickr and Skype, Senator Maria Cantwell, John Markoff of the NYT, Orville Schell, Shai Agassi of SAP, Peter Gabriel, Larry Brilliant and wife, the women's world champion Kenyan marathoner, Lord Martin Rees, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Mitch Kapor and probably some others I've missed.

The evening began with a toast to Rich Newton, the Dean of Engineering of UC who died on New Years Day and had been a regular part of the dinner. The best moment came during the introductions. Each of us had to introduce ourselves using only seven words. Many were witty. Mine was, "Taking the Long View, but rarely right." But the best by far was Sergay Brin, "Mother says, Google, Schmoogle, finish your PHD." And with that I will end for the evening.

Sunday 1-28-07

Mid day, Another Davos Moment, The Airport Lounge

Many people are headed home through Zurich airport on Sunday at mid day. And we always run into friends there. It began with a conversation with Lord Rees, the new head of the Royal Society (the British equivalent of the AAAS) who been looking to have a conversation with our friend John Holdren the new head of the AAAS, when along came John and they went off together.

Prof. Victor Halberstadt, one of Europe's leading business intellectuals walked over and joined me for a particularly interesting. He wanted to challenge something I had said a year or so before; that political Europe would be internally absorbed in integrating all the new members of the EU for decades to come. He too said they would be internally absorbed for a different reason. He sees Europe fragmenting, but no along nation state lines. Rather it is tearing itself apart along many seams, immigrant vs. native, religion, class, age, sexual orientation and culture.

The European vision of the post WWII generation has been lost at the very time that the internal tensions are becoming ever greater and the bases for agreement ever weaker. He believes that most of the energy of these societies will be burned up in just holding their countries together. It will mean slower growth in Europe as interest groups buy each other off out of the state coffers.

Based on a further conversation at his home in Amsterdam, he also believes that at least one of the major fault-lines is likely to be the increasing role of religion in politics in Europe. This will not be about issues of religious values, e.g. abortion, gay rights, etc. as in the US. These are settled issues in Europe. It is more about the politics of identity and Victor sees parties like the German Christian Democrats becoming more Christian. It is another way of creating a unique sense of identity now that the European dream may be dying and the nation state has been semi-absorbed into the EU. It gives people something strong with which to identify. As before in European history, this is unlikely to have a happy outcome.

As always among the best things about Davos were the many meetings and conversations most of which could happen only there. Some of the meetings will lead, like the AIDS conversation, to more later and others are merely interesting and informative. There were new people like the President of the Islamic Society of the US, the Brazilian legislator and her husband the CEO of Head the sports equipment company and many old friends like, Jim Rodgers and martin Wolf. There was the opportunity to meet many of the new and consequential start-ups, like YouTube, Facebook, Skype, etc. So the networking function of Davos worked well.

Looking back over the week it feels like there was little sense of urgency in the world. There was a lot of discussion of the big problems: climate change, water, trade, economic imbalances, the dollar, religious and ethnic conflicts, rising China and India, extreme poverty and many more. But in the background was a global economy that felt fairly robust and from a business perspective times are good and no big threats appear imminent. You might call the mood complacent. There were no obvious big surprises or unanticipated crises.

The upside of that complacency was a sense that first of all the problems are well recognized and that we can even imagine how most, if not all can be addressed. There was, for example, a broad consensus that climate change was an urgent issue but the only real question was what was the mix of solutions. 

I can't help wonder, as a result, if we are not missing something. Will we return to Davos next year only to find a very different mood following unanticipated events? Could it be a dollar crisis? Even more surprising weather? A scientific development? A breakdown in a key country?

John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

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