EDGE 31 — December 31, 1997




Marc D. Hauser: EDGE at Harvard
John Horgan responds to Joseph LeDoux on "The End of Neuroscience"
Thomas de Zengotita and Marc D.Hauser on Rod Brooks' "Deep Questions"


Harko Keijzer; Michael Naumann


(10,149 words)

John Brockman, Editor and Publisher | Kip Parent, Webmaster



Dedicated to the Memory of James Lee Byars


Everything has been explained. There is nothing left to consider. The explanation can no longer be treated as a definition. The question: a description. The answer: not explanation, but a description and knowing how to consider it. Asking or telling: there isn't any difference.

The final elegance: assuming, asking the question. No answers. No explanations. "Why do you demand explanations? If they are given, you will once more be facing a terminus. They cannot get you any further than you are at present."1 The solution: not an explanation: a description and knowing how to consider it.

Experience a minute. Experience an hour. Can you experience a minute and an hour together, simultaneously, at the same time? This is an important question to ask.

No explanation, no solution, but consideration of the question. "Every proposition proposing a fact must in its complete analysis propose the general character of the universe required for the fact."2 The description, the proposition: not a definition, but a commission. "Understanding a commission means: knowing what one has got to do."3

Any new style, any new life, any new world, is but a god where gods are no longer valid. "The god that one so finds is but a word born of words, and returns to the word. For the reply we make to ourselves is assuredly never anything other than the question itself."4

"Our kind of innovation consists not in the answers, but in the true novelty of the questions themselves; in the statement of problems, not in their solutions."5 What is important is not "to illustrate a truth—or even an interrogation—known in advance, but to bring to the world certain interrogations . . . not yet known as such to themselves."6

A total synthesis of all human knowledge will not result in fantastic amounts of data, or in huge libraries filled with books. There's no value any more in amount, in quantity, in explanation. For a total synthesis of human knowledge, use the interrogative. Ask the most subtle sensibilities in the world what questions they are asking themselves.

— from By the Late John Brockman, 1969

In EDGE 19, I presented a eulogy to honor my friend and collaborator of sorts, the artist James Lee Byars, who died in Egypt last May.

I met Byars in 1969 when he sought me out after the publication of my first book, By the Late John Brockman . We were both in the art world, we shared an interest in language, in the uses of the interrogative, in avoiding the anesthesiology of wisdom, and in "the Steins" — Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, and Frankenstein. In 1971, our dialogue, in part, informed the creation by James Lee of the WORLD QUESTION CENTER.

I wrote the following about his project at the time of his death:

"James Lee inspired the idea that led to the Reality Club (and subsequently to EDGE), and is responsible for the motto of the club. He believed that to arrive at an axiology of societal knowledge it was pure folly to go to a Widener Library and read 6 million volumes of books. (In this regard he kept only four books at a time in a box in his minimally furnished room, replacing books as he read them.) This led to his creation of the World Question Center in which he planned to gather the 100 most brilliant minds in the world together in a room, lock them behind closed doors, and have them ask each other the questions they were asking themselves. The expected result, in theory, was to be a synthesis of all thought. But between idea and execution are many pitfalls. James Lee identified his 100 most brilliant minds (a few of them have graced the pages of this Site), called each of them, and asked what questions they were asking themselves. The result: 70 people hung up on him."

That was in 1971. New technologies=new perceptions. The Internet and email now allow for a serious implementation of Jimmy Lee's grand design and I am pleased to note that among the contributors are Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann, two names on his 1971 list of "the 100 most brilliant minds in the world."

For the first anniversary edition of EDGE I asked a number of those people I consider to be part of "the third culture" to use the interrogative. I have asked "the most subtle sensibilities in the world what questions they are asking themselves."

I am pleased to present the World Question Center.

John Brockman

[Note: A selection from the World Question Center is running in today's New York Times (Tuesday, December 30th) and on the New York Times on the Web .]


"Given the ability of regulatory proteins to rescue functions between taxa that haven't shared a common ancestor for 600 mya how do we integrate this into how we think about the evolution of phenotype?"

Works in developmental genetics at University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Is a greater understanding of the way the brain works going to give me a new language to explain what it is like to be me? Will the words we use now one day seem as strange as the 'humours' we once used to explain the state of our bodies? And what will be the consequence if a scientist gains the power to know me better than I can know myself?"

Editor of New Scientist, biologist and author of Science And Technology In Japan.

"What is the crucial distinction between inanimate matter and an entity which can act as an 'agent', manipulating the world on its own behalf; and how does that change happen?"

Nobel laureate physicist at Princeton.

"Exactly how much of nature can we trash and burn and get away with it?"

Science writer for The New York Times; author of Natural Obsessions, The Beauty Of The Beastly.

"To what extent can we achieve a more just society through the use of better economic indicators, and to what extent is our choice of economic indicators just a reificiation of the wishes of those who are already economically powerful?"

Mathematical physicist at University of California, Riverside.

"What if Gutenberg had invented the world wide web instead of the movable type slug? How would the questions scientists chose to ask themselves over the past five centuries, and the language in which they chose to answer, have been different?"

Former executive at Thinking Machines; author of After Thought.

"As a theoretical physicist, the interpretation of quantum mechanics and the nature of time are what occupy me most, but, as a mystified sentient being, I should like to ask the child's question: Are the most remarkable things in life — sights, sounds, colors, tastes — really just subjective epiphenomena with no role or significance in the 'objective' world?"

Theoretical physicist; author of The Frame Of Mind.

"Will we ever generate enough bandwidth to convey prana?"

Co-founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation; a former lyricist for the Grateful Dead.

"Is the Universe a great mechanism, a great computation, a great symmetry, a great accident, or a great thought?"

"Is there enough information in the observable universe to identify the fundamental laws of Nature beyond all reasonable doubt?"

"Are there other minds that think about us?"

Cosmologist, Professor of Astronomy, University of Sussex, UK; author of Theories Of Everything; Pi In The Sky.

"How can we build a new ethics of respect for life that goes beyond individual survival to include the necessity of death, the preservation of the environment, and our current and developing scientific knowledge?"

Anthropologist, George Mason University; author Composing A Life; Peripheral Visions.

"How can considering the longest time scales in human endeavor lead us to deal with the approaching crises of greenhouse warming and species diversity?"

Physicist, University of California, Irvine; author of Timescape.

"How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?"

Founder of The Whole Earth Catalog; author of How Buildings Learn.

"Which cognitive skills develop in any reasonably normal human environment and which only in specific socio-cultural contexts?"

President, James S. McDonnell Foundation

"What is the mathematical essence that distinguishes living from non-living, so that we can engineer a transcendence across the current boundaries?"

Computer scientist; director of MIT's AI Lab.

"Do humans have evolved homicide modules — evolved psychological mechanisms specifically dedicated to killing other humans under certain contexts?"

Psychologist at University of Texas at Austin; author of The Evolution Of Desire.

"If Mosaic had never supported pictures (read: the Internet didn't become a commercial medium), what would I be doing right now?"

Publisher, Silicon Alley Reporter.

"How will minds expand, once we understand how the brain makes mind?"

Theoretical neurophysiologist, University of Washington; author of The Cerebral Code; How Brains Think.

"Any musically aware listener will know of music that breaks out of established forms or syntax to profound effect — my personal favourites include Beethoven's Eroica symphony, Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, Schoenberg's Erwartung, Debussy's Apres midi d'un faune... What is the most that we can ever say objectively about what those composers are discovering? What are the limits of objective description using science, mathematics and musical analysis? More generally, how do these structures in sound make sense? As of now, I see only very preliminary hypotheses in response to this last question, no possibility of much more given current understanding and techniques, and no consensus as to the ultimate constraints on such an

Editor of Nature.

"It's probably the case that intergroup competition was an important part of human evolution and there is increasing evidence that 'ethnicity' may be a correlate of 'modernity.' If ethnicity, and the human use of biological cues (and cultural and linguistic cues) to indicate social identity are parts of our evolutionary legacy, it makes it that much harder to eradicate ethnocentrism and racism. Can we do it? How can we engage our focus on the flip side of competition — cooperation?"

Anthropologist at the University of Michigan; coauthor of Race And Human Evolution.

"How can we develop an objective language for describing subjective experience?"

Philosopher, University of California, Santa Cruz; author of The Conscious Mind.

"When will we learn to ask 'And then what' as a matter of course?"

Biologist and BBC Radio Four broadcaster; author of The Seed Savers Handbook.

"If Gordon Moore was correct in his prediction that the amount of information storable on semiconductor chips would double every 18 months, then over time is time more or less valuable?"

President and CEO of Learn Technologies Interactive in New York City, an interactive media developer and publisher.

"How can we sustain young people's interest in asking questions such as these? Does the emphasis on personal success and security divert psychic energy from taking the long-term view on things? How long can we keep curiosity and creativity alive in an increasingly materialistic culture?"

Psychologist, University of Chicago; author of Flow: The Psychology Of Optimal Experience; Creativity.

"What is information and where does it ultimately originate?"

Physicist, University of Adelaide, Australia; author of The Mind Of God; Are We Alone.

"What might a second specimen of the phenomenon that we call life look like?"

Evolutionary biologist, Oxford; author of River Out Of Eden; Climbing Mount Improbable.

"How can we even begin to formulate the right questions about consciousness?"

Cognitive neuropsychologist, Institut National de la Santé; author of The Number Sense.

"How on earth does the brain manage its division of labor problem — that is, how do the quite specialized bits manage to contribute something useful when they get 'recruited' by their neighbors to assist in currently dominant tasks (or is this 'recruitment' an illusion — are they not helping but just complaining about the noise caused by their hyperactive neighbors)?"

Philosopher, Tufts University; author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea; Kinds Of Minds.

"Throughout its history, the scientific community has shown great integrity in resisting the onslaught of anti-rationalism. How can it now be persuaded to show the same integrity in regard to scientism?"

Physicist, Oxford University; author of The Fabric Of Reality.

"Why are decentralized processes ubiquitous in nature and society and why are they so poorly understood that people will sacrifice their autonomy and freedom for authoritarian, centralized solutions (gods, governments, and gurus) to personal and social problems?"

Professor, Mathematical Behavioral Sciences Dept., University Of California, Irvine.

"Is justice real?"

Anthropologist; teaches philosophy and anthropology at The Dalton School and at the Draper Graduate Program at New York University.

"What do collapses of past societies teach us about our own future?"

Biologist, UCLA Medical School; author of The Third Chimpanzee; Guns, Germs, And Steel

"Is psychic phenomenon just wishful thinking and can we ever prove it exists or doesn't exist using scientific methodology."

Columnist for Pc Magazine; Pc/Computing, Boardwatch.

"What makes a soul? And if machines ever have souls, what will be the equivalent of psychoactive drugs? of pain? of the physical / emotional high I get from having a clean office?"

President, Edventures Holdings, Inc; publisher of Release 1.0 Newsletter; author of Release 2.0.

"The best questions were asked long ago. For example, Fermi's question, 'Where are they?', and Blake's question, 'How do you know but ev'ry bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?' My question is, 'What goes on inside the head of a baby?' "

Physicist, Institute for Advanced Study; author of Disturbing The Universe; From Eros To Gaia.

"Why not trees in the oceans?"

Leading authority in the field of Russian Aleut kayaks; author of Baidarka; Darwin Among The Machines.

"Will we find the will and the way to limit our population growth before the Biosphere does it for us?"

Paleontologist and Curator at The American Museum of Natural History; author of The High Table; Dominion.

"As biological and traditional forms of cultural evolution are superseded by electronic (or post electronic) evolution, what will be the differentially propagating "units" and the outcome of the natural selection among them?"

Evolutionary biologist at Amherst; author of Evolution Of Infectious Disease.

"Will the 'theory of everything' be a theory of principles, not particles? Will it invoke order from above, not below?"

Retired Director of the American Institute of Physics; author of The World Of Elementary Particles.

"However appropriate it may be for the economy, the 'market model' is a grossly inadequate model for the rest of human society. With the decline of religious conviction and the slow pace of changes in the legal code, how can we nurture persons and institutions that can resist a purely market orientation in all spheres of living?"

Psychologist at Harvard; author of Frames Of Mind; The Mind's New Science; Extraordinary Minds.

"When will the nation's leading intellectuals come clean & admit that Biblical doctrine (on women, nature, homosexuality, the absolute nature of moral truth and lots of other topics) makes them cringe and they are henceforth NOT Jews and NOT Christians, and the hell with old time religion?"

Computer scientist at Yale; author of Mirror Worlds; Drawing Life.

"Is superstring theory (or M-theory, as it has become) the long-sought unified theory of all the elementary particles and forces of nature?"

"How can we improve our reward system for excellence in filtering, interpreting, and synthesizing the vast body of so-called information with which we are deluged."

Nobel laureate physicist at the Santa Fe Institute; author of The Quark And The Jaguar.

"How can we teach each other to embrace pluralism, and to trust each other with the new tools that promote privacy and freedom of speech?"

EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) Staff Counsel.

"Can science survive the sell-out to technology and the corporate sector?"

Biologist, Schumacher College; author of How The Leopard Changed Its Spots.

"At what point a complex organic macro-structure becomes 'alive' ?"

Brazilian physicist, Dartmouth; author of The Dancing Universe.

"How do intelligent beings learn to adapt successfully on their own to a rapidly changing world without forgetting what they already know?"

Cognitive scientist at Boston University; author of Studies Of Mind And Brain; The Adaptive Brain.

"It appears likely that the universe that we can observe is just one of an infinity of 'pocket universes,' which are continually being created by a process called eternal inflation. These pocket universes are believed to split off from a region of 'false vacuum', which expands so quickly that its volume increases forever, despite the loss of volume to the formation of pocket universes. The problem is to find a reliable way to extract predictions from this picture. The properties of the pocket universes can vary, and with an infinity of trials essentially anything will happen an infinite number of times. We need to learn how to distinguish the probable from the improbable, but so far such a probability calculation has never been given a precise definition."

Physicist at MIT; author of The Inflationary Universe.

"Are life and consciousness purely emergent phenomena, or subtly connected to a fundamental level of the universe?"

Neuroscientist, University of Arizona; coeditor of Toward A Science Of Consciousness.

"How can we reconcile our desire for fairness and equity with the brutal fact that people are not all alike?"

Developmental psychologist; co-author of The Child: A Contemporary View Of Development.

"It is now possible for functional parts of one animal's brain to be transplanted into another's. A tasty question for future research, one with volatile biomedical and ethical implications, is whether the memories and goals and desires of one animal can be transplanted as well?"

Evolutionary psychologist at Harvard; author of The Evolution Of Communication.

"Is there a way to enlarge our separate tribal loyalties, to include all our fellow humans?"

Mathematician; author of What Is Mathematics, Really?

"Where is the frontier?"

Computer scientist; V-P of R&D at the Walt Disney Company author of How Computers Think (forthcoming).

"How can we bring up children so that they have the ability to form satisfying relationships and a proper moral sense? How do we construct a society with a proper moral code? Do we know what a proper moral code is?"

Ethologist; Fellow, former Master and Royal Society Professor, St. John's College, Cambridge; author of Towards Understanding Releationships; Individuals, Relationships, and Culture.

"Can we use our current technology to bring C. P. Snow's two cultures closer together? For example, could we produce a vision-oriented, computer-based version of the cross-cultural artifact envisioned in Hermann Hesse's Das Glasperlenspiel?"

Computer Scientist at the University of Michigan; author of Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity; Emergence.

"Does anyone who is not a fool or fundamentalist still believe in utopia?"

Science writer; author of The End Of Science.

"Why and how do we jump to conclusions in mathematics?"

Mathematician; author of Goedel's Theorems; A Workbook On Formalization.

"Why is music such a pleasure?"

Psychologist at The New School for Social Research; author of Consciousness Regained; A History Of The Mind; Leaps Of Faith.

"What will be the framework for a scientific study of the subject-object split?"

Astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study; President of the Kira Institute.

"What are the implications of the science of complex adaptive systems for the nature of law and of legal personhood?"

Attorney; founder of Counsel Connect; Co-Director, Cyberspace Law Institute.

"If humanity ever encounters an alien intelligence, will we be able to communicate with it — or even realize that it is there?

Writer, The New York Times; author of Fire In The Mind; Machinery Of The Mind.

"What happens when a the library of human knowledge can process what it knows and provide advice? In other words what happens when the Library of Alexandria, Computing, and the Oracle at Delphi merge?"

Computer scientist; founder: Wide Area Information Servers Inc.; The Internet Archive; Alexa.

"What must a physical system be such that it can act on its own in an environment."

Biologist at the Santa Fe Institute; author of Origins Of Order; At Home In The Universe.

"What does technology want?"

Executive editor, Wired; author of Out Of Control.

"Do we or even can we know the joint multi-variable probability density function (f(x1, ... , xn)) that describes any realworld event?"

Electrical engineer at USC; author of Fuzzy Thinking; Nanotime.

"Are the laws of physics a logical coherent whole, so that with any small change the entire framework would crumble? Or are there a continuum of possibilities, only one of which happens to have been selected for our observed universe?"

Physicist, Case Western Reserve Universe University; author of The Fifth Essence; Fear Of Physics; The Physics Of Star Trek.

"How do neural computation principles and the neural networks of our brains, together with the relevant aspects of experience, account for the details of all human concepts, especially their structure, how they are learned, and how they are used in thought and expressed in language?"

Cognitive scientist, University of California, Berkeley; coauthor of Metaphors We Live ; author of Women, Fire, And Dangerous Things.

"How can minds, lives, and relationships be enhanced by information systems in unforeseen ways?"

"How can scientific and technological culture be articulated so that fewer people are driven to embrace superstitions, and so that technology is more likely to be designed and judged on humanistic terms?"

Computer scientist and musician; pioneer of virtual reality.

"With the ever-growing dominance of corporate forms of control in everyday social life, how do we reconcile our notions of personal liberty and autonomy rooted in Enlightenment political thought?"

Sociologist at the University of Chicago; author of The Social Organization Of Sexuality.

"For how long can Christianity and Islam survive the recovery of living organisms from beyond our planet by our species?"

"Can religion exist after humans have created living entities that reproduce?"

Paleoanthropologist and former director of Kenya's Wildlife Services; author of Origins Of Humankind and coauthor of The Sixth Extinction.

"'What is the question I am asking myself?' — After contemplating this for hours the only honest answer I could come up with was, 'What is the question I am asking myself?'"

Physicist at MIT, who works on problems having to do with information and complex systems.

"How can we know when and what we do not know?"

Editor emeritus of Nature; author of The Doomsday Syndrome; What Remains To Be Discovered (forthcoming).

"Do new computing technologies create or destroy jobs?"

Technology reporter, The New York Times; coauthor, Takedown.

"When posterity looks back on the 20th Century from the perspective of a hundred years, what will they see as our greatest successes and worst follies?"

(McCorduck:) Writer; author of Machines Who Think; coauthor of The Futures Of Women. (Traub:) Computer scientist at Columbia; author of Complexity And Information (forthcoming).

"What will happen when the male, scientific, hierarchical, control-oriented Western culture that has dominated Western thought integrates with the emerging female, spiritual, holographic, relationship-oriented Eastern way of seeing?"

Editor, Release 1.0

"Will it be possible to direct young people to the great educational question of learning what they have become without having chosen it, their unknown internal worlds, in the face of the blistering assault of stimuli ( in medias res, truly) they encounter continuously each day?"

Philosopher & educator; Co-Director, Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia.

"How come we don't understand how photosynthesis works?"

Founder of Animatrix, an interactive design company; currently teaches interactive design at Stanford.

"In 500 years, how will the phenotypic, genotypic and physical spaces occupied by life descended from that on earth have changed?"

"How best can we combine democracy and expertise to make the living conditions of the people of earth, especially those currently in hardship, better and more equitable?"

Freelance writer, and a contributing editor at Wired and Newsweek International.

"How does the capacity for low mood give a selective advantage?"

Psychiatrist at the University of Michigan; coauthor of Why We Get Sick.

"How much of what we as persons can experience in life can we share with fellow human beings?"

Danish science writer; author of The User Illusion (forthcoming in the U.S.).

"Pont d'Ironie?"

Curator for Musee D'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and museum in progress, Vienna; chief editor of the magazine "Point d'Ironie."

"Why are religions still vital?"

Religious historian at Princeton; author of The Gnostic Gospels; ; The Origin Of Satan.

"Which industries will shake out, or disappear in the new industrial revolution fomented by the advent of the world wide web, intranets, and extranets? How do we help those who are afraid of these new technologies to benefit from them, rather than be crushed by those who understand?

Intranet and extranet pioneer and engineer; President, Pantheon Interactive.

"A chimpanzee cannot understand Bessel functions or the theory of black holes. Human forebrains are a few ounces bigger than a chimp's, and we can ask many more questions than a chimp. Are there facets of the universe we can never know? Are there questions we can't ask?"

Computer scientist; author of The Alien Iq Test; The Loom Of God

"What is needed regarding the understanding of the mental process so that we will be able to produce thought computationally?"

Cyber-entrepreneur, linguist, translator and scientist who previously worked in image processing algorithms at Bell Labs.

"How does the brain represent the meaning of a sentence?"

Psychologist at MIT;author of The Language Instinct; How The Mind Works.

"Do emotions contribute to intelligence, and if so, what are the implications for the development of a technology of 'affective computing?' "

Neurobiologist and psychologist at the University of Maryland; author of Quest For Laughter.

"Can our ever-more-integrated society avoid becoming more vulnerable to high-tech extremists and terrorists?"

Royal Society Professor at King's College, Cambridge; author of Before The Beginning.

"Given what we know now about the origins, history, and impacts of technology, is it possible to design, deploy, and use technologies in ways that help humans be more human, instead of more like components in a machine?"

Founder of Electric Minds, a webzine; author of Tools For Thought; Virtual Communities.

"How to ensure that we develop sciences and technologies that serve the people, are open to democratic scrutiny and which assist rather than hinder humans to live harmoniously with the rest of nature?"

Neurobiologist, The Open University; author Lifelines; The Making Of Memory.

"Is there a happiness gene, and is it dominant?"

Co-founder and Publisher of Wired.

"Can human beings achieve spontaneous morality by opening ourselves further to some basic expression of nature, or must we create and adopt a set of moral guidelines?"

Author, Cyberia; Media Virus; Ecstasy Club; columnist for New York Times Syndicate and Time Digital.

"Why does our 'humanness' keep getting in the way of rational decision-making?"

Writer and television producer; author of The Living Body; Skyscraper; 21St Century Jet.

"How can the implicit beliefs that are imparted to us in childhood be 'reasoned with' in an educational context."

Computer scientist and cognitive psychologist at Northwestern; author of The Creative Attitude; Tell Me A Story.

"I often wonder—sometimes despair—whether it will be possible to solve long term, global problems(global warming being my current focus) until we can overcome collective denial, which in turn, may not become conscious until we grapple with personal myths. I question whether the eventual loss of half the other species on Earth will even be enough to overcome personal escapism that has gone collective—what I sometimes think of a 'psychological fractal'. Perhaps that's not even a question, but it occupies my mind a lot."

Atmospheric scientist at Stanford; author of The Genesis Strategy; Laboratory Earth.

"Do exotic life forms, made of very different materials than those used by life on earth, occur elsewhere in the Universe?"

Biochemist at New York University; author of Origins; The Human Blueprint.

"Does reality have real numbers?"

Chief Architect, Microsoft Corporation.

"Fundamentally, is the flow of time something real, or might our sense of time passing be just an illusion that hides the fact that what is real is only a vast collection of moments?"

Theoretical physicist at Penn State; author of The Life Of The Cosmos.

"How to articulate the natural and the social sciences without being either driven or blocked by ideological agendas?"

Cognitive and social scientist at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris; author of Rethinking Symbolism; On Anthropological Knowledge.

"Is it more useful to theorize a new conception of self that emerges from the widespread adoption of networked technology, or to seek to problematize it?"

Cofounder of Suck.

"Why are most individuals and all human societies grossly under-achieving their potentials?"

Australian research scientist, broadcaster; author of Rogue Asteroids And Doomsday Comets.

"Why can our minds do physics? That is, why does the behavior of the physical world map so neatly onto mathematical laws, given that those laws are (arguably) strings of symbols that our brains happen to be capable of manipulating, apparently as a fortuitous byproduct of some evolutionary process that made our ancestors better adapted to dodging hyenas in the Rift Valley? Why is it that a person sitting in a chair in a room can, by using those leftover hyena-dodging and buffalo-hunting neurons to manipulate symbols in his head, design wing flaps for a 747, or figure out what was happening one femtosecond after the Big Bang?"

Novelist; author of The Big U; Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller; The Diamond Age; Snow Crash.

"How shall I teach my children?"

Astronomer; author of The Cuckoo's Egg; Silicon Snake Oil.

"Why not?"

Director of the Virtual Worlds Group in the Microsoft Advanced Technology and Research Division.

"What was the key factor in the success of Homo sapiens compared with other human species such as the Neanderthals?"

Research paleoanthropologist at The Natural History Museum, London; co-author of In Search Of The Neanderthals; African Exodus.

"How predictive is the much sought-after 'Theory of Everything' intended to be? Presumably it will show why the formation of fundamental particles was inevitable, and why these were bound to form into atoms, and presumably predict galaxies. But will it show that life was bound to appear? Or consciousness? How powerful will it be really — or can it be? What is the Universe really capable of?"

"What is religion? Is it necessary? Can we devise a religion for the 21st century and beyond that is plausible and yet avoids banality — one that people see the need for? What would it be like?"

Cambridge biologist and writer; author of Last Animals At The Zoo; The Time Before History.

"Why is our western civilization so reluctant to accept subjective, first-hand experience as fundamental data? In close association: why the reluctance to consider one's experience as a realm to be explored with a discipline just as rigorous as the one invented by science for material phenomena?"

Biologist at the École Polytechnique, in Paris; author of Principles Of Biological Autonomy; coauthor of Autopoiesis And Cognition.

"Why does our species so obsessively document its origins and past yet so persistently ignore the dangerous portents of its future, such as overpopulation?"

"Can there be a more reliable definition of intelligence than the ability of a species to realize it has predators and competitors, and then exterminate them — as we humans have?"

Paleontologist at University of Washington; author In Search Of Nautilus; The End Of Evolution.

"Is the phenomenology of modern biology converging on a small number of basic truths or will it increasingly diverge, becoming so endlessly complex that no single human mind will be able to encompass it?"

Biologist, MIT; founding member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Mass.; author of Racing To The Beginning Of The Road.

"What do we want from science?"

Australian science writer; author of Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics, And The Gender Wars.

"The major change through the prehistory of our species is the evolution of our brain, the development of a social organ that makes human culture (and language) part of our biology. My question is whether we can ever transcend the consequences and free ourselves of the biological limitations that have been imposed in the process."

Paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan; author of Paleoanthropology; coauthor of Race And Human Evolution.


Marc D. Hauser on EDGE at Harvard

From: Marc D. Hauser
Submitted: 12.11.97

Science B29 is a core science course at Harvard. What this means is that it is one of several possible sciences courses that non-science majors can take, as well as science majors.

Three years ago it was also set up as the primary intro course for the Mind, Brain and Behavior program. I teach the course with Irv DeVore. Although B29 has been running for almost 30 years, starting with DeVore and Bob Trivers (who were literally inventing sociobiology on the fly), it has gone through many permutations.

It attempts to do for Harvard undergrads what Sesame street does for young children: provide a flavor for new ideas, radical ways of thinking, and new frontiers of thought. It takes as its central thesis that evolutionary theory provides a unifying theme to the organization of life, but that there are constraints all along the way. It begins by laying out the central tenets of Darwinian thought, including discussions of natural selection, kin selection, adaptation, and so on. It then moves into brain evolution and design, targeting problems of modularity, domain-specificity, sex differences, brain damage, and brain development.

From neural evolution and constraints, we move to a discussion of how societies are constructed, using both data on animal cultures and human cultures as our empirical playground. Lastly, we turn to how brains build minds, how consciousness evolved, how languages play with mind and how minds play with language, and how systems of moral regulation emerge.

The lectures present broad strokes, designed to engage and enrage the students. Given that the class size reaches about 500, there is no time for questions in class. Questions and discussion emerge within the smaller sections. Each week, a group of about 20 students meet with their teaching assistants, graduate students who have training in biology, psychology or anthropology; some of them are even overqualified PhDs!

This year, we will try something new, integrating material from EDGE () into the discussions. The hope is that students interested in the topics to emerge will not only bring up some of the material with their peers, but will also volley their thoughts back to EDGE members. Given that this will be our first go, we will certainly need to modify the nature of the interaction. It is our hope that the students will play a large role in customizing the extent to which the material on the EDGE is used. I can see several functions to the EDGE material: 1) as a vehicle for entertaining new ideas; 2) as a source of additional information on topics being discussed in lecture and in section; and 3) and a contact point for group discussions.

Marc D. Hauser

MARC D. HAUSER, is an evolutionary psychologist, and an associate professor at Harvard University where he is a fellow of the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Program. He is the author of The Evolution of Communication, and What The Serpent Said: How Animals Think And What They Think About (forthcoming).

John Horgan Responds to Joseph LeDoux on "The End of Neuroscience"

From: John Horgan
Submitted: 12.17.97

John Horgan Responds to Joseph LeDoux on "The End of Neuroscience"

In his December posting, Joseph LeDoux argued that when it comes to his own field, neuroscience, my "death sentence" for science is grossly premature. His main argument is that "neuroscience is infantile." That is simply not true. Galvani showed two centuries ago that nerves emit and respond to electric current, and around the same time Gall produced a precursor of the modular theory of mind that Steve Pinker and others are now touting. William James wrote Principles of Psychology in 1890, and Freud began setting forth his psychoanalytic theory shortly thereafter (after producing a solid book on aphasia). Meanwhile, Cajal and others were already unraveling the structure and function of neurons.

Here we are 100 years later, in the era of MRI and PET scans and DNA probes and computer models and microelectrode recordings from individual neurons. We have compiled a huge amount of information about the brain and its role in perception and behavior. Yet as LeDoux acknowledges, "we know very little. We have no idea how our brains make us who we are. There is as yet no neuroscience of personality... The meltdown of mental life in psychosis is still a mystery."

So LeDoux and I agree on the current plight of his field. The question is, just how far will neuroscience go in the future, given how little progress there has been to date? I grant that my treatment of neuroscience in The End Of Science was a bit superficial; as LeDoux points out, explaining consciousness should not be the be-all and end-all of neuroscience.

I hope to atone for my sins in a new book on neuroscience and other mind-related fields, including psychiatry, behavioral genetics, evolutionary psychology and even artificial intelligence. I fear that, given their poor record to date, some of the most critical problems addressed by these fields may be intractable. I'm not just talking about the old thumbsuckers like consciousness and free will and nature/nurture but practical problems like mental illness.

A couple of months ago, I spent a disturbing morning watching patients at the Psychiatric Institute in New York City receiving shock therapy. If I were suicidally depressed, I might submit to shock treatment myself; incredibly, it is the most effective treatment for severe depression that we have. But the relapse rate is extremely high, as much as 90 percent. And no one can pretend that this is a "scientific" therapy; it's the equivalent of kicking a TV set on the blink.

I am certainly not the only observer who has come to a pessimistic conclusion about the future of mind-related science. The Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a contributor to this site, states in a 1992 essay, "Scientific Psychology: Should We Bury It Or Praise It?": "Psychology has not added up to an integrated science, and it is unlikely ever to achieve that goal." Gardner speculates that in the future psychology, rather than becoming a "hard" science like physics, will become more literary in nature. Gardner tries his best to make this prophecy sound hopeful; to me, it sounds like an acknowledgement of defeat.

LeDoux is absolutely right that we will never know if such pessimism is warranted if we give up now. Let me assure him that I believe, and hope, his field has a vital future. If I were advising my own kids on what field of science to study, neuroscience would be my first choice (and particle physics the last). The problems of neuroscience are profoundly important — both intellectually and pragmatically. The fact that these problems may also be unsolvable means that the field will never die.

Thomas de Zengotita and Marc D.Hauser on Rod Brooks' "Deep Questions"

From: Tom De Zegongatita
Submitted: 12.10.97

It's been a long time since I browsed the cognitive science/neural modeling literature. It is really exciting to see such an emphasis on bodies and needs. I never had a platform bias against silicon based consciousness, but I always had a strong intuition that the primary problem will be getting such materials to be "alive." Mobility and vision and limbs are nice, but Coglike beings need other similar beings to relate to—and especially to exchange with. Consciousness is a reciprocal entity...

See Marcel Mauss' The Gift and its progeny...

Tom de Zengotita

THOMAS DE ZENGOTITA teaches philosophy and anthropology at The Dalton School and at the Draper Graduate Program at New York University.

From: Marc D. Hauser
Submitted: 12.10.97

In the commentary by Ledoux, he states that neuroscience has yet to have its all encompassing theory, a la Newton or Darwin. Did he say Darwin? Well, some would hold that Darwinian theory is the theory that neuroscience needs to work out many of the interesting details. As Fodor articulated in The Elm and the Expert, however, Darwinian theory isn't necessarily the right kind of theory to explain how one goes from mental states as intentional operators to mental states as compuational operators, but some, like Pinker, Cosmides and Tooby, think that there is a good chance that Darwinian design stance will help. They would argue more strongly than I, of course. So, what kind of all-encompassing theory is LeDoux looking for? At what level?

Much discussion has focused on Rod Brooks' interview and on the possibility of robotic souls and moral perspective. We might start by considering the kinds of pressures that could have led to a moral perspective and for this, the animal kingdom poses some interesting problems. My own interest is in trying to work out how we go from rule-guided behavior to rule-based societies that place values on the rules. In this sense, the agenda seems to me two-fold. What are the core emotions underlying moral societies? And, what mechanisms are necessary for one to implement such emotions, control others, and solve the relevant problems that society throws.

Marc D. Hauser


Harko Keijzer; Michael Naumann

From: Harko Keijzer
Submitted: 12.18.97

"The EDGE newsletter is the best of the internet."


HARKO KEIZJER, former publisher of Contact in Amsterdam is cofounder of Paradigma (with Piet Hoenderdos) a Dutch Internet company.

From: Michael Naumann
Submitted: 12.18.97

"[EDGE] is the celebration of electronic discourse at the highest level."


MICHAEL NAUMANN, publisher, is President of Henry Holt & Co.


In January 1997 I reinvented the EDGE newsletter as a Website () to allow the third culture thinkers to present their work and ideas to each other (via an edited mail list), and to the public (via the World Wide Web).

The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are. It is a large enough umbrella to also include the "digerati," the doers, thinkers, and writers, connected in ways they may not even appreciate, who have tremendous influence on the emerging communication revolution surrounding the growth of the Internet and the World Wide Web.

The participants present their work with the understanding that they will be challenged. A feature of EDGE is a continuation of "The Reality Club," founded in 1980. The hallmark of The Reality club has been rigorous and impolite discourse where thinking smart prevails over the anesthesiology of wisdom. The motto of the club: "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

EDGE participation is by invitation only. The contributors a "who's who" of distinguished scientists and digerati who communicate their work and ideas to the public. They receive EDGE editions by email, an average so far of two to three per month, either as a one page table of contents URL notice; or an ascii text file (usually around 10,000 words). Although we have the technology for direct posting to the website and for "chat," all presentations and comments are screened prior to emailing and posting to the website.

The ideas presented on EDGE are speculative; they represent the frontiers of knowledge in the areas of evolutionary biology, genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, and physics. Some of the fundamental questions posed are: Where did the universe come from? Where did life come from? Where did the mind come from? Emerging out of the third culture is a new natural philosophy, founded on the realization of the import of complexity, of evolution. Very complex systems,, whether organisms, brains, the biosphere, or the universe itself,, were not constructed by design; all have evolved. There is a new set of metaphors to describe ourselves, our minds, the universe, and all of the things we know in it, and it is the intellectuals with these new ideas and images, those scientists and others doing things and writing their own books, who drive our times.

EDGE is a living document on the World Wide Web which displays "the third culture" in action. The "content" of EDGE is the group of people who connect in this way. They are: Jeremy C. Ahouse, Izumi Aizu, Alun Anderson, Philip Anderson, Natalie Angier, John Baez, James Bailey, Julian Barbour, John Perry Barlow, John D. Barrow, Mary Catherine Bateson, Patrick Bateson, Gregory Benford, Sandra Blakeslee, Stewart Brand, Rod Brooks, John T. Bruer, David Bunnell, James Lee Byars, David Buss, Jason McCabe Calcanis, William Calvin, Rachel Caspari, David Chalmers, Philip Campbell, Jeremy Cherfas, Luyen Chou, Patricia S. Churchland, Carol Gilligan, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Stanislas Dehaene, Daniel C. Dennett, David Deutsch, Arthur De Vany, Thomas de Zengotita, Jared Diamond, Carl Djerassi, John Doerr, John C. Dvorak, Esther Dyson, Freeman Dyson, George Dyson, Niles Eldredge, Brian Eno, Nancy Etcoff, Paul Ewald, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Kenneth Ford, Howard Gardner, Michael S. Gazzaniga, David Gelernter, Murray Gell-Mann, Carol Gilligan, Marcelo Gleiser, Mike Godwin, Daniel Goleman, Brian Goodwin, John Gribbin, Stephen Grossberg, Tor Gulliksen, Alan Guth, Stuart Hameroff, Judith Rich Harris, Marc D. Hauser, Reuben Hersh, J.C. Herz, W. Daniel Hillis, Robert Hinde, John Henry Holland, Ernest B. Hook, John Horgan, Verena Huber-Dyson, Nicholas Humphrey, Piet Hut, David Johnson, George Johnson, Brewster Kahle, Stuart Kauffman, Paul Keegan, Kevin Kelly, Bart Kosko, Lawrence M. Krauss, George Lakoff, Christopher G. Langton, Jaron Lanier, Edward O. Laumann, Richard Leakey, Joseph Ledoux, Philip Leggiere, Ted Leonsis, Maria Lepowsky, Seth Lloyd, Steve Lohr, David Lykken, Christa Maar, Sir John Maddox, Pattie Maes, Lynn Margulis, John Markoff, Jerry Michalski, Pamela McCorduck, Scott McNealy, Hans-Joachim Metzger, Marvin Minsky, Steven Mithen, Frank Moretti, Marney Morris, Oliver Morton, David G. Myers, Nathan Myhrvold, Randolph Nesse, M.D., Tor Nørretranders, Rafael E. Nunez, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Elaine H. Pagels, Clifford Pickover, Paolo Pignatelli, Steven Pinker, Margie Profet, Robert Provine, Steven Quartz, Tim Race, Sir Martin Rees, Colin Renfrew, Howard Rheingold, Steven Rose, Louis Rossetto, Doug Rowan, Doulgas Rushkoff, Karl Sabbagh, Roger Schank, Stephen H. Schneider, Terrence Sejnowski, Richard Shaffer, Robert Shapiro, Charles Simonyi, Lee Smolin, Dan Sperber, Carl Steadman, Duncan Steel, Neal Stephenson, Ian Stewart, Cliff Stoll, Linda Stone, Chris Stringer, Frank Sulloway, Peter Tallack, Timothy Taylor, Joseph Traub, Arnold Trehub, Lew Tucker, Colin Tudge, Sherry Turkle, Francisco Varela, Peter von Sivers, Peter D. Ward, Robert A. Weinberg, M.D., Margaret Wertheim, Lawrence Wilkinson, Dave Winer, Ellen Winner, Naomi Wolf, Milford Wolpoff, Richard Saul Wurman, G. Pascal Zachary.

The EDGE Website is sponsored in part by Silicon Graphics and is authored and served with WebFORCE® systems. For more information on VRML, see vrml.sgi.com. Our other sponsor is Pantheon Interactive, who maintain the mail lists and design and produce the Website. For more information on Pantheon Interactive, see http://www.pan-interactive.com/.

Kip Parent, the cofounder and President on Pantheon, is a Web pioneer and the visionary who was among the first to design and implement intranets and extranets. Nearly coincidental to the founding of the EDGE Website, was the launch of Kip's company, which has emerged as a classic Silicon Valley start-up success story, and whose clients now include Intel, Novell, Silicon Graphics, Xerox, Cisco Systems, among others. In addition, Kip is heading a new venture, RightsCenter, Inc., a global extranet for the book publishing industry.

It's been a great year. To the several hundred EDGE contributors, to Silicon Graphics, to Kip Parent and his colleagues at Pantheon Interactive — many thanks and a Happy New Year!


1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, eds. G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 58e, para. 315.
2. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), p. 17.
3. Wittgenstein, op cit, pp. 120-21e, para. 695.
4. Wallace Stevens, "Two Prefaces," in Opus Posthumous (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 270.
5. Paul Valery, The Outlook For Intelligence (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 136.
6. Alain Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Grove Press,
1965), p. 14.

Copyright ©1997 by Edge Foundation, Inc.


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