Edge 280—April 10, 2009
(11,350 words)


At Origins of Life Symposium — A.S.U.

By Heinz Pagels


Jaron Lanier, Joseph Traub, and Lee Smolin on Heinz Pagels



Lawrence Krauss

The Origins Initiative at ASU, under the leadership of its Director, physicist and Edge contributor Lawrence Krauss, is a University-wide initiative to focus on deep and foundational questions ranging across the entire spectrum of scholarship at ASU. The three-day Origins Symposium explored forefront questions at the edge of knowledge: from the origin of the universe and the laws of nature to the evolution of life, humans, consciousness, and culture. The symposium, which took place April 3-6 and consisted of private scientific seminars and large public lectures, was an intellectual extravaganza, a "Kraussfest", which assembled in one place a group containing the most well known scientific public intellectuals in the world, many of whom are well-known to readers of these pages. The entire program was available globally through a live webcast, and a video archive of the proceedings will soon be online on the Origins Initiative Website.

On the bus with Nobel Laureates David Gross, Wally Gilbert, Frank Wilczek

Among the Edgies at "Kraussfest 2009" were Roger Bingham, Patricia Churchland, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Rebecca Goldstein, A. C. Grayling, Brian Greene, David Gross, Alan Guth, Jonathan Haidt, Lawrence Krauss, John Mather, Randolph Nesse, Steven Pinker, Terrence Senjnowski, Maria Spiropulu, Craig Venter, Alex Vilenkin, Frank Wilczek.


[Click here to begin the expanded image "Kraussfest 2009" slideshow]

Lawrence Krauss, Origins Initiative
David Gross, UC Santa Barbara
Walter Gilbert
Frank Wilczek, MIT
Paul Davies, ASU
Brian Greene, Columbia
Richard Dawkins, Oxford
Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc
John Brockman, Edge
Randolph Nesse, U. Michigan
Frank Wilczek, MIT
Maria Spiropulu, CERN/Caltech
Wendy Freedman, Carnegie Institution
J. Craig Venter
Baruch Blumberg, Fox Chase
John Mather, NASA
Rebecca Goldstein
Steven Pinker, Harvard
Sheldon Glashow, B.U.
Patricia Churchland, UC San Diego
Jonathan Haidt, U. Virginia
Patricia Churchland, UC San Diego
Frank Wilczek, MIT
Terrence Sejnowski, UC San Diego
Roger Bingham, The Science Network
A.C. Grayling
John Mather, NASA
Robert Kurzban, U. Penn
Doug Kenrick, ASU
Bert Hölldobler, ASU
Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc.
Madeline Grayling
Brian Greene, Columbia
Lawrence Krauss, Origins Initiave
Susan Pritzker, Nick Pritzker
Pauline Davies, ASU
David Gross, UC Santa Barbara
Barry Barish, Caltech
Patricia Churchland, UC San Diego
Randolph Nesse, U. Michigan
Maria Spiropulu, CERN/Caltech
Marty and Sarah Flug
Richard Dawkins, Oxford
Paul Davies, ASU
J. Craig Venter
Heather Kowalski, J. Craig Venter Institute
Madeline Grayling

"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.

Mahzarin Banaji, Samuel Barondes, Paul Bloom, Rodney Brooks, Hubert Burda, George Church, Iain Couzin, Helena Cronin, Paul Davies, Daniel C. Dennett, David Deutsch, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, Drew Endy, Peter Galison, Murray Gell-Mann, David Gelernter, Neil Gershenfeld, Anthony Giddens, Gerd Gigerenzer, Daniel Gilbert, Rebecca Goldstein, John Gottman, Brian Greene, Anthony Greenwald, Alan Guth, David Haig, Marc D. Hauser, Walter Isaacson, Daniel Kahneman, Stuart Kauffman, Ken Kesey, Stephen Kosslyn, Lawrence Krauss, Ray Kurzweil, Jaron Lanier, Armand Leroi, Seth Lloyd, Gary Marcus, Ernst Mayr, Marvin Minsky, Sendhil Mullainathan, Dennis Overbye, Dean Ornish, Elaine Pagels, Steven Pinker, Jordan Pollack, Lisa Randall, Martin Rees, Matt Ridley, Lee Smolin, Elisabeth Spelke, Scott Sampson, Robert Sapolsky, Dimitar Sasselov, Stephen Schneider, Martin Seligman, Robert Shapiro, Lee Smolin, Dan Sperber, Paul Steinhardt, Steven Strogatz, Leonard Susskind, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Richard Thaler, Robert Trivers, Neil Turok, J.Craig Venter, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Wrangham, Philip Zimbardo

Continue to Edge Video

Mathematicians and others are endeavoring to apply insights gleaned from the sciences of complexity to the seemingly intractable problem of understanding the world economy. I have a guess, however, that if this problem can be solved (and that is unlikely in the near future), then it will not be possible to use this knowledge to make money on financial markets. One can make money only if there is real risk based on actual uncertainty, and without uncertainty there is no risk.

By Heinz Pagels

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] Heinz R. Pagels, died on July 23, 1988, in a mountain climbing accident on Pyramid Peak in Aspen, Colorado. A physicist, he was Executive Director of The New York Academy of Sciences, adjunct professor of physics at Rockefeller University, and president of the International League for Human Rights. He was the author of three books: The Cosmic Code, Perfect Symmetry, and Dreams of Reason. He was also a founding member, and, at the time of his death, president of "The Reality Club," which, in 1997, moved to the Web as Edge.

It was before and after Reality Club meetings at the New York Academy of Sciences around 1985-6 that Heinz began to talk about the themes that became central to his 1988 book Dreams of Reason: The Rise of the Sciences of Complexity, (Simon & Schuster):

"the importance of biological organizing principles, the computational view of mathematics and physical processes, the emphasis on parallel networks, the importance of nonlinear dynamics and selective systems, the new understanding of chaos, experimental mathematics, the connectionist's ideas, neural networks, and parallel distributive processing". ...

He notes that "the computer, with its ability to manage enormous amounts of data and to simulate reality, provides a new window on that view of nature." In other words new technology equals new perception. He also had interesting insights into how the new sciences of complexity would impact global financial markets. He wrote:

As a new mode of production, the computer creates not only a new class of people struggling for intellectual and social acceptance, but a new way of thinking about knowledge. It will transform the scientific enterprise and bring forth a new worldview.

Given the current global economic meltdown, it's instructive to re-read Pagels. Below, please find the Preface and Chapter 7: "The Quick Buck Becomes Quicker". The Edge Introduction is by Emanuel Derman, a physicist who was at Rockefeller University with Pagels, and went on to become the world's best know "Quant".

John Brockman

LINK: Edge Dedication: Heinz R. Pagels

By Emanuel Derman

There are dualisms everywhere: mind or matter, literature or pornography, investment or speculation. Just today in the New York Times, David Brooks wondered whether our current economic crisis was due to greed or stupidity, and felt obliged to plump for stupidity.

All of these 'or's are choices between complex mental constructs that merely sound simple or primitive; every 'or' is an attempt to forcibly convert the duality into a unity. But the fact that that we can see (at least) two sides to each of these issues signifies intrinsic complexity. Physicists long ago learned to turn wave or particle into wave and particle and live with it, or at least stop thinking about it for as long as they could keep successfully calculating.

Heinz Pagels' 1998 book The Dreams of Reason tackled the science of complexity and the use of computers to understand complex systems that defy reduction. I met Heinz when I was a colleague in particle physics, the most reductionist of fields, in an office down the hall at The Rockefeller University in the late 1970s. An enthusiastic iconoclast with wide interests, Heinz devoted one chapter to the consequences he foresaw of putting science and computing in the service of banking, finance and trading. He presciently warned about the possibility of uncontrollably complex markets, and of the way in which finance, intended to finance investment and construction, may be tempted to incestuously turn in upon itself to recursively finance merely more financial activities.

— Emanuel Derman

EMANUEL DERMAN is a professor in Columbia University's Industrial Engineering and Operations Research Department, as well as a partner at Prisma Capital Partners. He is a former managing director and head of the Quantitative Strategies group at Goldman, Sachs & Co. He is the author of My Life As a Quant. He was recently featured in "They Tried to Outsmart Wall Street" [3.9.09], a front page New York Times "Science Times" profile by Dennis Overbye.

Emanuel Derman's Edge Bio Page

THE REALITY CLUB: Joseph Traub, Jaron Lanier



It seems that we live in two different worlds — the world of our mind and the natural world of things. This dualism, a rift in the perceived order of reality, stands as a persistent challenge to Western thought. Can we accommodate it?

Most natural scientists hold a view that maintains that the entire vast universe, from its beginning in time to its ultimate end, from its smallest quantum particles to the largest galaxies, is subject to rules — the natural laws — comprehensible by a human mind. Everything in the universe orders itself in accord with such rules and nothing else. Life on earth is viewed as a complex chemical reaction that promoted evolution, speculation, and the eventual emergence of humanity, replete with our institutions of law, religion, and culture. I believe that this reductionalist-materialist view of nature is basically correct.

Other people, with equal intellectual commitment, maintain the view that the very idea of nature is but an idea held in our minds and that all of our thinking about material reality is necessarily transcendent to that reality. Further, according to this view, the cultural matrix of art, law, religion, philosophy, and science form an invisible universe of meanings, and the true ground of being is to be found in this order of mind. I also believe that this transcendental view, which affirms the epistemic priority of mind over nature, is correct.

These two views of reality — the natural and the transcendental — are in evident and deep conflict. The mind, it seems, is transcendent to nature. Yet according to the natural sciences that transcendent realm must be materially supported and as such is subject to natural law. Resolving this conflict is, and will remain, a primary intellectual challenge to our civilization for the next several centuries. The great temptation will be to resolve the conflict by collapsing the differences between these views into one viewpoint or the other and then claiming a solution. The Buddha, it is said, when confronted with a similar temptation, held aloft a flower and smiled, indicating that neither dualism nor nondualism provide a resolution. That insight, however, provides us with the beginning of an inquiry, and not its end.

The emergent new sciences of complexity and the order of being that they study are a first step toward a resolution of this problem. What are the sciences of complexity?

Science has explored the microcosmos and the macrocosmos; we have a good sense of the lay of the land. The great unexplored frontier is complexity. Complex systems include the body and its organs, especially the brain, the economy, population and evolutionary systems, animal behavior, large molecules — all complicated things. Some of these systems are simulatable on computers and can be easily modeled rather precisely; others cannot be simulated by anything simpler than the system itself. Scientists, in a new interdisciplinary effort, have begun to meet the challenge of complex systems and, remarkably, are understanding how complexity can emerge from simplicity. For example, cellular automata, an artificial set of video dots that rearrange themselves according to definite, simple rules on a screen are an example of complex behavior emerging from simplicity. The evolution of life and culture may be another example, in this instance, of a three-dimensional cellular automata made of atoms instead of video dots and which fills the entire universe. All of existence may be viewed as a complex system built out of simple components.

Some of the themes of the new sciences of complexity — the importance of biological organizing principles, the computational view of mathematics and physical processes, the emphasis on parallel networks, the importance of nonlinear dynamics and selective systems, the new understanding of chaos, experimental mathematics, the connectionist's ideas, neural networks, and parallel distributive processing — are described in the first part of this book. Where these new developments are headed no one can tell. But they portend a new synthesis of science that will overturn our traditional way of organizing reality. Already institutes and centers for the study of complexity are springing up on campuses and within corporations around the world — a sign of what is to come.

In this book I will focus on three main themes: first, the rise of the sciences of complexity that stand at the newest frontier of knowledge; second, the role of the computer as a research instrument and the reordering of knowledge it implies; and finally, the philosophy of science.

The primary research instrument of the sciences of complexity is the computer. It is altering the architectonic of the sciences and the picture we have of material reality. Ever since the rise of modern science three centuries ago, the instruments of investigation such as telescopes and microscopes were analytic and promoted the reductionalist view of science. Physics, because it dealt with the smallest and most reduced entities, was the most fundamental science. From the laws of physics one could deduce the laws of chemistry, then of life, and so on up the ladder. This view of nature is not wrong; but it has been powerfully shaped by available instruments and technology.

The computer, with its ability to manage enormous amounts of data and to simulate reality, provides a new window on that view of nature. We may begin to see reality differently simply because the computer produces knowledge differently from the traditional analytic instruments. It provides a different angle on reality. I will be describing some uses of the computer — simulating intelligence, simulated annealing, modeling molecules, computer modeling of both real and artificial life, the discovery of deterministic chaos, nonlinear dynamics, modeling evolution, neural nets, Boltzmann machines, experimental mathematics, to name a few. The technology that emerges from these applications will have profound implications in the commercial and business world, the financial services industry, the legal profession, and the military. The world will be changed. As a new mode of production, the computer creates not only a new class of people struggling for intellectual and social acceptance, but a new way of thinking about knowledge. It will transform the scientific enterprise and bring forth a new worldview.

The second part of the book deals with the impact of the sciences of complexity on the philosophy of science. Philosophy of science has fallen on hard times, deserted by even the professional philosophers, some of whom think it has come to an end. Once the handmaiden of theology, in this century philosophy became the whore of science, and finally, today, it is all but abandoned. Practicing scientists like myself tend to be antiphilosophers, often rejecting the efforts of professional philosophers to clarify and interpret our enterprise. This was not always the case. A few decades ago many scientists, especially my tribe — the physicists — were intellectually interested in, debated, and wrote about the philosophy of science. Today the pendulum has swung from thinking to doing. The external activities of scientists are more ethically oriented and less philosophically inclined. They have become involved in issues — the environment, war and peace, and human rights. So writing about the philosophy of science today, especially by an "antiphilosopher," requires an explanation.

Thinking about and doing science have become two very distinct professional activities, one philosophical, the other empirically investigative. This schism between the philosophy of science and science itself was wrought by Kant more than two centuries ago and has persisted until the present day. I believe that these two activities will become less distinct in the future, an influence of the new sciences of complexity. I welcome that. Philosophers and scientists may begin to collaborate more directly, especially in the cognitive sciences. It may turn out that philosophy has not so much come to an end, rather it has reintegrated with the activity of science, to where it was prior to the Kantian schism.

I am not a philosopher, and what I am writing in this book does not qualify as professional philosophy because it is not sufficiently closely argued. But I am trying to expose the new outlook on science that is arising out of the study of complexity, and I am using the themes and problems of traditional philosophy to do this — the nature of physical reality, the problem of cognition, the mind-body problem, the character of scientific research, the nature of mathematics, and the role of instruments in research.

I am profoundly biased in my views by my training as a professional physicist. As a physicist I feel more at home writing about the natural sciences. But some of the most exciting new developments in the sciences of complexity deal with social, economic, and psychological behavior. Interestingly, the interdisciplinary nature of these new sciences will in some cases cut across the traditional distinction between the natural and the social sciences. This will be lauded by some people and abhorred by others.

A recurrent theme in my thinking about science is the notion of "a selective system," a generalization of the Darwin-Wallace idea of natural selection to a general pattern-recognizing system. Empirical science itself exemplifies such a selective system. Instead of selecting species, natural science selects the theories of nature, our repertoire of reality. Empirical science may be viewed as a selective system for finding the invariant rules that order the universe. While these ideas are familiar in biology, the impact of the selective systems way of thinking on the social and psychological sciences is just beginning. It has been a long time in coming, and it will change them profoundly, a change that will be resisted by more traditionally oriented scientists. 

I believe that the problem of the dualism of mind and nature will not so much be solved as it will disappear. Fundamental problems have disappeared before. Centuries ago natural philosophers debated the distinction between "substance" and "appearance," a distinction that vanished as empirical science matured. Likewise the radical distinction between mind and nature will disappear with the development of the new sciences of complexity and the categories of thought that development entails. As we deepen our understanding of how the mental world of meaning is materially supported and represented, an understanding coming from the neurosciences, the cognitive sciences, computer science, biology, mathematics, and anthropology, to name but a few contributing sciences, there will result a new synthesis of science, and a new cosmopolitan civilization and cultural worldview will arise. I am convinced that the nations and people who master the new sciences of complexity will become the economic, cultural, and political superpowers of the next century. The purpose of this book is to articulate the beginnings of this new synthesis of knowledge and to catch a first glimpse of the civilization that will arise out of it.


The generally accepted view is that markets are always right — that is, market prices tend to discount future developments accurately even when it is unclear what those developments are. I start with the opposite point of view. I believe that market prices are always wrong in the sense that they present a biased view of the future.


During the Second World War, Albert Einstein at the urging of Leo Szilard wrote a now famous letter to Franklin Roosevelt. This letter, expressing Einstein's view that nuclear fission could be used to build a weapon and that Germany might well be pursuing such a direction, set in motion a chain of events which led to the Manhattan Project and the first and only use of atomic weapons by the United States against Japan. The abstract subject of nuclear physics leapt to the foreground in people's thinking, influencing the creation of foreign policy and the international order among nations. Some scientists who possessed the knowledge to build the weapons were lifted out of the obscure world of academic research into the public eye. What scientists thought could and could not be done took on added significance. This scenario — the transformation of abstract knowledge into practical artifacts — is today repeating itself in an entirely new area.

The banking industry, long insulated from major technological change, has been hit by a revolution that will alter forever the way it does its business. This revolution is a consequence of improvements in telecommunications, data processing, and, of course, the computer. A new class of people who have mastered this new technology has sprung into prominence and in several instances risen to leadership positions in major financial institutions.

Institutional survival in a highly competitive banking environment can depend on advances in computer modeling of markets and the economy, and software and algorithms, as well as telecommunications, that supply data input. Banks, which have long been hiring experts in data processing, are now hiring Computer scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to help design their equipment and algorithms. They used to depend on their vendors, computer and software producers, for their internal needs. But they soon realized that to maintain a competitive advantage they had to take on the research and development responsibility themselves. Major financial services institutions now have their own research staffs examining how they can improve their data processing performance by using new hardware and software. Abstract mathematics, sometimes developed to understand selective and adaptive systems, is now being applied to guide financial decisions. The sciences of complexity are impacting the business and financial world. And that impact is just beginning.

The real movers of the world economy today are the large international banks linked to each other electronically by a network that, seen as a whole, comprises the world's first global computer. In 1986 over $64 trillion was exchanged on this network, and that volume is still growing. (The other global computer, and second largest, is the U.S. military communications system.) The banking computer network is a parallel, not hierarchical, network, although it has hierarchical components. Within each financial institution the system is hierarchical, but globally no one is in charge, and there is no central, executive authority. In this sense it is a "free market." Some computer scientists are attempting to develop computer models of the world's first global computer to and understand it better. If we look back, we can see what events helped to bring about this global computer. A few decades ago the placement of the first satellites in orbit created a technological curiosity and a symbol of national accomplishment. Some people complained about the high cost of the satellites. However, satellites provided a highly reliable transcontinental and intercontinental communications link, and financial institutions quickly took advantage of them. Banks in London could release credit to banks in New York as the sun set in England and New Yorkers were still at work. Likewise New York banks were able to communicate credits to the West Coast and thence to Asia. While people slept, their money worked. The satellite system enabled a "bulge" of credit to rotate with the daylight zone around the planet. Some people estimate that satellites increased the world credit supply by as much as 5 percent — hundreds of billions of dollars — much more than the entire cost of the satellite systems.

When optic fibers are deployed across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by the end of this decade, many functions of the satellites will become obsolete. The increased bandwidth afforded by photonic systems will enable supercomputers on different continents to talk to each other. It is conceivable that European and Asian computers will be buying and selling on the U. S. markets (and vice versa). Already, effective international telecommunications and computations have destroyed the arbitrage market that makes money on small differences in currency exchange rates. The only advantage of having a local computer near the market is the one hundred milliseconds or so that it takes light to travel between continents. But that is a significant advantage if one has a fast algorithm. I recently spoke to a mathematician newly employed at a New York investment house who was developing sophisticated algorithms to determine buy-sell options. Why? So that his institution could get their orders in a millisecond ahead of their competitors.

It is well known that one of the most rapid forms of communications is a good joke. Businesspeople routinely leave their office in London with a fresh joke, fly to New York on the Concorde, only to find out at an evening cocktail party that everyone had already heard it. How is this possible? Banks and investment houses maintain open phone lines around the world in case there is a news break. The operators who maintain the lines often have no business information to transmit, so they trade new jokes. That's how jokes circle the globe so quickly. They are still one of the fastest forms of human communication.

The introduction of high-speed computing, data processing, and innovative software has transformed the financial services industry. Leaders in the financial services industry, while keenly aware that such technology makes a difference today, were not always so aware. A decade ago the investment industry was hit by a technological revolution in the form of new electronic trading systems for stocks. Though suffering from an avalanche of paperwork (some called it the "paperwork holocaust"), the New York Stock Exchange delayed the installation of this innovative technology. They were too busy making money and thought they would lose orders during the change-over period. The exchanges in Tokyo and London, which were not so concerned about short-term profits, became electronic markets. By their understanding of where the industry was headed, they got a bigger piece of action. Even today a major problem is that as technology advances, systems quickly become obsolete and noncompetitive. How does one change over an entire network without bringing it down?

New skills are needed in order to manage the modern financial services industries — not just computer programmers, but high-level mathematicians who know how to design fast algorithms. In September of 1986 there was a "computer-assisted" slide of the market. One of the reasons for this slide was that the buy-sell programs for many investment and brokerage houses differed in such a way as to produce an instability in the system. While the first step in most houses; programs for buying and selling was the same, the second, third, and fourth steps differed. This can produce a positive feedback loop; when the market becomes unstable and before human beings can intervene, the market can drop precipitously, costing many people a lot of money. When I asked many stock analysts about "instabilities" or "singularities" in market behavior, they never heard of them. Most are not trained in even rudimentary modern mathematics.

What are the chances that we will ever understand economic systems? They are clearly examples of extremely complex systems, but there is lots of quantitative data to check one's ideas out on. Professional economists who bother to concern themselves with practical matters don't have an especially good batting average when it comes to predicting the future of the economy. They are smart, but they just don't have the right intellectual tools in their hands.

When I was in school learning about supply-and-demand curves, I asked my professor, "Where did those curves come from? Were they made up, based on data, or did they represent a theory?" The best answer I got, at least the one I remember, was that they represented the theory of economic equilibrium. The market, it was asserted, establishes an equilibrium, and the point at which the supply-and-demand waves intersect determines the price. This, reasonable as it seems, is of course nonsense.

The economic system, if it is anything, is a system far from equilibrium like the evolutionary system or the immune response. It is continually making adjustments to keep itself far from equilibrium (although there may be a local equilibria). Next to nothing is understood about dynamical systems far from equilibrium. Probably the various kinds of attractors — fixed points, limit cycles, and strange attractors — play a role in coming to grips with how a complex system like the economy functions. Some mathematical economists such as Stanford's Kenneth Arrow have expressed cautious excitement about the application of the new ideas about chaos to economic dynamics. Mathematicians and others are endeavoring to apply insights gleaned from the sciences of complexity to the seemingly intractable problem of understanding the world economy. I have a guess, however, that if this problem can be solved (and that is unlikely in the near future), then it will not be possible to use this knowledge to make money on financial markets. One can make money only if there is real risk based on actual uncertainty, and without uncertainty there is no risk.

As emphasized by the investment manager George Soros in his book The Alchemy of Finance (1987), human biases profoundly influence markets in a reflexive fashion. Because such biases are influenced by political developments and cultural factors it is probably impossible to make a reliable model of the international economy. Like the weather, the international economy is an unsimulatable system. Yet short-term prediction and seeing long-range global trends may be possible using mathematical models.

I remember that back in the 1960s popular intellectuals spoke about "the information age" and "the global village." Well, it has arrived, but not exactly in the form that these intellectuals anticipated. Felix Rohatyn, a New York investment banker and public-spirited citizen, recently remarked that we are now living in the "money culture," a development brought about by the new data processing technologies. By this he meant that the dominant form of commercial exchange between people is not goods and services, but money. Money is, of course, a form of information, and it can move at the speed of light. People can easily invest it, transfer it, and lend it. And lots of people are doing this, some accumulating great wealth.

Only a few decades ago, if one picked up American business magazines, the articles were about new products, industries that produced goods and services, and the people who made that happen. Today the big news stories are about deals, financial transactions, buying, selling, conglomerating, integrating, divesting, and destroying companies. Smart young people who want to enrich themselves are attracted by all these deals and want a piece of the action. Nothing is being produced, but wealth is seemingly created. This bubble burst with the collapse of the market on October 19, 1987.

One could even imagine a satire on the theme of the "money culture." People invest in the financial services industry, which, in turn, services their investment. Nothing but information is ever exchanged; no one produces anything; money, however, is always changing hands. The whole system bootstraps itself into existence — just money being exchanged and making more money based on the human confidence that it will continue to be exchanged. The image one gets is of an immense "chain letter" with promises of payments to all at a cost to none. Of course, it cannot work forever. At some point human confidence gets shaken, and a lot of people are hurt.

The real money culture, of course, invests in products and services. What has changed is the speed with which this is done. Speed, while a quantitative parameter, can, if dramatically increased, lead to qualitative changes — the changes we see in the global economy and, in particular, the large multinational corporations that play such an important role in maintaining it. In several such large corporations there has been a shift in both the leadership and the emphasis. The companies used to be run by traditional executives who understood the product and how it was produced and sold, whether it was automobiles or oil. But with the rise of the money culture many corporations, especially the oil companies, discovered that they could make more money investing and trading their surplus capital than doing what the company traditionally did — look for oil. Engineers and salesmen were replaced by international money market analysts and accountants. These new people began to run the companies. Which, of course, causes one to wonder who's minding the shop.

In 1986 I met with a group of bankers and businessmen. I told them that I knew of a "computer nest" operating in Luxembourg or Switzerland that was using a new "massively parallel computer" built by hackers in collaboration with a group of bright young traders for the express purpose of recognizing patterns in the commodities market. It had a learning capability similar to the Boltzmann machine. The traders were pulling in between two and three million dollars a day and wreaking havoc on the European commodities market.

My audience was stunned. "Who are they? What are they doing?" they asked, now on the edge of their seats. I told them that the story wasn't true, but could easily become true in the near future. This kind of "technical breakout" by an opponent, which is so often feared by military strategists, could also happen in the financial world.

Not only will advances in pattern-recognition systems influence financial decision making; so will the advent of detailed models of the global economy. There is an enormous amount of data generated by the world economy, so much that one human being or even a team cannot digest it. But computers can use that data in detailed models of various national and international economies and analyze it. Far-ranging supercomputer models will become a powerful asset in the hands of their creators — crystal balls that may make economic forecasting more realistic. One can foresee the characterization of economic systems in terms of different limit cycles and strange attractors. The international economy is a nonlinear system and can be understood as such.

There are dangers in the operation of the global computer system. A major instability could result in an international economic crash far worse than that in 1987. Many people predict that this can happen — that the markets will not stabilize after the October 1987 crash. Since no one person or group understands what is going on in the world economy and there is no central executive control, the entire system could end up in the basin of attraction of a fixed point presenting very low economic activity. National governments would have to intervene to get the system started again, and new international institutions would have to be established, at a sacrifice of some national sovereignty, in order to prevent the recurrence of a crash.

In spite of all the advantages in computer technology it is not possible to abrogate human judgment in decision making. Much of this implementation of the new computer equipment, however, is designed to do just that. I find that distressing. Elementary decisions, lots of them, can and are made by computers. Perhaps in the future more complex economic decisions will be made by computers as well. But people, with their innate desire to control their destinies, would be foolish to abrogate such high-level judgments to computers.

The diffusion of responsibility incurred by computers is a major danger, too. Once, waiting for breakfast to be served at a fancy new hotel, and after a long delay, I asked the waiter what was wrong — where was my breakfast? "The computer is down sir," came the reply. I commented to my colleagues at the table that one will be hearing that excuse far more often in the future. My delayed breakfast was not the fault of the waiter or the cook. Not even the manager could be blamed. Only the computer manufacturer, programmer, or installer, all long since gone, could be responsible for the fact that my breakfast was delayed. The diffusion of responsibility serves certain interests, and it is important in each instance to identify them carefully. We are in deep trouble if we can't identify a human agent for these kinds of problems and hold them immediately responsible. But there are still other dangers.

Some intellectual prophets have declared the end of the age of knowledge and the beginning of the age of information. Information tends to drive out knowledge. Information is just signs and numbers, while knowledge has semantic value. What we want is knowledge, but what we often get is information. It is a sign of the times that many people cannot tell the difference between information and knowledge, not to mention wisdom, which even knowledge tends sometimes to drive out.

I've examined just one of the many impacts that the new sciences of complexity will have on the world — that in the financial services industry. There are other impacts — on education, medicine, and the legal profession. The computer, a new mode of production, has come into existence and created new classes of people, new jobs, and new forms of wealth. What I find especially interesting about this development is that abstract mathematics, sophisticated algorithms, and vanguard technology are going to determine the future of industries and professions long immune to such changes.

Someday, sooner than many people think, the sciences of Complexity will impact on the legal system, not just in data processing but in actual decision making. Could an expert system replace an attorney or at least assist one? Probably a lot of mundane legal work can be done by computers, and lawyers will discover that they can serve their clients better by using computers. The use of content addressable memories, for example, would be a great aid in case work. Right now the impact of the new sciences of complexity on the legal profession is still minimal; but this will soon change.

A new salient of knowledge is being created, and our generation is privileged to see it unfold. Like all great changes throughout the course of human history, it provides challenge, opportunity, hope, and danger. We stand on the threshold of the human mastery of complexity — an agenda for science that may show us, for the first time, who and what we truly are.

Information, be it embodied in organisms, the mind, or the culture, is part of a larger selective system that determines through successful competition or cooperation what information survives. Information can be encoded in genes, nerve nets, or institutions, but the selective system that promotes survival remains similar. This insight is hardly original. Yet it remains a mystery to me why philosophers, psychologists, and social and cultural scientists have rarely grasped the import of the Darwin-Wallace notion of selection for their own work (this has recently been changing). A selective system is a pattern producing and recognizing system, be it the pattern of life on earth, the symbolic order of the mind, or the pattern of culture. A selective system manages complexity.

In the next part of the book I will take the reader on an intellectual journey through a forest of several philosophical issues that bear on contemporary science — the nature of material reality, the problem of cognition, the body-mind problem, the character of scientific research, the nature of mathematics, and the role of instruments in the conduct of inquiry. The issues form, in part, the framework of our thinking about the scientific enterprise, an enterprise that is now opening a new frontier-the frontier of complexity, exploring the very order of the mind, life, and nature.

Copyright ©1988 By Heinz R. Pagels


The Preface and Chapter 7 ring even more true today then in 1988.

I have a small personal story about Dreams of Reason.

Heinz gave me the galleys for comments. At the time I was on the Executive Committee of the New York Academy of Sciences. I brought a copy of the book to a meeting for Heinz's autograph. As the meeting broke up a number of people gathered to speak to him. I decided to get his autograph another time.

I was never to see him again.


Pagels' thoughts on computation and complexity are still unsurpassed.


It is amazing how prescient Pagels was. We miss him now. There is one point I could take issue with: that the notion of equilibrium in economics is nonsense. Pagels appears to make a mistake here that has clouded discussions between economists and physicists for a long time. The physicists have jumped to the conclusion that economists mean by equilibrium something like thermodynamic equilibrium, and, as Pagels does here, they insist that an economy must instead be far from thermodynamic equilibrium and something like a self-organized steady state.

But it is clear that what the economists call equilibrium has nothing to do with thermodynamic equilibrium. It is more like a balance of forces in statics and indeed represents nothing more than a mathematical setting for the law of supply and demand. No one I think would argue that the notion that prices and production are adjusted by sellers to try to bring demand into balance with supply.

Pagels is right that an economy should be characterized as a far from thermodynamic equilibrium system. There is no contradiction between that and the economists notion of equilibrium, instead, the important problem that is missed here, because of the linguistic confusion, is how to derive the economic notion of equilibrium from a statistical description of a far from thermodynamic equilibrium system.

Another misunderstanding is that economic equilibrium is unique. There are mathematical results that show that generic models of markets have multiple equilibria. This was shown in the 1970’s by Sonnenschein and others and it has been recently shown (Severini-Vazquez) that there is an equilibrium for every way to distribute wealth among the agents in a model of a market. As supply and demand are balanced in each one, something other than market forces must be employed by society in choosing which of the many equilibria are realized. This is where non-equilibrium (in both senses) models are needed and it is also where politics and ethics enter.

April 9, 2009

A researcher argues that peers are much more important than parents, that psychologists underestimate the power of genetics and that we have a lot to learn from Asian classrooms.

In 1998 Judith Rich Harris, an independent researcher and textbook author, published The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do. The book provocatively argued that parents matter much less, at least when it comes to determining the behavior of their children, than is typically assumed. Instead, Harris argued that a child’s peer group is far more important. The Nurture Assumption has recently been reissued in an expanded and revised form. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Harris about her critics, the evolution of her ideas and why teachers can be more important than parents.

LEHRER: Freud famously blamed the problems of the child on the parents. (He was especially hard on mothers.) In The Nurture Assumption, an influential work that was published 10 years ago, you argued that parents are mostly innocent and that peers play a much more influential role. What led you to write the book?

HARRIS: It wasn’t just Freud! Psychologists of all persuasions, even behaviorists such as B. F. Skinner, thought the parents were responsible, one way or the other, for whatever went wrong with a child. One of my purposes in writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job, that there are many different ways to rear a child, and no convincing evidence that one way produces better results than another.

But my primary motive was scientific. During the years I spent writing child development textbooks for college students, I never questioned the belief that parents have a good deal of power to shape the personalities of their children. (This is the belief I now call the “nurture assumption.”) When I finally began to have doubts and looked more closely at the evidence, I was appalled. Most of the research is so deeply flawed that it is meaningless. And studies using more rigorous methods produce results that do not support the assumption. ...

April 7, 2009



By David Brooks

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.

One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, "Human," is that "it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found." ...

...As Steven Quartz of the California Institute of Technology said during a recent discussion of ethics sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, "Our brain is computing value at every fraction of a second. Everything that we look at, we form an implicit preference. Some of those make it into our awareness; some of them remain at the level of our unconscious, but ... what our brain is for, what our brain has evolved for, is to find what is of value in our environment." ...

...In other words, reasoning comes later and is often guided by the emotions that preceded it. Or as Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia memorably wrote, "The emotions are, in fact, in charge of the temple of morality, and ... moral reasoning is really just a servant masquerading as a high priest."

April 3, 2009

Bob Dylan's son, an accomplished director, turns his camera on medical research

By Amy Dockser Marcus

Jesse Dylan shot into public view last year when the celebrity-filled Barack Obama music video "Yes We Can" became an Internet sensation. Now, Mr. Dylan is emerging as a star in a more unusual field: catchy, MTV-style videos starring scientists and doctors discussing their research.

Watch Creative Commons' "A Shared Culture" video, directed by Jesse Dylan. 3:13

It's a personal crusade for the 43-year-old director (and eldest son of Bob Dylan) who's known for his music videos for Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, commercials for Nike and Nintendo, and mass-market movies like "American Wedding."

Watch Creative Commons' "Science Commons" video,
directed by Jesse Dylan.2:12

Mr. Dylan, who helped distill the Obama campaign's message into a series of striking images of celebrities and the words "yes we can," has found himself increasingly in demand to do something similar for scientists, researchers, and clinicians -- many of whom have trouble summarizing their work succinctly to laymen. So he's donated his time to make videos for research institutions, labs and nonprofit groups -- as well as continuing his usual lineup of commercials and music videos.

Mr. Dylan with his father, Bob, in 1968.

...Mr. Dylan found that medical and research institutions felt a need to connect more closely to the general public. For example, he met John Wilbanks, a young entrepreneur running a project called Science Commons, whose goal was to develop tools to make Web-based scientific research more efficient. For its mission in opening science to the public to succeed, someone should "be able to understand Science Commons in an instant,'' Mr. Dylan says. He offered to make a short video, which got 25,000 views in just a couple of weeks and was dubbed into Spanish and Japanese by enthusiastic viewers. ...

...Mr. Costello, who's seen Mr. Dylan's recent science videos, said he makes them "with the same ruthlessness you need trying to follow the rhythm of a song.'' As for Mr. Dylan, he sees a further connection, realizing as he worked on the science-video projects that there is -- just like in music -- "lyricism and poetry to science."

April 8, 3009


By Jim Dwyer

Word came this week that scientists at a laboratory in Brooklyn have found a chemical that can erase memories in rats. One day, we nonrats might be able to edit what we remember by taking a drug. The mind hardly knows where to begin boggling at such a prospect.

This advance, said the lead researcher on the discovery, Todd C. Sacktor, a neuroscientist at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, raises the possibility of a drug that “gives you control over your own thoughts.”

“You would have more efficient control of your own memories.”

Memory, you will remember, is already subject to regular editing: the stories we tell ourselves and others are revised whenever they’re pulled out of storage. New coats of varnish are laid on. Imaging technology makes it possible to watch the brain firing as it summons a memory, and it shows that a single story — the joke told last Thanksgiving, an old friend’s rattling car, a quarrel between lovers — is chopped into pieces, stored in different areas of the brain and then reassembled, with new or different elements that have been added since the original event. ...

...The story begins with a young boy who grew up in Vienna, Eric Kandel. He turned 9 on Nov. 7, 1938, two days before the riotous Nazi assault of Kristallnacht on Jews in Austria and Germany. He and his family came home one day to discover that their apartment had been cleaned out, right down to the toys he had gotten for his birthday.

They moved to New York. At Erasmus Hall High School, he excelled as a student and athlete. Headed for Brooklyn College, he wound up at Harvard on a scholarship after a teacher gave him the $15 fee for the application.

There, Mr. Kandel began an exploration of the violence he had seen in Vienna. He studied the history of intellectuals who had backed the Nazis, and for graduate work, urged on by a girlfriend’s father, took up psychiatry, as a way of understanding the mind.

Neuroscience did not exist: the biological connections to the mind had almost never been explored. No one could say where you could find the id or the ego inside the head. Mr. Kandel found others who were interested in exploring the biology of the mind.

April 2, 2009



Richard Dawkins

The author of the God Delusion responds to Tony Blair's article on faith in last week's New Statesman

Dear Person of Faith

Basically, I write as fundraiser for the wonderful new Tony Blair Foundation, whose aim is “to promote respect and understanding about the world’s major religions and show how faith is a powerful force for good in the modern world”. I would like to touch base with you on six key points from the recent New Statesman piece by Tony (as he likes to be called by everybody, of all faiths – or indeed of none, for that’s how tuned in he is!).

“My faith has always been an important part of my politics”

Yes indeed, although Tony modestly kept shtum about it when he was PM. As he said, to shout his faith from the rooftops might have been interpreted as claiming moral superiority over those with no faith (and therefore no morals, of course). Also, some might have objected to their PM taking advice from voices only he could hear; but hey, reality is so last year compared with private revelation, isn’t it? What else, other than shared faith, could have brought Tony together with his friend and comrade-in-arms, George “Mission Accomplished” Bush, in their life-saving and humanitarian intervention in Iraq?

dmittedly, there are one or two problems remaining to be ironed out there, but all the more reason for people of different faiths – Christian and Muslim, Sunni and Shia – to join together in meaningful dialogue to seek common ground, just as Catholics and Protestants have done, so heart-warmingly, throughout European history. It is these great benefits of faith that the Tony Blair Foundation seeks to promote.

“We are focusing on five main projects initially, working with partners in the six main faiths”

Yes I know, I know, it’s a pity we had to limit ourselves to six. But we do have boundless respect for other faiths, all of which, in their colourful variety, enrich human lives.

In a very real sense, we have much to learn from Zoroastrianism and Jainism. And from Mormonism, though Cherie says we need to go easy on the polygamy and the sacred underpants!! Then again, we mustn’t forget the ancient and rich Olympian and Norse traditions – although our modern blue-skies thinking out of the box has pushed the envelope on shock-and-awe tactics, and put Zeus’s thunderbolts and Thor’s hammer in the shade!!! We hope, in Phase 2 of our Five-Year Plan, to embrace Scientology and Druidic Mistletoe Worship, which, in a very real sense, have something to teach us all. In Phase 3, our firm commitment to Diversity will lead us to source new networking partnership opportunities with the many hundreds of African tribal religions. Sacrificing goats may present problems with the RSPCA, but we hope to persuade them to adjust their priorities to take proper account of religious sensibilities. ...

April 7, 2009


By Amanda Gefter

It's funny how pondering our origins – the origin of the universe, of life, of mind – leads us to question everything we thought we knew about ourselves in the here and now.

Here in Phoenix, Arizona, the Origins Symposium – the inaugural event of the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University, headed up by physicist Lawrence Krauss – has just wrapped up after four days of lectures and debates from the world's leading scientists.

Brian Greene spoke about string theory, AC Grayling anticipated the future of humanity, Steven Pinker explored behavioural genetics, Steven Weinberg pondered the multiverse, Craig Venter discussed the possibilities of synthetic life, and Stephen Hawking – who, unfortunately hospitalised, made a "virtual" and "genetic appearance" via a video screen and his daughter Lucy – argued for the colonisation of space.

Infinite universes?

The conference covered a lot of ground, but it left with me a singular and profound existential vertigo: throughout the four days, I felt as if I could see myself – a small, strange Earth-bound creature – through the lens of a camera zooming in and out through space and time.

Zoom out: 13.7 billion years ago the universe found its origin in the big bang. Was this a lone creation event, or one of an infinite number of bangs, each birthing its own universe? What's that in the distance? Another copy of myself? An infinite number of me?

Back in this universe, I am nothing but a speck of dust. "You are cosmically insignificant," Krauss says. "We can get rid of you and all the aliens and all the stars and galaxies and the universe would be pretty much the same" – a sea of dark energy populated by islands of dark matter. "People should know that the world is not what it appears to be," Frank Wilczek says.

Zoom in: What am I? Richard Dawkins, Bert Hölldobler, Joan Strassman and David Queller discuss superorganisms – groups of creatures, like leaf-cutter ants, whose social organisation is so finely tuned that the colony functions as a single organism upon which Darwinian evolution and natural selection may act.

Then comes the kicker: humans are superorganisms. I am nothing but a vast colony of my single-celled ancestors operating in near harmony: "The most dramatic example of cooperation in biology is multicellularity," says Paul Davies. What else is going on in this colony that I call myself? Ten million microbial genes live on top of my 23,000 genes, Venter says. The "microbiome" in my gut is a biosphere unto itself.

April 5, 2009

Brain Researchers Open Door to Editing Memory

Benedict Carey

Suppose scientists could erase certain memories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

Research by Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, above, and André A. Fenton has demonstrated a chemical’s effect on memory with potential implications for treatment of trauma, addiction and other conditions.

Tesearchers in Brooklyn have recently accomplished comparable feats, with a single dose of an experimental drug delivered to areas of the brain critical for holding specific types of memory, like emotional associations, spatial knowledge or motor skills.ories by tinkering with a single substance in the brain. Could make you forget a chronic fear, a traumatic loss, even a bad habit.

The drug blocks the activity of a substance that the brain apparently needs to retain much of its learned information. And if enhanced, the substance could help ward off dementias and other memory problems.

So far, the research has been done only on animals. But scientists say this memory system is likely to work almost identically in people.

The discovery of such an apparently critical memory molecule, and its many potential uses, are part of the buzz surrounding a field that, in just the past few years, has made the seemingly impossible suddenly probable: neuroscience, the study of the brain.

“If this molecule is as important as it appears to be, you can see the possible implications,” said Dr. Todd C. Sacktor, a 52-year-old neuroscientist who leads the team at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, in Brooklyn, which demonstrated its effect on memory. “For trauma. For addiction, which is a learned behavior. Ultimately for improving memory and learning.”

The stakes, and the wide-open opportunities possible in brain science, will only accelerate the pace of discovery.

“In this field we are merely at the foothills of an enormous mountain range,” said Dr. Eric R. Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia, “and unlike in other areas of science, it is still possible for an individual or small group to make important contributions, without any great expenditure or some enormous lab.”

Dr. Sacktor is one of hundreds of researchers trying to answer a question that has dumbfounded thinkers since the beginning of modern inquiry: How on earth can a clump of tissue possibly capture and store everything — poems, emotional reactions, locations of favorite bars, distant childhood scenes? The idea that experience leaves some trace in the brain goes back at least to Plato’s Theaetetus metaphor of a stamp on wax, and in 1904 the German scholar Richard Semon gave that ghostly trace a name: the engram.

What could that engram actually be?...

April 2, 2009


Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers is the most recent book by the best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point

Richard Nisbett's
Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count is a devastating and persuasive refutation of all those who believe intellectual ability is fixed at birth. Few Americans have done as much to deepen our understanding of what it means to be human.

April 2, 2009


By Barbara Kiviat

If you want people to use less energy, you could make it very expensive--or you could just let them know how much they use in comparison with their neighbors. When that bit of information was added to electric bills in San Marcos, Calif., heavy users quickly lowered their consumption, even though no one had asked them to. To borrow a term from behavioral economist Richard Thaler and legal scholar Cass Sunstein, the good people of San Marcos had been nudged.

In NUDGE: IMPROVING DECISIONS ABOUT HEALTH, WEALTH, AND HAPPINESS (Yale University Press; 293 pages), the two University of Chicago professors sketch a new approach to public policy that takes into account the odd realities of human behavior, like the deep and unthinking tendency to conform, even in areas--like energy consumption--where conformity is irrelevant. For 30 years, Thaler has documented the ways people act illogically: we eat more from larger plates, care twice as much about losing money as about gaining it, fret over rare events like plane crashes instead of common ones like car accidents. That research underpins Nudge's argument that as policymakers go about their jobs--whether regulating the mortgage industry or organizing food in school cafeterias--they should design programs that give people choices but also invisibly coax them away from bad ones. Putting healthful food at the front of a cafeteria line, for example, leads kids to take more of it, even with nothing to stop them from picking the chips and cookies farther down.

Thaler and Sunstein, longtime colleagues and friends, dub this "libertarian paternalism." The deliberate oxymoron is meant to exalt individual freedom (the authors use their system to explain how one might structure school vouchers or privatize Social Security) while protecting people from cognitive and social forces that lead them to decisions that even they would describe as poor. We are all like houseguests who eat from a bowl of cashews, then thank our host for removing the nuts so that we don't spoil our dinner.

April 2, 2009


By Michael Grunwald

Two weeks before Election Day, Barack Obama's campaign was mobilizing millions of supporters; it was a bit late to start rewriting get-out-the-vote (GOTV) scripts. "BUT, BUT, BUT," deputy field director Mike Moffo wrote to Obama's GOTV operatives nationwide, "What if I told you a world-famous team of genius scientists, psychologists and economists wrote down the best techniques for GOTV scripting?!?! Would you be interested in at least taking a look? Of course you would!!"

Moffo then passed along guidelines and a sample script from the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, a secret advisory group of 29 of the nation's leading behaviorists. The key guideline was a simple message: "A Record Turnout Is Expected." That's because studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini and other group members had found that the most powerful motivator for hotel guests to reuse towels, national-park visitors to stay on marked trails and citizens to vote is the suggestion that everyone is doing it. "People want to do what they think others will do," says Cialdini, author of the best seller Influence. "The Obama campaign really got that." (See pictures of Obama taken by everyday Americans.)

The existence of this behavioral dream team — which also included best-selling authors Dan Ariely of MIT (Predictably Irrational) and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago (Nudge) as well as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton — has never been publicly disclosed, even though its members gave Obama white papers on messaging, fundraising and rumor control as well as voter mobilization. All their proposals — among them the famous online fundraising lotteries that gave small donors a chance to win face time with Obama — came with footnotes to peer-reviewed academic research. "It was amazing to have these bullet points telling us what to do and the science behind it," Moffo tells TIME. "These guys really know what makes people tick."...

...Orszag has been an unabashed behavioral geek ever since he read that 401(k) study. His deputy, Jeff Liebman of Harvard, is a noted behavioral economist, as are White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago, Assistant Treasury Secretary nominee Alan Krueger of Princeton and several other key aides. Sunstein has been nominated to be Obama's regulatory czar. Even National Economic Council director Larry Summers has done work on behavioral finance. And Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan is organizing an outside network of behavioral economists.

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

Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better
Edited by John Brockman
Introduction by DANIEL C. DENNETT


"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

Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable
Edited by John Brockman
Introduction by STEVEN PINKER


"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

Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty
Edited by John Brockman
Introduction by IAN MCEWAN


"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







"deeply passionate"









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

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