Edge 207—April 13 , 2007
(10,900 words)




Downtown Berkeley. From Nicholas Humphrey

THE THIRD CULTURE

EVOLUTION CLOSES IN BERKELEY
Nicholas Humphrey

THE HEROIC IMAGINATION
A Talk with Philip Zimbardo

THE REALITY CLUB

Zenon Pylyshyn on Stephen M. Kosslyn's "What Shape Are A German Shepard's Ears"

Stephen Kosslyn Replies

THIRD CULTURE NEWS

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Psychologist Philip Zimbardo compares the Stanford Prison Experiment ro Abu Ghraib

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

THE HEROIC IMAGINATION [4.12.07]
A Talk with Philip Zimbardo


Philip Zimbardo Edge Video Broadband | Modem

Introduction by Russell Weinberger

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

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

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

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

RW

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

PHILIP ZIMBARDO's Edge Bio Page


THE HEROIC IMAGINANATION

PHILIP ZIMBARDO: One of the questions I’ve been asking myself is, Is there a counterpart to Hannah Arendt’s classical analysis of evil in terms of her phrase “the banality of evil.”  If you remember, she created that concept after having watched the trial at Nuremberg of Adolf Eichmann and the other Nazi henchmen accused of the mass murder  – genocide – of millions of Jews. And one of the questions the world was asking itself was, “How do we understand these monsters?”  After these lengthy trials, Eichmann and others were assessed, interviewed, and studied inside out by teams of psychiatrists.  Their conclusion, at least in the case of Eichmann, was that he was absolutely normal. In fact one report-writer said, “He’s more normal than I am. He’s a good father, good husband, good citizen.”

Hannah Arendt was trying to make sense of the contrast between the man who orchestrated the deaths of around two million Jews and the one on trial who was normal, intelligent, witty, charming.  And that contrast was really terrifying. In fact, the phrase she used to describe Eichman was that he was so terrifyingly normal that this was a new kind of monster – a monster that we are not prepared to face and fight because he looks just like us.  He looks just like our next-door neighbor, and that’s what’s frightening.  The evil that we see in the media and in art is always packaged as monsters:  they are easily distinguishable, you know they are the enemy, and it’s easy to arm yourself against them. But when an enemy looks like your father, when the enemy looks like your wife or kids, then there’s no preparation for it. Especially when there are lots of those enemies and they could be anywhere. They are faceless and placeless, and that’s the ultimate fear.

In her analysis, Ardent was saying that from everything we knew about his history, Eichmann was essentially a normal person before he went into Auschwitz.  And when he came out of Auschwitz he was again assessed as a normal person.   So the interesting question is, what was the process of transformation from before to after his being embedded in that situation. As a social psychologist, I bring forth the power of situations to transform good people into evil, which is what I’ve been studying since my Stanford prison study way back in 1971. I argue that there are some features of special situations that can corrupt the best and brightest. Normal people, even good people. Not all, but most. And the ones who resist, the ones who somehow have the street-smarts – the situational sophistication – to resist are the exceptions. In fact, I’m going to call them heroes.  

Arendt’s analysis is really a forerunner of the situational analysis, although she doesn’t express it as such.  There is no question that what Eichmann did was evil, but there’s also no question that when he was outside that situation, he was normal. The issue then is, what is it about the particulars of that situation that was able to transform this person.  My Stanford Prison study was focused on exactly that point.  What made it unique and different from most other research is that I knew on August 14, 1971 that every one of those student volunteers for that study, who had come from all over the United States, was an absolutely ordinary normal intelligent young man.  We gave the volunteers a battery of psychological tests, in-depth interviews, and we only picked the two dozen who were most normal, most healthy.  What is special about experiments like these is that they involve random assignment to conditions.  We flip a figurative coin and one of these normal guys is a prisoner and another one is a guard, and so forth. At the beginning of the study, there’s no difference between those who are playing the role of guards and those who are playing the role of prisoners. You can ask, why we didn’t just go observe what happens in real prisons? The answer is that in real prisons, you confound whatever is bad in the place with whatever is bad in the people who go into that place: you confound whatever selection factors there are in who becomes a guard and whatever selection factors there are in who becomes a prisoner.

So we knew, at that particular time, that our prison was populated by middle-class, normal, intelligent, ordinary people who had no history of crime, drugs, or violence.  In fact – it was 1971 – these kids were civil rights activists, anti-war activists – mostly hippies, with hair everywhere. We put them in a place that I had constructed to exemplify the psychology of imprisonment. I had conducted a course the previous summer with an ex-convict, Carlo Prescott, on the psychology of prison, and I came to understand the psychological foundations of the mentality of a guard and a prisoner. And we recreated that prison environment in this setting – in this Stanford basement dungeon.

In one sense, the Stanford Prison Study was like a Greek drama: it was pitting good people against an evil place, and the question was, who or what wins?  The audience, and the chorus, want the people to win. We want humanity to triumph over evil; we want personal dignity and the individual’s will to resist, to dominate.  The sad story, the sad conclusion, the sad message is that the bad situation won, and the good people lost. Now, it could be that this was a unique setting.   Of course, it was unique in that nobody had ever done an experiment like this and, because of the ethics involved now, the study is hermetically sealed. It can never be done again. But in fact, the more basic point that I tried to draw is that there are many situations in which we find our selves  –  in work, in school, at home - where there are things about that setting, things about that situation, that can corrupt our good nature.  There are things that undermine our morality, that can start us on the slow path, – it’s always a slow path, it’s always a gradual path – to doing things we never could have imagined. And evil awaits us as the end game on that path.

My research really says several things. One, that we have to recognize that some situations, some social settings, some behavioral contexts, have an unrecognized power to transform the human character of most of us.  Two, that the way to resist – the way to prevent a descent into Hell, if you will – is precisely by understanding what it is about those situations that gives them transformative power. It is by this understanding that you can change those situations, avoid those situations, challenge those situations. And it’s only by willfully ignoring them, by assuming individual nobility, individual rationality, or individual morality that we become most vulnerable to their insidious power to make good people do bad things. Those who sustain an illusion of invulnerability are the easiest touch for the con man, the cult recruiter, or the social psychologist ready to demonstrate who easy it is to twist such arrogance into submission.

One way of looking at the consequences of the Stanford Prison Study is as a cautionary tale of the many ways in which good people can be readily and easily seduced into evil.  But there’s an equally important – maybe more important – consequence of the study, which  is what it tells us about the flip side of human nature.  The Stanford Prison Study was ended abruptly: it was supposed to run for two weeks and it ended – was terminated – after only six days because of a very heroic act.

A young woman, a former graduate student of mine named Christina Maslach, who had just gotten a job as assistant professor in psychology at Berkeley, came down to our experiment on Thursday night.  I had  arranged for many people who knew nothing about the experiment to come down to interview everyone – our staff, the prisoners, the guards – to get a fresh look, an outside impression, of what was going on in our study. When she came down that night, she observed the ten o’clock toilet run. Prisoners were lined up to go to the toilet, and this was the last time they could go to the toilet for that night. They were lined up, guards put bags over their heads, chained their legs together, had them put their hand on each other’s shoulder, and then marched, sounding out their ID numbers. I was doing something; she was standing behind me.  

I looked up and said, “hey, Chris, look at that,” and turned around to look at her.   She was looking away and I said, “hey, don’t you see that. Isn’t that interesting”
She started tearing up, and ran out. I ran after her, and said, “don’t you see that, isn’t that interesting?”

She said, “no, it’s not interesting, it’s awful.”

 I said, “what do you mean it’s awful?”

She said, “it’s terrible, what you’re doing to those boys. I’m not sure I really want to continue to know you.”  We had just started dating, and she said, “I’m not sure I want to continue our relationship, if this is the real you; you’re not the person that I have come to love.”

That was like a slap in the face. She was saying that I had been transformed. I was looking at the same thing she was looking at, and saw it as interesting human behavior under the experimental microscope; whereas she was looking at young boys being dehumanized and tormented in my dungeon prison.

At that moment, I said, “you’re right. I have to end the study.” And we did; we ended it the next day. Our encounter was around 11 PM: I needed time to call in all the staff, the prisoners who had been released, I had to call in all the guard shifts. So we ended it the next day – because she was willing to challenge authority, and risk our relationship.

Now what makes this especially powerful is that more than 50 other people had come down to that prison, including a priest who had been a prison chaplain (while he was there interviewing the boys, one broke down right in front of him), and a public defender.  We had a parole board hearing, with secretaries and others not associated with our research team, we had parents’ night and visitors’ night, with their kids telling them how terrible it was, and they all left the prison saying it was an interesting simulation, and that I was doing interesting work.  Christina was the only one who really said ‘the emperor is wearing no clothes’ and reminded me that I was responsible for the evil going on in that situation. This was especially heroic because, first, we had just started dating, and this could mean the end of our loving relationship, and secondly,  I was her main recommender, the main academic reference. She had already gotten a job at Berkeley, but still, I was a full professor and she was just starting out.  She was willing to sacrifice both the personal and the professional relationship to stand firm on her stance of valuing human dignity. (Incidentally, we were married a year later at the Stanford Chapel, and soon will be celebrating our 35th anniversary.)

So that was the start of my thinking about heroism, about what makes people engage in heroic acts.  It turns out that, more recently, there was an even more dramatic incident of heroism. An army reserve MP  –  a private at the bottom of the ladder in the military  –  named Joe Darby saw the horrendous images of the abuse at Abu Graib, that his buddy Corporal Charles Graner gave him on a CD that was circulating among soldiers in that facility. Darby looked at the hundreds of images of abuse and degradation of Iraqui detainees, and said, “this is horrible  –  this is immoral. I have to turn these in to authorities; this should not be allowed to continue.”

It was his act that stopped the abuses. It was especially heroic because, being a lowly private army reservist, he had to take it to a senior officer in the investigating unit, and that took a lot of guts. He also knew that his buddies in his unit were going to get in trouble, and that if they got in trouble, there could be serious consequences.  Namely, they might harm or even kill him. But he did it anyway; he did the right thing. In the end, he had to be put in protective custody for three years because everybody wanted to kill him – not only the people in his unit, but the people in his home town. The military also had to hide his  mother and sister to protect their lives. Darby was seen as a traitor to America, to the honor or the military and to the Bush administration because he exposed the abuses and thus became an enemy of the people. The messenger was the enemy, rather than the people who gave him that message.   Those two acts are acts of heroism by ordinary people and, to me, this really is the flip side of Hannah Arendt’s, banality of evil, with what I have termed “the banality of heroism.”

Heroes come in two varieties. There are life-long heroes: people who dedicate their whole life to a mission, to a cause, to sacrificing themselves – Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Gandhi, to mention a few. These are extraordinary individuals. Most people in the world who engage in heroic acts are more like Christina or Joe Darby.  These are individuals who find themselves in a particular situation – one in which other people are looking the other way or continuing to perpetrate an evil behavior – and who, for some reason we don’t know, take heroic action. They do something to stop it – blow the whistle or otherwise challenge it in a direct way. That action is “heroic,” even if the people are “ordinary.”  My sense is that the typical notion we have of heroes as super-stars, as super heroes, as Superman, and Batman, and Wonder Woman, gives us a false impression that being a hero means being able to do thing that none of us can actually accomplish.  I want to argue just the opposite: that what we have to be doing more and more is cultivating the “heroic imagination” – especially in our children.   The models of behavior that we want to give them are not rock stars, are not hip-hop artists, are not media celebrities or sports celebrities, – or even comic book heroes.  Rather, it is the ordinary New York subway hero, Wesley Autrey, the 50-year old African-American construction worker who saved the life of a young man who had fallen on the train tracks from a seizure. While 75 others passively watched, he handed his two daughters over to a stranger and jumped down to save someone he did not know from death or dismemberment from and on coming subway. “I did what anyone would do, I did what everyone ought to do,” were Autrey’s  classic ordinary hero lines.

Cultivating the heroic imagination involves just two aspects. First,  thinking of yourself as an active person rather than a passive person: thinking of yourself as somebody willing to get involved; to move off the safety spot of minding your own business; to take a decisive action when the world around you looks the other way. Second, thinking less about yourself, less about your ego, your reputation, less concerned about looking foolish, making a mistake, upsetting someone’ s apple cart, and becoming socio-centric – more concerned for the well-being of others or upholding a moral imperative. Perhaps it also entails a dash of optimism, so that you believe you have the power to change something bad by your actions.

Whistle blowing heroes are also willing to lift the veil of secrecy that usually conceals the truth, greed and illegal practices.  In response to pressures to be a team player, to get with the program, to see the situation in ways others frame it, these heroes are willing to resist those social and career pressures and see the situation not the way it is,” but rather in the way it should be.” 

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

 To study heroism, what is required  is being  there at the moment of the heroic action, because what you have to study is the decision-making dynamic. You have to be there at the decisive moment of the heroic action, or immediately after. We have to ask  “what’s going through your mind? Why are you doing this? Why are you taking this action rather than that? Is it that you’re a hero because you never thought  through the possible negative consequences to you? Or you worked them through and said, it doesn’t matter?”  Researchers have never done this. So what we need to do is create an experimental framework – something like the Milgram study.  The study would study people in a paradigm where most would be induced to do bad things.  But the moment somebody does the good thing (stops,  resists,  disobeys, challenges the system),  is the moment at which you want to understand what is going through his or her mind. What is the cost/benefit reasoning involved? That’s the kind of research I’m planning  to be doing in the future.

Right now my concern is just getting people to begin to think more and more about the ordinariness of heroes. The celebration of heroes – our society does not truly celebrate whistle-blowers, indeed most end up being punished in various ways.  We also have a notion of heroes as physical heroes – soldiers in battle, policemen, firemen at the World Trade Center – and surely they are heroes, there’s no question about it. But that sets a barrier between them and the rest of us, who are not in uniform, who have not had their training, or who are women, children and the elderly.

Another example is the heroes that we study in our school:  in literature we study The Iliad, the Odyssey, Agamemnon, Achilles, and other mighty warriors, and on the home front, there are our war heroes like Generals Lee, Grant, McArthur, Patton, Eisenhower. These are legendary figures who are not in any way comparable to the rest of us mere mortals.  Every society needs such larger-than-life figures, but if they are what we think of  as heroes, then the secondary consequence is for us to say, “I could never be that. I wouldn’t want to have to make that huge sacrifice, or bear such a burden.”  I think, on the other hand, we each could say, “I could do what Joe Darby did, I could do what Christina Maslach did.  I could do what that construction worker did on the New York subways to save a life in distress. And that is the central tenet of heroism: taking action. It’s moving yourself from lethargy to action, from the safety of passivity to the danger of action. If you’re passive and do nothing, you’re never going to get in trouble, you’re never going to look foolish, you’re never going to do the wrong thing. You’re never going to misread the cues and take action when it’s not necessary, because maybe you’ll make a mistake. That doesn’t matter, you take action when you tell yourself “I don’t care – the way I see the situation, I have to take action.” So the question is, how do you promote that heroic imagination in various settings? How do you promote that in a family? How do you promote that in a school? How do you promote that in a corporation? And, to use an old-fashioned phrase from the 70s, how do you empower people to take action when action is called for? When in fact, in most institutional settings (starting with the family), action against authority is prevented, minimized, or turned down, as we would rather respect unjust authority than to act to overthrow it.

I can remember Miss Weinstein, in the sixth grade, when she was teaching algebra, we had to sit on our hands because she didn’t want us to interrupt to ask a question. Since her class I have associated algebra with pain. Because your hands got numb, and after a while you didn’t care what she was saying, you didn’t want to ask questions. Well, she destroyed my love for math – and I’m sure that of other kids as well. So, how do you create a system in which I would have felt impelled to go to the principal and say, that what Mrs. Weinstein is doing is wrong, that she is perverting the educational system. Or, less brave, just to send a note, anonymously, from a student in Mrs. Weinstein 6A3 class. Well, why didn’t I do it? I never imagined I could do it and if I did it would matter, it would make a difference to get  her to “change her evil ways.”

I’m sure that story can be repeated over and over again.  Well, in a really fundamental way, the system has to build in the possibility for itself to be  challenged. The system has to have enough gumption to face challenges openly: a school where kids have a way to point out the abuse of teachers; a family structure in which kids can talk freely to their grandparents, uncles or other relatives about their abuse.  How many kids throughout the world are in families where one or more of the kids is being abused? Physically abused or sexually abused cloaked in silence. What keeps it going is the system passivity. It’s that nothing in that setting allows kids to be empowered, or gives kids the freedom to say  – as Joe Darby did, as Christina did  – “this is wrong,” and then to take the next step and stand up to try stopping it by telling somebody who will listen and help to change a wrong into a right.

I think the same can be said for WorldCom and Enron. Why did things go wrong for so long? And these were not kids in a classroom; Enron was supposed to have hired the best and the brightest, and for a long time many folks knew that illegal practices were abounding, books were being cooked, and lies were being spread about the success of the company even as it was failing.  The system did not empower people to question or challenge anything even though it was going horribly wrong.  It is what has come to be known as “administrative evil” in which systems adopt legal-political ideologies that enable any means necessary to achieve the desired end goals of profit, success, of “better, faster, cheaper.” That goes beyond teaching a heroic imagination in individuals to building systems into our institutions that will create an atmosphere of empowerment  – for students, for employees, for patients, for parishioners, for everyone within their orbit of power. My research reveals how easy it is to create environments that will bring out the worst in people. Now the time has come examine the other side of the coin and discover how we create environments that bring out the best in human nature, that truly enable ordinary people to go beyond resisting temptation to challenging its domain.

My new mission is developing a two-pronged approach to heroism.  First, what do we do in a culture to cultivate the heroic imagination in the minds of individuals.  What do we need to give people a sense of personal empowerment, the feeling that “I can make a difference,” that “I should make a difference,” and that “I HAVE to make a difference” when the situation calls for action as  those around are doing nothing.  But secondly,  how do we begin to create situations that will empower those people  – those kids, those workers, those adults, those mental patients, those prisoners  – to constructively challenge wrong-doing and bad deedsin their life setting.  So essentially the task before us is to discover what we need to do  to change our institutions to make them “hero-engendering,” while at the same time working to create enough heroes-in-waiting who are ready and willing to do what is necessary to right wrongs, step forward to act to challenge unjust systems, and come to the aid of anyone who needs our help. I have begun to write about these new conceptions of the banality of heroism; however, going beyond words to changing real people and real institutions is a tall order. We are now talking about fundamental changes in society that can ultimately impact on our humanity. I hope to be a leader in this new revolution of making heroes more common, more prevalent, and more truly respected for the value they make in enhancing the human condition.



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


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Free Press, UK


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$13.95, 336 pp
Harper Perennial

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


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£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 "Intellectual and creative magnificance...an impressive array of insights and challenges that will surely delight curious readers, generalists and specialists alike. " The Skeptical Inquirer




A Footnote on the Imagery Debate: Pylyshyn responds to Kosslyn; Kosslyn Replies

ZENON PYLYSHYN

The following occurs in "What Shape Are A German Shepard's Ears", A Talk By Stephen M. Kosslyn on Edge [7.15.02].

"lately there are signs that interest in mental imagery might be picking up again. This might be a result of another round in my old debate with Zenon Pylyshyn. He's a good friend of Jerry Fodor, but unlike Fodor, Pylyshyn has maintained forever that the experience of mental images is like heat thrown off by a light bulb when you're reading: It's epiphenomenal, it plays no functional role in the process. Pylyshyn believes that mental images are just language-like representations and that it's an illusion that there's something different about them. He published his first paper in 1973. Jim Pomerantz and I replied to it in 1977 and the debate has just been rolling along ever since. Pylyshyn has great distain for neuroscience, to put it mildly. He thinks it's useless, and has no bearing at all on the mind.

"I really don't know what brings him to this conclusion. I suspect it's because he is one of the few (less than 2 percent of the population) people who does not experience imagery. He apparently doesn't even "get" jokes that depend on images. He also probably rejects the very idea of imagery on the basis of his intuitions about computation, based on Von Neumann architecture. He's clearly aware that computers don't need pictorial depictive representations. His intuitions about the mind may be similar. But this is all speculation."

Apart from speculating that my views derive from the fact that I do not have mental images (I have vivid imagery and, being an academic who lives his life in his head, I use them all the time) and even that I fail to get the jokes in images (god knows where these irrelevant ideas come from but they deserve to be in gossip magazines rather than in a public document)! Kosslyn repeats (again and again) the old saw that I believe that images are epiphenomenal and play no role in thought. This gives away an assumption that Kosslyn shares with many people who support the picture-theory of mental imagery: the assumption that the subjective impression we have in mental imagery in itself constitutes a theory. If you claim for some X that X is "epiphenomenal" then you had better be prepared to explain exactly what you mean by X. A vague allusion to a subjective experience cannot be either epiphenomenal or not. Nobody could claim that images are epiphenomenal until they tell us what they think images are, beyond being a subjective experience. Kosslyn has a view about what the experience of having an image comes to: To have an image is to have in your head something that /looks like/ what you are imaging. He calls this relation of "looking like" /depiction/. Since it can't literally look like the dynamic 3D world the best we can hope for is that it is a picture of the world. Now this sort of object is not epiphenomenal, it is just nonexistent because the theory behind it is false.

I have in many writings shown that this assumption is not just a metaphor or a comfortable way of speaking, but it is an essential assumption upon which everything else Kosslyn says about imagery depends — including what one expects to find in the brain to support that view. If you believe in this idea strongly enough there is almost no limit to the sorts of neuroscience findings that you take to be support for this view — including the mere increased metabolic activity in the visual areas of the brain that may accompany imagining. As I have argued at length, even if one found actual pictures laid out in visual cortex this would not support the picture theory, That's because a layout of activity in visual cortex is the wrong kind of thing -- the wrong kind of pattern activity to underwrite mental imagery. Unlike mental images, such patterns (which, by the way, have not been observed beyond a general increase in activity in V1) would have to be two-dimensional, retinotopic (i.e., only a few degrees of visual angle in width), constantly changing, and so on — just as are the patterns put there by vision.

The rush to find neuroscience evidence to support the picture theory is so strong that Kosslyn even argues that low-level psychophysical properties, such as the oblique effect (whereby the resolution threshold for bars is better when the bars are horizontal or vertical than when they are at an oblique angle) occur with mental imagery and are easily explained by the fact that there are more cells sensitive to vertical and horizontal orientations than oblique orientations in visual cortex — an account that may well explain the oblique effect the case of vision. But it could not possibly explain the effect in imagery (assuming that there really is such an effect — it is not easy to do psychophysical experiments with images in which findings are uncontaminated by what the observers know would happen if they actually observed the world). The patterns, according to the picture theory, are projected onto the visual cortex. But the orientation-sensitive cells in the visual cortex are sensitive to the orientation of lines projected on the retina, not the orientation of activation patterns on the surface of the cortex. They are sensitive to retinal orientation because of the way photoreceptive retinal cells are connected, forming a template that is more sensitive to one orientation that another. Unless mental images are projected onto the retina, the numerical distribution of different orientation-sensitive cells in the visual cortex cannot explain any psychophysical effects found with mental images. But so desperate are those who seek a neurophysiological explanation of the bankrupt picture theory of mental imagery that they take almost any neuroscience finding as support. Contrary to Kosslyn's claim (quoted above) that I have "great disdain for neuroscience", what I have disdain for — not only in neuroscience but anywhere else in research — is poor reasoning and irrationally held beliefs. If Kosslyn does not have an adequate argument for his views he should at least keep from speculating on my motives and refrain from advertising his ideas about what I like or don't like in public documents.

For a short description of my views the reader may click here.

ZENON PYLYSHYN
is Board of Governors Professor of Cognitive Science, Center for Cognitive Science and Department of Psychology, Rutgers University. His latest book is Seeing and Visualizing: It's not what you think.

Zenon Pylyshyn's Edge Bio Page


STEPHEN KOSSLYN

I apologize if my comments offended Zenon Pylyshyn. I was asked questions in the course of the interview, and responded honestly and directly on the basis of what I knew (or thought I knew, based in part on what I recalled Zenon's telling me, some 25 years ago — but I'll be the first to acknowledge that memories blur and morph with time, and I could have misremembered his comments).

The "debate" has now become far too personal, which is not in the interest of advancing science. My colleagues and I have replied to Zenon's scientific claims at length in our recent book, Kosslyn, S. M., Thompson, W. L., & Ganis, G. (2006), The Case for Mental Imagery. New York: Oxford University Press; we invite the interested reader to decide whether what Zenon says in his comment here is an accurate reflection of the empirical findings (e.g., concerning the activation of area V1), of our theory (e.g., of depictive representation), or indeed of views that he himself has previously expressed in print. Suffice it to say that 35+ years of hard work, which have led to increasingly detailed computer simulation models and scores of papers reporting empirical results, do not rely on "the assumption that the subjective impression we have in mental imagery in itself constitutes a theory" nor hinge on a "vague allusion to a subjective experience".

Stephen Kosslyn's Edge Bio Page


Return to Stephen M. Kosslyn's "What Shape Are A German Shepard's Ears"




The Wall Street Journal Online
April 12, 2007; Page A1

PAGE ONE

THE NEW CRUSADERS (Subscription)
As Religious Strife Grows, Europe's Atheists Seize Pulpit


Islam's Rise Gives Boost
To Militant Unbelievers;
The Celebrity Hedonist
By ANDREW HIGGINS

CAEN, France -- With 40 minutes to go before show time, the 500-seat Alexis de Tocqueville auditorium was already packed. A fan set up a video camera in the front row. A sound engineer checked the microphones.

The star: Michel Onfray, celebrity philosopher and France's high priest of militant atheism. Dressed entirely in black, he strode onto the stage and looked out at the reverential audience for his weekly two-hour lecture series, "Hedonist Philosophy," which is broadcast on a state radio station. "I could found a religion," he said.

Mr. Onfray, 48 years old and author of 32 books, stands in the vanguard of a curious and increasingly potent phenomenon in Europe: zealous disbelief in God.

Passive indifference to faith has left Europe's churches mostly empty. But debate over religion is more intense and strident than it has been in many decades. Religion is re-emerging as a big issue in part because of anxiety over Europe's growing and restive Muslim populations and a fear that faith is reasserting itself in politics and public policy. That is all adding up to a growing momentum for a combative brand of atheism, one that confronts rather than merely ignores religion.



WEB SLIDE SHOW

Outside the Box (Available to Public)

New anxiety over Europe's growing Muslim population and a fear that faith is reasserting itself in politics are fueling a combative European brand of atheism. It has deep roots in a long tradition of skepticism and secular enquiry.



Socrates | Bruno | Hobbes | Voltaire | Nietzsche | Marx | Dawkins

[...continue]



April 11, 2007

Pope says science too narrow to explain creation
By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) - Pope Benedict, elaborating his views on evolution for the first time as Pontiff, says science has narrowed the way life's origins are understood and Christians should take a broader approach to the question.

The Pope also says the Darwinist theory of evolution is not completely provable because mutations over hundreds of thousands of years cannot be reproduced in a laboratory.

But Benedict, whose remarks were published on Wednesday in Germany in the book "Schoepfung und Evolution" (Creation and Evolution), praised scientific progress and did not endorse creationist or "intelligent design" views about life's origins. ...

AGAINST ATHEISM

(Vienna Cardinal Christoph) Schoenborn, who published his own book on evolution last month, has said he and the German-born Pontiff addressed these issues now because many scientists use Darwin's theory to argue the random nature of evolution negated any role for God.

That is a philosophical or ideological conclusion not supported by facts, they say, because science cannot prove who or what originally created the universe and life in it."Both popular and scientific texts about evolution often say that 'nature' or 'evolution' has done this or that," Benedict said in the book which included lectures from theologian Schoenborn, two philosophers and a chemistry professor.

"Just who is this 'nature' or 'evolution' as (an active) subject? It doesn't exist at all!" the Pope said. ...

...



April 11, 2007

Wikipedia a force for good? Nonsense, says a co-founder
Alexandra Frean, Education Editor

The founder of the Wikipedia online encyclopaedia criticised the Education Secretary yesterday for suggesting that the website could be a good educational tool for children.

Mr Johnson described the internet as “an incredible force for good in education” for teachers and pupils, singling out Wikipedia for praise.

“Wikipedia enables anybody to access information which was once the preserve only of those who could afford the subscription to Encyclopaedia Britannica and could spend the time necessary to navigate its maze of indexes and content pages,” he told the annual conference of the National Association of Schoolteachers and Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in Belfast.

But Larry Sanger, who helped to found Wikipedia in 2001, said that the site was “broken beyond repair” and no longer reliable.

...



New Yorker
April 16, 2007

The Interpreter
John Colapinto

Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?

One morning last July, in the rain forest of northwestern Brazil, Dan Everett , an American linguistics professor, and I stepped from the pontoon of a Cessna floatplane onto the beach bordering the Maici River, a narrow, sharply meandering tributary of the Amazon. On the bank above us were some thirty people— short, dark-skinned men, women, and children—some clutching bows and arrows, others with infants on their hips. The people, members of a hunter-gatherer tribe called the Pirahã, responded to the sight of Everett—a solidly built man of fifty-five with a red beard and the booming voice of a former evangelical minister—with a greeting that sounded like a profusion of exotic songbirds, a melodic chattering scarcely discernible, to the uninitiated, as human speech. Unrelated to any other extant tongue, and based on just eight consonants and three vowels, Pirahã has one of the simplest sound systems known. Yet it possesses such a complex array of tones, stresses, and syllable lengths that its speakers can dispense with their vowels and consonants altogether and sing, hum, or whistle conversations. It is a language so confounding to non-natives that until Everett and his wife, Keren, arrived among the Pirahã, as Christian missionaries, in the nineteen-seventies, no outsider had succeeded in mastering it.

...[Everett's] work remained relatively obscure until early in 2005, when he posted on his Web site an article titled “Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã,” which was published that fall in the journal Cultural Anthropology. … The Pirahã, Everett wrote, have no numbers, no fixed color terms, no perfect tense, no deep memory, no tradition of art or drawing, and no words for “all,” “each,” “every,” “most,” or “few”—terms of quantification believed by some linguists to be among the common building blocks of human cognition. Everett’s most explosive claim, however, was that Pirahã displays no evidence of recursion, a linguistic operation that consists of inserting one phrase inside another of the same type, as when a speaker combines discrete thoughts (“the man is walking down the street,” “the man is wearing a top hat”) into a single sentence (“The man who is wearing a top hat is walking down the street”). Noam Chomsky, the influential linguistic theorist, has recently revised his theory of universal grammar, arguing that recursion is the cornerstone of all languages, and is possible because of a uniquely human cognitive ability.

Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive scientist, calls Everett’s paper “a bomb thrown into the party.” For months, it was the subject of passionate debate on social-science blogs and Listservs.   ...

...In the wake of the controversy that greeted his paper, Everett encouraged scholars to come to the Amazon and observe the Pirahã for themselves. The first person to take him up on the offer was a forty-three-year-old American evolutionary biologist named Tecumseh Fitch, who in 2002 co-authored an important paper with Chomsky and Marc Hauser, an evolutionary psychologist and biologist at Harvard, on recursion....

[print only]



New Yorker
April 16, 2007

Slide Show
A TRIBE APART

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

...



Weekend Edition Sunday, April 8, 2007

Research News
Tribe Helps Linguist Argue with Prevailing Theory

Dan Everett has spent 30 years studying the language of a small Amazonian tribe, the Piraha. His findings are challenging long-held linguistic theories and stirring a sometimes-bitter debate.

...



The New York Times
April 7, 2007

On the Launching Pad: A $20 Million Childhood Dream
By John Schwartz

At 17, Charles Simonyi slipped out of Soviet-controlled Hungary to seek freedom. At 33, he slipped away from the safety of a large corporation, Xerox, in search of fortune at a young start-up named Microsoft.

And today, at 58, that fortune is allowing him to slip the surly bonds of Earth, at least for a couple of weeks, to visit the International Space Station.Dr. Simonyi is the fifth so-called space tourist — a phrase those who buy the flights dislike — and by a large margin the wealthiest. A software pioneer who led the teams that gave the world Microsoft Word and Excel, he has amassed a personal fortune of about a billion dollars, according to Forbes Magazine.

That kind of wealth has bought him two jets — which he pilots himself — and a 233-foot-yacht, along with other expensive toys. In comparison to an average American family’s worth, the estimated $20 million he paid to blast off in a Soyuz spacecraft is the equivalent to something like a visit to an amusement park or a weekend getaway. ...

[ED. NOTE: Visit Charles Simonyi's Trip Website: CharlesinSpace.com]

...



The Wall Street Journal
April 7, 2007

Five Best
Nobel-winning scientist Eric Kandel chooses unforgettable works on memory
By Eric Kandel

1. Ficciones By Jorge Luis Borges; 2. Memories Are Made of This By Rusiko Bourtchouladze; 3. Memory and Brain By Larry R. Squire; 4. The Seven Sins Of Memory By Daniel L. Schacter; 5. Memory From A to Z By Yadin Dudai

...



Townsville Bulletin
April 7, 2007

Dangerous ideas
Malcolm Tatterall

...a veritable feast of ideas.

In a word: Zesty.

...




Charlie Rose
April 6, 2007

READING JUDAS:

ELAINE PAGELS
Co-author
KAREN L. KING
Co-author

...




The Independent
April 6, 2007

FEATURES


Ian McEwan: I hang on to hope in a tide of fear

In our perilously changing world, where should we seek salvation? In science, declares Ian McEwan, who talks to Boyd Tonkin about his new novel, On Chesil Beach

...McEwan, who shadowed a leading neurosurgeon while researching Saturday, likes the company and outlook of scientists as an antidote to lazy arts-faculty despair. "Among cultural intellectuals, pessimism is the style," he says with a tinge of scorn. "You're not a paid-up member unless you're gloomy." But when it comes to climate change, he finds (quoting the Italian revolutionary Gramsci) that scientists can combine "pessimism of the intellect" with "optimism of the will". "Science is an intrinsically optimistic project. You can't be curious and depressed. Curiosity is itself a sure stake in life. And science is often quite conscious of intellectual pleasure, in a way that the humanities are not." He loves the spirited playfulness evident in places such as John Brockman's celebrated website Edge, where "neuroscientists might talk to mathematicians, biologists to computer-modelling experts", and in an accessible, discipline-crossing language that lets us all eavesdrop. "In order to talk to each other, they just have to use plain English. That's where the rest of us benefit." Science may also now "encroach" on traditional artistic soil. McEwan recently heard a lecture on the neuroscience of revenge, in which the rage to get even — that inexhaustible fuel for tragedy and comedy alike — illuminated parts of the brain via "real-time, functioning MRI [magnetic resonance imaging]. What was demonstrated was that people were prepared to punish themselves in order to punish others: negative altruism."...

...




C|Net
April 6, 2007


Simonyi's ride on a Russian rocket
(Photo Gallery)

Saturday's launch of a Russian rocket will mark the fifth time a tourist has flown into space. This time around, the high-flying passenger will be Charles Simonyi, who became a billionaire in part because of his leading role in developing Word and Excel for Microsoft. It helps to be rich if you want to hitch a ride into orbit--Simonyi reportedly paid $25 million for the 11-day trip, organized by the company Space Adventures. In this picture, he's at left, accompanied by Russian crew members Oleg Kotov (center) and Fyodor Yurchikhin (right), all of them in Sokol-KV spacesuits.

...



Time
April 5, 2007

Einstein & Faith
By Walter Isaacson

...But throughout his life, Einstein was consistent in rejecting the charge that he was an atheist. "There are people who say there is no God," he told a friend. "But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views." And unlike Sigmund Freud or Bertrand Russell or George Bernard Shaw, Einstein never felt the urge to denigrate those who believed in God; instead, he tended to denigrate atheists. "What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos," he explained.

In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. "The fanatical atheists," he wrote in a letter, "are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who--in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses'-- cannot hear the music of the spheres."

...




April 3, 2007
The New York Times — Science Times

Conversation With Philip G. Zimbardo
Finding Hope in Knowing the Universal Capacity for Evil
By Claudia Dreyfus

Philip G. Zimbardo has made his reputation studying how people disguise the good and bad in themselves and under what conditions either is expressed.

Video: Good, Bad and Ugly

Q. From your book, I sense you feel some lingering guilt about organizing “the most unethical study” ever. Do you?A. When I look back on it, I think, “Why didn’t you stop the cruelty earlier?” To stand back was contrary to my upbringing and nature.When I stood back as a noninterfering experimental scientist, I was, in a sense, as drawn into the power of the situation as any prisoners and guards.Q. What was your reaction when you first saw those photographs from Abu Ghraib?A. I was shocked. But not surprised. I immediately flashed on similar pictures from the S.P.E. What particularly bothered me was that the Pentagon blamed the whole thing on a “few bad apples.” I knew from our experiment, if you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples.

...




The Sunday Times
April 1, 2007

How we make monsters
Michael Bywater

THE LUCIFER EFFECT: How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo (Rider, UK; Random House, US)

...all politicians and social commentators ... should read this book by Philip Zimbardo, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University. Zimbardo’s central thesis is that evil is not just about those who inflict it, but the situations and systems that promote it. Take the scandal of the American guards-turned-torturers at Abu Ghraib. The standard line on the case (backed up by the guards’ trials) is that a few rotten apples can taint the whole barrel. In other words, the way to prevent future Abu Ghraibs is simple: when giving men and women absolute power over others, we should screen them carefully for the job. The alternative is embarrassing: serious misconduct, wholly unacceptable, few rotten apples, let down the regiment, steps taken, won’t happen again, mmph, dealt with, move on.

But Zimbardo knows better and can prove it. At the core of The Lucifer Effect lies a detailed reexamination of his notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment. In the SPE, two dozen young men were paid $15 a day to take the roles of “prisoners” and “guards” in a mock jail in a Stanford faculty basement. Their roles were assigned on the toss of a coin. Within 48 hours, the “guards” were showing signs of sadistic bullying, and the “prisoners” of terrified, impotent submission. SPE, which was meant to last a fortnight, had to stop after six days, so out-of-control had it become.

SPE was designed to test the “situational” theory of social behaviour against the prevailing “dispositional” model. Dispositional thinking says, crudely, that character will out. Situational thinking says that we are more influenced by the conditions in which we find ourselves – a model that, Zimbardo suggests, can equally apply to acts of heroism. And just as the situational oversees the dispositional, so systemic factors influence situations. A bad system produces bad situations in which people act badly without even necessarily knowing why.

Social psychology has shown this time and again. And, time and again, authoritarian systems and those who run them have rejected the findings. ...

EdgeLink: "You Can't Be A Sweet Cucumber in a Vinegar Barrel": A Talk with Philip Zimbardo Text | Video

...




The New York Times
April 2, 2007

Seeking a Car That Gets 100 Miles a Gallon
By Nick Bunkley

The race is on to develop a commercially viable car that can travel 100 miles on a gallon of gasoline.

The same group that awarded $10 million to a team that built the first private spacecraft to leave the earth’s atmosphere is expected to announce today the rules for its automotive competition.

The group, the X Prize Foundation, says that the automotive contest, expected to carry a prize of more than $10 million, could have a significant effect on the automobile industry by speeding up efforts to use alternative fuels and reduce consumption. The average fuel economy of vehicles sold in the United States has remained nearly stagnant — around 20 miles a gallon — for decades. ...

...




Newsweek
April 9, 2007 issue
BELIEFS

The God Debate

At the Summit: On a cloudy California day, the atheist Sam Harris sat down with the Christian pastor Rick Warren to hash out Life's Biggest Question—Is God real?

A NEWSWEEK exclusive.

Rick Warren is as big as a bear, with a booming voice and easygoing charm. Sam Harris is compact, reserved and, despite the polemical tone of his books, friendly and mild. Warren, one of the best-known pastors in the world, started Saddleback in 1980; now 25,000 people attend the church each Sunday. Harris is softer-spoken; paragraphs pour out of him, complex and fact-filled—as befits a Ph.D. student in neuroscience. At NEWSWEEK's invitation, they met in Warren's office recently and chatted, mostly amiably, for four hours. Jon Meacham moderated. Excerpts follow.JON MEACHAM: Rick, since you're the home team, we'll start with Sam. Sam, is there a God in the sense that most Americans think of him?

SAM HARRIS: There's no evidence for such a God, and it's instructive to notice that we're all atheists with respect to Zeus and the thousands of other dead gods whom now nobody worships.Rick, what is the evidence of the existence of the God of Abraham?

RICK WARREN: I see the fingerprints of God everywhere. I see them in culture. I see them in law. I see them in literature. I see them in nature. I see them in my own life. Trying to understand where God came from is like an ant trying to understand the Internet. Even the most brilliant scientist would agree that we only know a fraction of a percent of the knowledge of the universe . ...

...


RICHARD DAWKINS IS THE AUTHOR OF THE YEAR!

...




Bloggingheads.tv
March 31, 2007
Science Saturday


John Horgan & George Johnson

John Horgan and George Johnsonjust started a science segment on Robert Wright's Bloggingheads.tv. Here they talk about Brian Greene, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, strings, transhumanism, scientism, atheism, you name it.

...




Chicago Sun-Times
March 31, 2007

A new fundamentalism?
Some decry strident tone of fellow atheists

By Jay Lindsay Associated Press

Atheists are under attack these days for being too militant, for not just disbelieving in religious faith but for trying to eradicate it. And who's leveling these accusations? Other atheists, it turns out.

...




Science
March 29, 2007


Face off.
Brian Greene (left) and Lawrence Krauss debated the merits of string theory.

String Theory, With No Holds Barred
By John Simpson

WASHINGTON, D.C.--If Michael Turner had known what he was in for, he might have stayed home. As the moderator of a debate held here last night at the National Museum of Natural History, the University of Chicago cosmologist had the unenviable task of trying to crown a winner in a match-up between Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss, two physics heavyweights duking it out over the merits--or lack thereof--of the so-called Theory of Everything. ...

...




San Francisco Chronicle
March 26, 2007
EDITORIAL

A noble Nobel

BERKELEY has been home to many controversial trends over the decades: free speech movements, organic eating, public nudity. But there's at least one trend emerging from that city that everyone can support: Nobel Prize winners donating their prize money to charity. George Smoot, a professor of physics at UC Berkeley, just became the most recent winner to dedicate the majority of his 2006 prize to the Oakland-based East Bay Community Foundation. ...

...




The Daily Show With John Stewart
March 29, 2007

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo compares the Stanford Prison Experiment ro Abu Ghraib.




Chronicle Reivew
March 30, 2007

Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation
By Philip G. Zimbardo


The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good people Turn Evil
By Philip Zimbardo

... I decided that what was needed was to create a situation in a controlled experimental setting in which we could array on one side a host of variables, such as role-playing, coercive rules, power differentials, anonymity, group dynamics, and dehumanization. ...

...




Prospect
April 2007

The Mystery of Consciousness

Nicholas Humphrey's latest book on the mystery of consciousness travelled with me to Crete, Latvia and America. And the intellectual journey it took me on has half-persuaded me that his evolutionary approach will one day provide an answer
—Paul Broks


Seeing Red: A Study in Consciousness
By Nicholas Humphrey

...




The Agenda With Steve Paikin
March 28, 2007

Jerry Coyne | Science and Religion

Explaining existence without reference to God: the University of Chicago's Jerry Coyne on the growing field of evolutionary biology.Science and religion: when it comes to gaining knowledge of our world, can the two co-exist?

...




Fresh Air w
ith Terry Gross
March 28, 2007

Interviews

Richard Dawkins Explains 'The God Delusion'

In his most recent book, British scientist Richard Dawkins writes about the irrationality of a belief in God, examines God in all his forms and sets down his arguments for atheism. The book is The God Delusion.


...




BoingBoing
March 28, 2007

Katinka Matson's latest flower scan art



This magnificent image, titled Red Anemone, is artist Katinka Matson's latest flower portrait created not with a traditional camera but rather a high-resolution digital scanner. I encourage you to click the image to see a larger version that is so rich with detail and texture you can almost feel it through the screen.
Link (via Edge)

Previously on BB:
• Katinka Matson's Scanner Photography Link

posted by David Pescovitz at 10:09:30 AM permalink | blogs' comments


John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

contact: editor@edge.org
Copyright © 2007 By
Edge Foundation, Inc
All Rights Reserved.

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