Edge 274—February 10, 2009
(8,400 words)

THE THIRD CULTURE

THE EDGE DINNER 2009
Long Beach, California — February 5, 2009

THE NEW YORKER
Where accuracy meets Flair

THE REALITY CLUB
Sam Harris, Steven Pinker on Jerry Coyne's "Does The Empirical Nature Of Science Contradict The Revelatory Nature Of Faith?"

IN THE NEWS

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL — ALL THINGS DIGITAL
BOOM TOWN
The "Billionaires' Dinner" at TED:
Readjusted for the 2009 Econalyspe
By Kara Swisher

WASHINGTON POST
The Death of 'Rational Man'
By David Ignatius

THE NEW YORK TIMES
When Humans Need a Nudge Toward Rationality
By Jeff Sommers

THE NEW YORK TIMES
Education Is All in Your Mind
By Richard Nisbett

BLOOMBERG NEWS
Taleb Says Nationalize Banks, You Can't Trust Them (Update2)
By Svenja O'Donnell and Francine Lacqua

HUFFINGTON POST
Gabbing with Gates: We Talk Meltdown, Malaria, Mosquitoes, and How Not Getting Enough Sleep Lowers His IQ
By Arianna Huffington

THE NEW SCIENTIST
Born believers: How your brain creates God
By Michael Brooks

THE ECONOMIST
Godless watch, continued

SCIENCE
Friendship as a Health Factor

PORTFOLIO
5 Steps to Fix the Banks
By Chris Anderson

BLOOMBERG NEWS
Wall Street Bonuses May Go Way of Dodo Amid Bailouts (Update2)
By Dawn Kopecki and Christine Harper



"John Brockman, a literary agent, is the shadowy figure at the top of the cyberfashion food chain."

—T
ed Nelson, Geeks Bearing Gifts: How The Computer World Got This Way

The Edge Dinner—2009
Long Beach, California — February 5, 2009—L'Opera

Yves Behar, FuseProject; Jeff Bezos, Amazon; Zack Bogue; Stewart Brand, Long Now Foundation; Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc.; Rod Brooks, Robotocist, Heartland Robotics; Geoffrey Carr, The Economist; Steve Case, Revolution Health; Jean Case, Case Foundation; Larry Cohen, Gates Foundation; Keith Coleman, Google G-Mail; Brian Cox, CERN; Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts; Susan Dennett; Peter Diamandis, X-Prize Foundation; Juan Enriquez, Excel Medical Ventures; Tony Fadell, Apple; Peter Gabriel; Bill Gates, Gates Foundation; Saul Griffith, Makani Power; Pati Hillis; Danny Hillis, Applied Minds; Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post; Joi Ito, Creative Commons, Neotony; Bill Joy, Kleiner Perkins; Dean Kamen, Deka Research; Jon Kamen, Radical Media; Mickey Kaus, Slate; Kevin Kelly, kk.org; Danielle Lambert; Jaron Lanier; Steven Levy, Wired; Katinka Matson, edge.org, Brockman, Inc.; Marissa Mayer, Google; Nathan Myhrvold, Intellectual Ventures; Shannon O'Leary; Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly's Radar; Anne Ornish; Dean Ornish, Preventive Medicine Research Institute; Pierre Omidyar, Omidyar network; Pam Omidyar, Omidyar Network; Larry Page, Google; Lori Park, Google; Nick Pritzker; Lisa Randall, Harvard; Jacqui Safra; Linda Stone; Yossi Vardi; Evan Williams, Twitter; Nathan Wolfe, Stanford; Richard Saul Wurman, Founder, TED

[PERMALINK]



Pierre Omidyar, Omidyar Network

Matt Groening, The Simpsons

Rod Brooks, Heartland Robotics

Zack Bogue
Marissa Mayer, Google
Richard Saul Wurman


Jeff Bezos, Amazon


Danny Hillis, Applied Minds
Pam Omidyar, Omidyar Network

Steve Case, Revolution Health
Jean Case, Case Foundation


Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc.

Lisa Randall, Harvard


Tony Fadell, Apple


Lori Park, Google

Peter Diamandis, X-Prize

Kevin Kelly, kk.org


Nick Pritzker


Menu

Lisa Randall, Harvard
Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly's Radar


Nathan Myhrvold, Intellectual Ventures
Marissa Mayer, Google
Nathan Wolfe, Stanford

Nathan Wolfe, Stanford


Zack Bogue
Katinka Matson, edge.org


Jaron Lanier
Dean Kamen, Deka Research


Peter Gabriel
Bill Gates
, Gates Foundation


Evan Williams, Twitter
Joi Ito, Creative Commons, Neotony



Bill Joy, Kleiner Perkins

Bill Joy, Kleiner Perkins
Shannon O'Leary, Apple


Bill Joy, Kleiner Perkins
Tony Fadell, Apple


John Brockman, edge.org


Juan Enriquez, Excel Medical Ventures


Stewart Brand

Dean Kamen, Deka Research
Photo Credit on images above: Nathan Myhrvold
 
Photo Credit on images below: John Brockman

Matt Groening, The Simpsons
Shannon O'Leary

Dean Ornish, PMRI
Peter Diamandis, X-Prize
Anne Ornish


Danielle Lambert
Steven Levy, Wired

Keith Coleman, Google
Geoffrey Carr, Economist
Nathan Wolfe, Stanford


Nathan Wolfe, Stanford
Larry Cohen, Gates Foundation
David Fenton, Fenton Communications
Saul Griffith, Makani Power


Bill Gates, Gates Foundation
Lori Park , Google

Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly's Radar
Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post



Peter Gabriel
John Brockman, edge.org
Bill Gates
, Gates Foundation

Joi Ito, Creative Commons, Neotony
Kevin Kelly, kk.org

Larry Page, Google
Bill Joy, Kleiner Perkins
Jaron Lanier


Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly's Radar
Nick Pritzker
Yves Behar, FuseProject

Craig Venter, Synthetic Genomics

Jacqui Safra
Jon Kamen, Radical Media


Tim O'Reilly, O'Reilly's Radar
Nick Pritzker

Rodney Brooks, Heartland Robotics
Tony Fadell, Apple


Matt Groening, The Simpsons
Mickey Kaus, Slate


Marissa Mayer, Google
Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc.


Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc.
Jaron Lanier
Marissa Mayer, Google
Nathan Wolfe, Stanford

Danny Hillis, Applied Minds
Richard Saul Wurman
John Brockman, edge.org

Stewart Brand
Craig Venter, Synthetic Genomics
Ryan Phelan, DNA Direct
Nick Prtizker


Zack Bogue
Katinka Matson, edge.org



Larry Page, Google
W. Daniel Hillis, Applied Minds

Yossi Vardi



Steve Case, Revolution Health
Ryan Phelan, DNA Direct
Peter Gabriel

Juan Enriquez, Excel Medical Ventures
Danny Hillis, Applied Minds
Brian Cox, CERN


Bill Gates, Gates Foundation
Dean Kamen
, Deka Research


Susan Dennett
Jean Case, Case Foundatrion


Craig Venter, Synthetic Genomics

Lori Park , Google
Evan Williams, Twitter

Jeff Skoll, Participant Media
Lori Park , Google


Nathan Myhrvold, Intellectual Ventures

The Edge Dinner [1998 - 2009]


[ED. NOTE: Edge contributors will be pleased to read about Sara Lippincott in John McPhee's article in the February 9th edition of The New Yorker (see abstract below, from the magazine's Web site). Sara has has served as the line editor of all the Edge Annual Question books, turning our lightly edited Web texts into publishable and well-received books. —JB]


THE NEW YORKER
February 9, 2009

CHECKPOINTS

Where accuracy meets flair. (Registration required.)
by John McPhee

Sara Lippincott retired as an editor at this magazine in the early nineteen-nineties, having worked in The New Yorker's fact-checking department from 1966 until 1982. She had a passion for science. In 1973, a long piece of the writer's called "The Curve of Binding Energy" received her full-time attention for three or four weeks and needed every minute of it. Explaining her work to an audience at a journalism school, Sara once said, "Each word in the piece that has even a shred of fact clinging to it is scrutinized, and, if passed, given the checker's imprimatur, which consists of a tiny pencil tick." The writer describes a paragraph from his sixty-thousand-word piece—which was about weapons-grade nuclear material in private industry and what terrorists might do with it—which presented Sara with a certain degree of difficulty. Physicist John A. Wheeler had told the writer about a Japanese weapon balloon landing on a nuclear reactor at the Hanford Engineer Works, in the winter of 1944 or 45. If Wheeler's story were true, it would make it into print. If unverifiable, it would be deleted. Sara's telephone calls ricocheted all over the U.S. Hanford Engineer Works, of the Manhattan Project, was so secret that the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn't know about it. Sara finally located a site manager who confirmed that the balloon had landed on a high-tension line carrying power to the reactor. The fix was made and the piece ran. Sometimes a mistake is introduced during the checking process. This has happened to the writer only once—and nearly thirty years ago. The piece, called "Basin and Range," was the first in a series of long pieces on geology. Mentions current fact-checker Joshua Hersh. Sara, who checked the "Basin" piece, told the writer that he was wrong about the Adriatic Plate, that it is not moving north but southwest. Eldridge Moores had apparently confirmed it. After the piece was published, the writer called Moores, who said that it was in fact the Aegean Plate, not the Adriatic, that was moving southwest. Any error is everlasting. Mentions Time and Atlantic. After an error gets into The New Yorker, heat-seeking missiles rise off the earth and home in on the author, the fact-checker, and the editor. In the comfortable knowledge that the fact-checking department is going to sweep up behind him, the writer likes to guess at certain names and numbers early on. Mentions Willy Bemis and the Illinois River. Describes the process of fact-checking a piece the writer wrote in 2003 about tracing John and Henry Thoreau's upstream journey. Mentions Henry Moore's "Oval with Points." The writer describes checking parts of a book he was writing in 2002. The task took him three months. Mentions William Penn, Cotton Mather, and Joseph Seccombe. ...

...



On "Does the empirical nature of science contradict the revelatory nature of faith? " by Jerry Coyne

Lawrence Krauss, Howard Gardner, Lisa Randall, Patrick Bateson, Daniel Everett, Daniel C. Dennett, Lee Smolin,George Dyson, Emanuel Derman, Karl. W. Giberson, Kenneth R. Miller, NEW Sam Harris, NEW Steven Pinker

...


SAM HARRIS

It's All True

It is a pity that people like Jerry Coyne and Daniel Dennett can't see how easily religion and science can be reconciled. Having once viewed the world as they do, I understand how their fundamentalist rationality has blinded them to deeper truths. I've wanted to say to both of these men—"Some things are above reason. Way above!" Happily, George Dyson has done this for me in a brilliant essay on this page. He demolishes the intellectual pretensions of militant atheists like Coyne and Dennett in the most elegant way imaginable: by merely divulging the title of a 17th century work by the great Robert Boyle. When I was a militant neo-rationalist, I had a sinking feeling that my colleagues and I had not fully reckoned with Boyle on the argument from Design and were, as a result, risking public humiliation. Now it has come to pass…

If I have one quibble with Dyson, it is that he has been far too modest in drawing out the implications of his argument. He is, of course, right to declare that "science and religion are here to stay." But magic is here to stay too, George; Africa is full of it. Is there a conflict between scientific rationality and a belief in magic spells? Specifically, is there a conflict between believing that epilepsy is a result of abnormal neural activity and believing that it is a sign of demonic possession? Dogmatists like Coyne and Dennett clearly think so. They don't realize, as Dyson must, that the more one understands neurology, the more one will understand—and honor—demonology. Have Coyne and Dennett read the work of sophisticated magicians like Aleister Crowley or Eliphas Levi? Don't count on it. Ask yourself, how could matter conflict with spirit in any way? Answer: it cannot. Forgive me, but I find it embarrassing to have to explain these things to people who are supposed be well educated.

Emanuel Derman admonishes neo-secular militants like Coyne and Dennett to "stop wasting… time trying to beat up on the idea of God in the name of science." This is so comprehensive a demolition of their work that I suspect Coyne and Dennett will be forever changed. Derman reminds us, with extraordinary patience, that scientists have no authority outside the narrow focus of the scientific worldview. Can a biologist harbor any educated doubts about the Virgin birth of Jesus? No—because human parthenogenesis has nothing whatsoever to do with biology. Can a physicist form an educated opinion about the likelihood of the Ascension? How could he? Bodily translocation into the sky does not require any interaction with the forces of nature. Can either a biologist or a physicist realistically doubt the coming Resurrection of the Dead? Many have tried—all have failed. (Please understand that any mention of "entropy" in this context is mere posturing.) As Derman recognizes, it is the sheerest arrogance that has led atheist scientists to overreach in this way.

This Edge exchange has been a feast for the mind! Consider Lisa Randall's moving account of having traveled by airplane in the company of a "charming young actor" who just knew in his heart that our species descended, not from apelike precursors, but from the biblical Adam. I urge readers to linger over these points, as Randall's prose is condensed nearly to the Planck scale. Just picture what it must have been like to be at thirty thousand feet in the company of a man who studied molecular biology at the college level. Next, consider that this prodigy is both a working actor and an enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama. Finally, realize that the stranger at your side believes evolution to be nothing more than a sinister piece of secular propaganda. I can dimly imagine how Coyne and Dennett felt upon reading Randall's tale this far.

But Randall drills deeper:

"Empirically-based logic-derived science and faith are entirely different methods for trying to approach truth. You can derive a contradiction only if your rules are logic. If you believe in revelatory truth you've abandoned the rules. There is no contradiction to be had."

I am confident that Randall's airplane adventure will mark a turning point in our intellectual discourse. Not only has she resolved all the contradictions between science and religion (and magic, voodoo, UFO cults, astrology, Tarot, palmistry, etc.), she has reconciled apparently conflicting religions with one another. Hindus worship a multiplicity of gods; Muslims acknowledge the existence of only one, and believe that polytheism is a killing offense. Do Hinduism and Islam conflict? Only "if your rules are logic." Just as paths ascending a mountain slope can seem discrepant at the mountain's base, and yet once we stand upon the summit, we find that all routes have led to the same destination—so it will be with every exercise of the human intellect! The Summit of Truth awaits, my friends. Simply pick your path....

And yet, there is more to be said against the likes of Coyne and Dennett and Dawkins (he is the worst!). Patrick Bateson tells us that it is "staggeringly insensitive" to undermine the religious beliefs of people who find these beliefs consoling. I agree completely. For instance: it is now becoming a common practice in Afghanistan and Pakistan to blind and disfigure little girls with acid for the crime of going to school. When I was a neo-fundamentalist rational neo-atheist I used to criticize such behavior as an especially shameful sign of religious stupidity. I now realize—belatedly and to my great chagrin—that I knew nothing of the pain that a pious Muslim man might feel at the sight of young women learning to read. Who am I to criticize the public expression of his faith? Bateson is right. Clearly a belief in the inerrancy of the holy Qur'an is indispensable for these beleaguered people.

How can a militant secularist atheist neo-dogmatist like Coyne not see the plain truth? There simply IS no conflict between religion and science. And even if there were one, it would be an utter waste of time to say anything about it. Lawrence Krauss has established this second point beyond any possibility of doubt. Go back and read his essay. It'll just take you five seconds. I've read it upwards of seventy times, and each perusal brings fresh insight.

Finally, Kenneth Miller, arrives to deliver the perspective of a genuine believer and to defend his work from the callow misreading of Coyne:

"I made no argument that this happy confluence of natural events and physical constants proves the existence of God in any way—only that it could be understood or interpreted as consistent with the Divine by a person of faith."

That's just the right note to strike with a neo-militant rationalist like Coyne. These people are simply obsessed with finding the best explanation for the patterns we witness in natural world. But faith teaches us that the best, alas, is often the enemy of the good. For instance, given that viruses outnumber animals by ten to one, and given that a single virus like smallpox killed 500 million human beings in the 20th century (many of them children), people like Coyne ask whether these data are best explained by the existence of an all knowing, all powerful, and all loving God who views humanity as His most cherished creation. Wrong question Coyne! You see, the wise have learned to ask, along with Miller, whether it is merely possible, given these facts, that a mysterious God with an inscrutable Will could have created the world. Surely it is! And the heart rejoices…

Of course, one mustn't carry this sublime inquiry too far. Some have asked whether it is possible that a mysterious God with an inscrutable Will works only on Tuesdays or whether He might be especially fond of soft cheese. There is no denying that such revelations, too, are possible—and may be forthcoming. But they do not conduce to joy, chastity, homophobia, or any other terrestrial virtue—and that is the point. Men like Coyne and Dennett miss these theological nuances. Indeed, one fears that these are the very nuances they were born to miss.

Miller, on the other hand, recognizes that every scientist is free to see the world as he or she wants to: If Francis Collins wants to believe that the historical Jesus was actually raised from the dead and still exists in an ethereal form which renders him both clairvoyant and mildly disapproving of masturbation, these beliefs do not even slightly detract from his stature as a scientist. A man like Dawkins, who was exposed long ago for his rigid adherence to biological naturalism, may choose not to believe these things. The choice is his. But given his resolute denial of the risen Christ—and, indeed, of the very existence of a loving and provident Creator—Dawkins has no standing to criticize the approach of Collins, because he simply has no internal sense of how labile the scientific imagination can become once tempered by the Christian faith.

Miller is especially good at separating scientific rationality from every other form of human cognition. It is crucial that the reader understand that science is a trade: it does not matter what a scientist believes as long as he does his scientific work properly. This has been a stumbling block for many would-be intellectuals who imagine that science might have something to do with a comprehensive understanding of the universe, or that an awareness of the quantity and quality of evidence may know no boundaries. Perhaps an analogy will help: Let us say a cardiac surgeon believes that automobile accidents are caused, not by human inattention, brake failure, and the like, but by the Evil Eye. Would this reduce his stature as a physician? Of course not—because heart surgery has nothing to do with the indiscretions of car and driver. As Miller states, "the real issue is whether a scientist's view on the question of God is incompatible with their scientific work. Clearly, it is not." Yes, this is as clear the rising sun. I would only add that a belief in the Evil Eye is perfectly compatible with modern medicine—with the possible exception of ophthalmology. Some have called this the "balkanization of epistemology." I think words like "epistemology" are overrated. And so do most Americans.

Finally, Miller arrives at the deepest question of all:

"One can indeed embrace science in every respect, and still ask a deeper question, one in which Coyne seems to have no interest. Why does science work? Why is the world around us organized in a way that makes itself accessible to our powers of logic and intellect?"

I have often wondered why walking works. Why is the world organized in such a way that we can walk upon it? And why should there be limits to our ability to move about in this way, like those imposed upon us at the highest altitudes? Indeed, I thought the subject fit for my doctoral dissertation, but was cruelly dissuaded by an unimaginative advisor. And yet, I think Miller's question is deeper still. Clearly, men like Coyne and Dennett have averted their eyes from the answer—an answer that is plainly obvious to over ninety percent of their least educated neighbors. The universe is rationally intelligible because the God of Abraham has made it so. This God, who once showed an affinity for human sacrifice, and whose only direct communication with humanity (in the Holy Bible, through the agency of the Holy Spirit) betrays not the slightest trace of scientific understanding, nevertheless instilled in us the cognitive ability to subsequently understand this magnificent and terrifying cosmos in scientific terms. As to why science has been the greatest agent for the mitigation of religious belief the world has ever seen, and has been viewed as a threat by religious people in almost every context, this is a final mystery that defies human analysis. I have often thought that if God had wanted us to understand the difference between having good reasons for what one believes, and having bad ones, He would have made this difference intelligible to everyone.

The universe is whole and without contradiction. What may appear like a contradiction at one level of physics or biology is always resolved at higher vibrational energies—or perhaps, as Miller points out, by "miracles." Needless to say, miracles, are precisely the sorts of occurrences that defy rational understanding and which would cause anyone seeking a comprehensive understanding of the world to doubt their occurrence. Which is to say that if Jesus had been born of a virgin, had raised the dead, had been so raised Himself after a brief interlude, had then ascended bodily into the heavens, and has subsequently nurtured from on high these two millennia an abiding distrust for Jews and homosexuals—these are precisely the sorts of low probability events that people like Coyne, Dennett and Dawkins would doubt ever occurred. Therefore, the doubts of fundamentalist atheist rationalist neo-humanistic secular militants actually render the miracles of Jesus' ministry more plausible than they would otherwise be. Jerry, Dan, Richard—please give this some thought.


STEVEN PINKER

Jerry Coyne applies rigorous standards of logic and evidence to the claims of religion and to the attempts to reconcile it with science. Many scientists who share his atheism still believe that he is somehow being rude or uncouth for pressing the point. But he is right to do so. Knowledge is a continuous fabric, in which ideas are connected to other ideas. Reason-free zones, in which people can assert arbitrary beliefs safe from ordinary standards of evaluation, can only corrupt this fabric, just as a contradiction can corrupt a system of logic, allowing falsehoods to proliferate through it.

Science cannot be walled off from other forms of belief. That includes meaning and morality – reason connects them all. The same standards of evidence that rule out unparisimonious, unfalsifiable, or empirically refuted hypotheses in science also rule out crackpot conspiracy theories, totalizing ideologies, and toxic policy nostrums. Moral systems depend on factual beliefs, informed by psychology and biology, about what makes human beings suffer or prosper. They depend on standards of logical consistency that make it possible to apply the principle of fairness. And they depend on meta-ethical propositions about what morality is, and on how we can decide what is moral in particular cases. Just as coherent biological reasoning cannot proceed under the assumption that God can step in at any moment and push the molecules around, coherent moral reasoning cannot proceed under the assumption that the universe unfolds according a divine merciful plan, that humans have a free will that is independent of their neurobiology, or that people can behave morally only if they fear divine retribution in an afterlife.

Reason is non-negotiable. Try to argue against it, or to exclude it from some realm of knowledge, and you've already lost the argument, because you're using reason to make your case. And no, this isn't having "faith" in reason (in the same way that some people have faith in miracles), because we don't "believe" in reason; we use reason.

Why do so many scientists get anxious when Coyne and others apply standards of coherence and evidence — the very standards they rely on in their own work — to the propositions of religion? One fear is that people (other than them) cannot lead meaningful and moral lives without it. This is an empirical proposition, and evidence from contemporary Europe – unprecedentedly secular, and unprecedentedly peaceable – is relevant. Another is a fear of rupturing ties of family, community, culture, symbolism and ritual. But these can survive without a theistic belief system — think of secular rituals such as a moment of silence to commemorate a colleague, or the wearing of poppies on November 11. And the largest portion of the family and cultural ties that hold together communities of American Jews, Chinese, Italians, and other ethnic communities are not theological propositions.

But the reconciliationist arguments do depend on theological propositions, and there is no reason that they should not be subjected to the standards of reason.



"For those seeking substance over sheen, the occasional videos released at Edge.org hit the mark. The Edge Foundation community is a circle, mainly scientists but also other academics, entrepreneurs, and cultural figures.

"Edge's long-form interview videos are a deep-dive into the daily lives and passions of its subjects, and their passions are presented without primers or apologies. The decidedly noncommercial nature of Edge's offerings, and the egghead imprimatur of the Edge community, lend its videos a refreshing air, making one wonder if broadcast television will ever offer half the off-kilter sparkle of their salon chatter. —Boston Globe

Edge Video: http://www.edge.org/edge_video.html




THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 9, 2009

The "Billionaires' Dinner" at TED: Readjusted for the 2009 Econalyspe
By Kara Swisher

Many years ago in the midst of the Web 1.0 boom, when working as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, BoomTown redubbed an annual dinner that book agent John Brockman threw at the TED conference.

It was jokingly called the "Millionaires' Dinner," but I renamed it the "Billionaires' Dinner."

That was due to the frothy fortunes that had been made at the time by the Internet pioneers, from Amazon to AOL to eBay. Get it?!?

Well, despite the economic meltdown, there were still a lot of billionaires in attendance at Brockman's most recent dinner last Thursday in Long Beach. But he recounted to me that the proceedings were a lot more focused on the serious times we are in, as was the whole digerati-packed conference held last week.

Indeed, Brockman now calls the event the "Edge Dinner," after his lively Edge Web site, where he presides over a variety of eclectic online debates and discussions (in January, for example, the topic was: "DOES THE EMPIRICAL NATURE OF SCIENCE CONTRADICT THE REVELATORY NATURE OF FAITH?").

Since I managed to miss the fete entirely (embarrassing confession: I fell dead asleep at 7 p.m. and did not wake until the next morning) and could not chronicle it, Brockman allowed me to post some photos from the event taken by him and by former Microsoft research guru and current intellectual property mogul Nathan Myhrvold.

Here are some, and you can see the rest here:

Google co-founder Larry Page and Applied Minds' Danny Hillis

Former AOL kingpin and Revolution Health's Steve Case and Jean Case, Case Foundation

Twitter CEO Evan Williams and Neoteny's Joi Ito

Nathan Myhrvold, Google's Marissa Mayer and Nathan Wolfe of Stanford University

Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

Microsoft Co-founder Bill Gates and DEKA's Dean Kamen

New Media Nabobs Tim O'Reilly and Arianna Huffington

...



WASHINGTON POST
February 8, 2009

The Death of 'Rational Man'
By David Ignatius

...The most compelling rebuttal of the rational model, paradoxically, was delivered by the ultimate rationalist, Alan Greenspan. "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders," the former Fed chairman told Congress last October.

That's why Greenspan didn't see it coming, argues Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton professor who is often described as the father of behavioral economics. His rational-actor model wouldn't let him.

Let me put in a plug here for the godfather of behavioral economics, John Maynard Keynes. His 1936 "General Theory" is often interpreted simplistically as a call for fixing recessions by boosting demand with government spending. But at a deeper level, Keynes was analyzing the role of psychological factors, such as greed and fear, in economic decisions. He understood that markets freeze when people panic and start hoarding cash. ("Extreme liquidity preference," he called it.) Conversely, economies start to roar when investors feel a surge of what Keynes called "animal spirits."

One of the most powerful ideas I heard at Davos was the idea of "pre-mortem" analysis, which was first proposed by psychologist Gary Klein and has been taken up by Kahneman.

A pre-mortem analysis can provide a real "stress test" to conventional thinking. Let's say that a company or government agency has decided on a plan of action. But before implementing it, the boss asks people to assume that five years from now, the plan has failed -- and then to write a brief explanation of why it didn't work. This approach stands a chance of bringing to the surface problems that the decision makers had overlooked -- the "black swans," to use former trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb's phrase, that people assumed wouldn't happen in the near future because they hadn't occurred in the recent past. ...



THE NEW YORK TIMES
February 8, 2009

When Humans Need a Nudge Toward Rationality

By Jeff Sommers

THE flies in the men's-room urinals of the Amsterdam airport have been enshrined in the academic literature on economics and psychology. The flies — images of flies, actually — were etched in the porcelain near the urinal drains in an experiment in human behavior.

After the flies were added, "spillage" on the men's-room floor fell by 80 percent. "Men evidently like to aim at targets," said Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago, an irreverent pioneer in the increasingly influential field of behavioral economics.

Mr. Thaler says the flies are his favorite example of a "nudge" — a harmless bit of engineering that manages to "attract people's attention and alter their behavior in a positive way, without actually requiring anyone to do anything at all." What's more, he said, "The flies are fun."

...Nudging derives from research by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate in economics; by Mr. Kahneman's late colleague, Amos Tversky; and by Mr. Thaler and others over several decades. Mr. Kahneman, a psychologist, gives Mr. Thaler considerable credit for the birth of behavioral economics.

Mr. Thaler has found that people often don't act rationally and in their own best interests, as is assumed by traditional economic models. He calls such idealized people "Econs," as distinguished from "Humans." Econs are walking computers, and behave according to the laws of classical economics; Humans are quirky, like the people you meet on the street. Humans may know that they should eat less and exercise more, but they often miss the mark. They may know that they should save more, but often don't. And so, Mr. Thaler says, most of us would benefit from a nudge.



THE NEW YORK TIMES
February 8, 2009

OpEd Page

Education Is All in Your Mind

By Richard Nisbett

...James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago, has estimated that for every dollar spent on a prekindergarten like Perry, $8 has been gained in higher incomes for participants and in savings on the costs of extra schooling, crime and welfare.

Similarly, a program called KIPP (for Knowledge Is Power Program) is having remarkable success with poor minority children in middle schools. KIPP students attend school from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., their term is three weeks longer than normal, and every other Saturday they have classes for half a day. The curriculum includes sports, visits to museums and instruction in dance, art, music, theater and photography. During one academic year, the percentage of fifth-graders at KIPP schools in the San Francisco Bay Area who scored at or above the national average on the reading portion of the Stanford Achievement Test rose to 44 percent from 25 percent. And while only 37 percent started the year at or above the national average in math, 65 percent reached that level by spring.

Such creative programs must be tested to ensure that they work as they are meant to. The United States Department of Education's What Works Clearinghouse, which was established by the Bush administration, has the job of making public all significant evaluations of educational interventions. The Obama administration should heed the Clearinghouse's reports. Stimulus money should be spent only on programs that work well — and on creating new programs, which in turn should be properly tested for effectiveness.

President Obama is in a position to not only inspire black youngsters by his example, but also make an enormous difference in their schooling — as long as he supports successful educational interventions, from the smallest to the most ambitious. ...



BLOOMBERG NEWS
January 29, 2009

Taleb Says Nationalize Banks, You Can't Trust Them (Update2)
By Svenja O'Donnell and Francine Lacqua

Bank nationalizations are "absolutely necessary" to stop them damaging the financial system further with more losses, said Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the best-selling finance book "The Black Swan."

"You cannot trust the banks in taking risks," Taleb said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Davos. "We have a very strange situation in which it's the worst of capitalism and socialism, a situation in which profits were privatized and losses were socialized. We taxpayers have the worst."

The global economy will slow close to a halt this year as more than $2 trillion of bad assets in the U.S. help sink economies from there to the U.K. and Japan, the International Monetary Fund said yesterday. Taleb echoed comments from New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini, who says the majority of U.S. banks are insolvent. ...



HUFFINGTON POST
February 6, 2009

Gabbing with Gates: We Talk Meltdown, Malaria, Mosquitoes, and How Not Getting Enough Sleep Lowers His IQ

By Arianna Huffington

I've been taking part in the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference (aka TED) this week, being held for the first time in Long Beach, California after many years in Monterey.

I've been struck by how different the mood is here than it was last week in Davos. Much more upbeat. Maybe it's because TED is brimming with innovators, people less interested in figuring out how to prop up the collapsed economy of the last century than in creating an economy for the 21st century.

You also run into more quirky and interesting people per square inch than anywhere I've ever been. For instance, last night I found myself chatting with a stranger (this happens, of course, all the time at TED). When I asked him what he did, he told me that he owned The Kitchen in Boulder, Colorado, "America's greenest restaurant"... and is CEO of an Internet software company... and sits on the boards of Tesla Motors, SpaceX Corp., and ProgressNow.org. He turned out to be Kimbal Musk, the younger polymath brother of Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal and CEO of Tesla Motors.

I also spent some time with perhaps the world's most maniacal polymath: Bill Gates. Gates played a big role at Davos, as he has here -- but here the conference and the crowd fit him to a T.

And he's been a real presence here, starting with delivering a much talked about keynote address, during which he drove home the importance of investing in malaria prevention by releasing a swarm of mosquitoes on the crowd, saying, "There is no reason only poor people should be infected." The stunt caused quite a bit of buzz (sorry!) around the blogosphere. "The mosquitoes had been irradiated," he reassured me. Okay, so all they could do was suck a little blood.

...He has clearly been leading by example in changing both the business world and the world of philanthropy. But when it comes to sleep, all I can say is that when I left a dinner given by EDGE's John Brockman after midnight last night, Gates was still there talking away with X Prize's Peter Diamandis about providing big rewards for scientific breakthroughs.




THE NEW SCIENTIST
February 4, 2009


Born believers: How your brain creates God
By Michael Brooks

WHILE many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance.

This anomaly was documented in the early 1970s, but only now is science beginning to tell us why. It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.

Religious ideas are common to all cultures: like language and music, they seem to be part of what it is to be human. Until recently, science has largely shied away from asking why. "It's not that religion is not important," says Paul Bloom, a psychologist at Yale University, "it's that the taboo nature of the topic has meant there has been little progress."

The origin of religious belief is something of a mystery, but in recent years scientists have started to make suggestions. One leading idea is that religion is an evolutionary adaptation that makes people more likely to survive and pass their genes onto the next generation. In this view, shared religious belief helped our ancestors form tightly knit groups that cooperated in hunting, foraging and childcare, enabling these groups to outcompete others. In this way, the theory goes, religion was selected for by evolution, and eventually permeated every human society (New Scientist, 28 January 2006, p 30)

The religion-as-an-adaptation theory doesn't wash with everybody, however. As anthropologist Scott Atran of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor points out, the benefits of holding such unfounded beliefs are questionable, in terms of evolutionary fitness. "I don't think the idea makes much sense, given the kinds of things you find in religion," he says. A belief in life after death, for example, is hardly compatible with surviving in the here-and-now and propagating you. ...

God of the gullibile

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins argues that religion is propagated through indoctrination, especially of children. Evolution predisposes children to swallow whatever their parents and tribal elders tell them, he argues, as trusting obedience is valuable for survival. This also leads to what Dawkins calls "slavish gullibility" in the face of religious claims.

If children have an innate belief in god, however, where does that leave the indoctrination hypothesis? "I am thoroughly happy with believing that children are predisposed to believe in invisible gods - I always was," says Dawkins. "But I also find the indoctrination hypothesis plausible. The two influences could, and I suspect do, reinforce one another." He suggests that evolved gullibility converts a child's general predisposition to believe in god into a specific belief in the god (or gods) their parents worship.




THE ECONOMIST
February 5, 2009


Godless watch, continued

READERS are going to start thinking I'm obsessed, but I think the final proof that Barack Obama plans once and for all to elevate respect for Americans who don't practice a religion came at this morning's National Prayer Breakfast:

"There is no doubt that the very nature of faith means that some of our beliefs will never be the same. We read from different texts. We follow different edicts. We subscribe to different accounts of how we came to be here and where we're going next – and some subscribe to no faith at all.

"We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth. (Emphasis added.)"

A notable repetition—not just once, rote, but twice, to let you know he means it.

A few years ago, Daniel Dennett, an atheist philosopher, wrote

"Politicians don't think they even have to pay us lip service, and leaders who wouldn't be caught dead making religious or ethnic slurs don't hesitate to disparage the "godless" among us. From the White House down, bright-bashing is seen as a low-risk vote-gette."

Not this White House.



SCIENCE
February 5, 2009

Friendship as a Health Factor

In a string of hot articles, two social scientists report that obesity, smoking, and other facets of health "spread" in networks. As the two friends expand their theory, doubters sharpen their questions

BOSTON—On the first snowy day in December, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler are ensconced in Christakis's rambling home in Concord, Massachusetts, plotting their next conquest. Christakis, at his desk, is nearly hidden behind two enormous Apple computer screens that beam dizzying network patterns of lines and circles representing community ties. Fowler sits cross-legged and barefoot on
the couch, a laptop balanced on his knees. The pair are deep at work on their upcoming book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives. On a mock cover taped to the wall, an orange goldfish leaps from one bowl of fish into another. The two men haven't left the house in 48 hours, and Christakis's watch stopped some time ago.

Christakis, a social scientist and hospice physician—cheerful, given his line of work—and Fowler, an easygoing political scientist, hatched a plan about 6 years ago to study how social relations influence health. Their initial scheme required a massive number of volunteers and $25 million. It didn't take off, as funders balked at the price tag. But soon after, they stumbled upon something even better that would catapult their careers: a collection of loose-leaf papers locked in a record room in Framingham, Massachusetts, home to patient files of the nearly 15,000 participants in the Framingham Heart Study, begun in 1948. ...



THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
February 2, 2009

The Economics of Giving It Away

In a battered economy, free goods and services online are more attractive than ever. So how can the suppliers make a business model out of nothing?

By Chris Anderson

Over the past decade, we have built a country-sized economy online where the default price is zero -- nothing, nada, zip. Digital goods -- from music and video to Wikipedia -- can be produced and distributed at virtually no marginal cost, and so, by the laws of economics, price has gone the same way, to $0.00. For the Google Generation, the Internet is the land of the free.

Which is not to say companies can't make money from nothing. Gratis can be a good business. How? Pretty simple: The minority of customers who pay subsidize the majority who do not. Sometimes that's two different sets of customers, as in the traditional media model: A few advertisers pay for content so lots of consumers can get it cheap or free. The concept isn't new, but now that same model is powering everything from photo sharing to online bingo. The last decade has seen the extension of this "two-sided market" model far beyond media, and today it is the revenue engine for all of the biggest Web companies, from Facebook and MySpace to Google itself. ...



PORTFOLIO
January 30, 2009

5 Steps to Fix the Banks

Guest Commentary: Pulling banks out of their apparent death spiral won't be easy. But these simple principles should frame the debate.

By Andrew M. Rosenfield

As the liquidity crisis continues, the problem is clear—it's the solution that remains opaque.

The problem with the U.S. banking system is simple: It's largely insolvent. Banks have far too little capital to supply the credit needed to finance recovery let alone growth.

The insolvency problem is centered around so-called "toxic" or troubled assets that banks hold in great amount and which are today worth far less than cost—generally securitized residential home loans.

But the problem of insolvency is centered around toxic assets only in the sense that the problem of a burning house is "centered" around the place the fire started. ...



BLOOMBERG NEWS
January 30, 2009

Wall Street Bonuses May Go Way of Dodo Amid Bailouts (Update2)
By Dawn Kopecki and Christine Harper

The Wall Street bonus, considered a sacred ritual, may become the industry's biggest casualty as governments worldwide bail out financial institutions.

UBS AG was told to reduce bonuses after the Swiss government gave the country's biggest bank a $59.2 billion lifeline. Bank of America Corp. is under pressure to scale back payouts after New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo subpoenaed executives earlier this week for information on compensation and President Barack Obama said just yesterday that bonuses handed out by banks represent "the height of irresponsibility."

The current system of "asymmetric compensation," in which people are rewarded when they do well and aren't required to return the rewards when they lose money, is detrimental to society and needs to change, said Nassim Taleb, a professor at New York University and author of "The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable," in an interview.

The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, a $700 billion taxpayer bailout in the U.S. and the demise of three of the biggest securities firms -- Bear Stearns Cos., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. -- didn't deter investment banks from offering year-end rewards to employees on top of their salaries.

Financial companies in New York City paid cash bonuses of $18.4 billion last year, the sixth-most in history, even as they posted record losses, according to data compiled by the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The payouts are split among everyone from managing directors to secretaries. ...

...People such as Robert Rubin, who received more than $100 million while serving as chairman of New York-based Citigroup Inc.'s executive committee, should be punished for their failure to understand the risks their institutions were taking, said Taleb, author of "The Black Swan." A spokesman for Rubin declined to comment.

'Don't Fly'

"These people make excuses, after the fact, saying that nobody saw it coming and that you couldn't predict it," Taleb said in an interview. "That's no excuse. If you know there are storms, don't fly. And if you fly, fly with someone who knows about storms."

Unless Rubin and others are required to return their bonuses or are punished in some way, Taleb said a regrettable system emerges "where profits are privatized and losses are nationalized."...




JUST PUBLISHED! NOW AVAILABLE IN STORES AND ONLINE

WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT
Edited by John Brockman
With An Introduction By BRIAN ENO

The world's finest minds have responded with some of the most insightful, humbling, fascinating confessions and anecdotes, an intellectual treasure trove. ... Best three or four hours of intense, enlightening reading you can do for the new year. Read it now."
San Francisco Chronicle

"A great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture."
El Mundo


Contributors include: STEVEN PINKER on the future of human evolution • RICHARD DAWKINS on the mysteries of courtship SAM HARRIS on why Mother Nature is not our friend NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB on the irrelevance of probability ALUN ANDERSON on the reality of global warming ALAN ALDA considers, reconsiders, and re-reconsiders God LISA RANDALL on the secrets of the Sun RAY KURZWEIL on the possibility of extraterrestrial life BRIAN ENO on what it means to be a "revolutionary" HELEN FISHER on love, fidelity, and the viability of marriage…and many others.

Praise for the online publication of
What Have You Change Your Mind About?

"The splendidly enlightened Edge website (www.edge.org) has rounded off each year of inter-disciplinary debate by asking its heavy-hitting contributors to answer one question. I strongly recommend a visit." The Independent

"A great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture." El Mundo

"As fascinating and weighty as one would imagine." The Independent

"They are the intellectual elite, the brains the rest of us rely on to make sense of the universe and answer the big questions. But in a refreshing show of new year humility, the world's best thinkers have admitted that from time to time even they are forced to change their minds." The Guardian

"Even the world's best brains have to admit to being wrong sometimes: here, leading scientists respond to a new year challenge." The Times

"Provocative ideas put forward today by leading figures."The Telegraph

The world's finest minds have responded with some of the most insightful, humbling, fascinating confessions and anecdotes, an intellectual treasure trove. ... Best three or four hours of intense, enlightening reading you can do for the new year. Read it now." San Francisco Chronicle

"As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and clarity." The News & Observer

"A jolt of fresh thinking...The answers address a fabulous array of issues. This is the intellectual equivalent of a New Year's dip in the lake—bracing, possibly shriek-inducing, and bound to wake you up." The Globe and Mail

"Answers ring like scientific odes to uncertainty, humility and doubt; passionate pleas for critical thought in a world threatened by blind convictions." The Toronto Star

"For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words, this is hard to beat. ...What a feast of egg-head opinionating!" National Review Online


WHAT ARE YOU OPTIMISTIC ABOUT?
Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better
Edited by John Brockman
Introduction by DANIEL C. DENNETT



[2007]

"The optimistic visions seem not just wonderful but plausible." Wall Street Journal

"Persuasively upbeat." O, The Oprah Magazine

"Our greatest minds provide nutshell insights on how science will help forge a better world ahead." Seed

"Uplifting...an enthralling book." The Mail on Sunday


WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?
Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable
Edited by John Brockman
Introduction by STEVEN PINKER
Afterword by RICHARD DAWKINS


[2006]

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

"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

"Reads like an intriguing dinner party conversation among great minds in science" Discover


WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE?
Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty
Edited by John Brockman
Introduction by IAN MCEWAN


[2006]

"Whether or not we believe proof or prove belief, understanding belief itself becomes essential in a time when so many people in the world are ardent believers." LA Times

"Belief appears to motivate even the most rigorously scientific minds. It stimulates and challenges, it tricks us into holding things to be true against our better judgment, and, like scepticism -its opposite -it serves a function in science that is playful as well as thought-provoking. not we believe proof or prove belief, understanding belief itself becomes essential in a time when so many people in the world are ardent believers." The Times

"John Brockman is the PT Barnum of popular science. He has always been a great huckster of ideas." The Observer

"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 magnificence" The Skeptical Inquirer



[2008]



"Compelling"
"Stellar"

"Important"

[2006]

"Irresistible"
"Excellent"
"Fascinating"


[2006]

"incisive"
"deeply passionate"
"engaging"

[2004]

"Intriguing"
"Engrossing"
"Invigorating"



[1994]

"Rousing"
"Astonishing"
"Bloodthirsty"

[2000]

"Dazzling"
"Wondrous"
"Outstanding"


[2002]


"Provocative"
"Captivating"
"Mind-stretching"

Edge Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit private operating foundation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code.


John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

contact: editor@edge.org
Copyright © 2009 By Edge Foundation, Inc
All Rights Reserved.

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