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Edge 315 — March 19, 2010
[7,200 words]


A Talk with Kary Mullis


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Now we are starting to work with organisms that are more likely to appear in a hospital, like staph and influenza, and we have our sights on Clostridia difficile, Pneumococcus aeruginosa, Acetinobacter baumanii and an alarming number of other bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. We are also working on influenza, which has a convenient little feature called M2e.

A Talk with Kary Mullis


I sat down with Kary Mullis in New York to talk about his current work which involves instant mobilization of the immune system to neutralize invading pathogens and toxins. This comes into play in the fight against Influenza A and drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

"We are devising a drug that will selectively attach alpha-gal epitopes to Staphylococcus," he says, "This epitope is recognized by your immune system as a symbol for, 'Eat me.' The immune system doesn't know what the Staph bacteria is, but since the alpha-gal epitope is attached to it, it complies with protocol and eats it. It doesn't notice, "This is phony, we're being set up."

"If you're driving through L.A. and you get stopped for speeding and a cop throws a bag of marijuana in your back seat and busts you for it, you get outraged. Using our drugs, you've fooled your immune system in the same way. But it's your system; it's okay to do it, as long as you don't stick the epitope on something you need."

Mullis received the Nobel Prize for his invention of PCR, a method of amplifying DNA. PCR multiplies a single, microscopic strand of the genetic material billions of times within hours. The process has multiple applications in medicine, genetics, biotechnology, and forensics. Mullis points out that PCR, because of its ability to extract DNA from fossils, is in reality the basis of a new scientific discipline, paleobiology.

You don't interview Kary Mullis, you turn the camera on, sit back and experience him. He talks, you listen. He's fascinating, exciting. In this regard, I am pleased to present, unedited, the first half-hour of video, followed by the edited text of the complete conversation.

John Brockman

KARY MULLIS received a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1993, for his invention of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The process, which Mullis conceptualized in 1983, is hailed as one of the monumental scientific techniques of the twentieth century.

Kary Mullis' Edge Bio Page



[KARY MULLIS] We're working on a way to manipulate the existing immune system so it can attack things it's not already immune to. We've been controlling bacteria for years with antibiotics, but the bacteria are catching on. We've never been good at controlling viruses unless we prepare for them well in advance by vaccination, but now we can use the same method for them too, and in both cases the cure is not administered until you are infected, and it works right away. It sounds to good to be true, so did antibiotics—they called them "miracle drugs."

In order to understand what we're doing, I should explain how the immune system works. Most people know you've got this system, but not how it actually functions down on the level of molecules and cells.

It's a collection of lots of different kinds of cells, each with their own purposes. There are about as many as you have in your brain distributed mostly in special areas all over your body. The business end of the system is a set of hungry cells that will destroy and ingest things that are designated by the whole system as being "other." The rest of the system is charged with preventing them from eating anything else. New cells are always being born. And they are right away tested for their ability to make antibodies that attach themselves onto things that are "other". Antibodies are molecular markers.

If they make antibodies that attach too something that's "you," the immune cells are killed and also eaten. Not much goes to waste. There is a very clever selection process underway. Right after an immune cell, is born, a special part of its DNA is scrambled uniquely. The scrambling is done largely by an enzyme we picked up from a retrovirus we got infected by maybe 60-80 million years ago--not "we" actually but rather something maybe slimy but with teeth, which was dreaming about becoming us in the long course of evolution. The virus managed to get into the genome of our germ plasma. About half of our genome, by the way, is picked up from viruses: used genes. It's shocking and a little humbling to hear this. As a result of DNA scrambling, every new immune cell is genetically uniquely encoded, in one region, to produce a particular protein structure which has never been seen before and that hopefully will have the ability to bind to some structure which at the time is unknown.

If it makes a protein which binds to anything currently in your body, that anything is most likely going to be "you," and so the cell is killed. But if the protein, which is referred to now as a B-cell receptor, can't bind tightly to anything presently around, then the new cell is allowed to live. These young immune cells are escorted around your body looking at various tissues to make sure there's nothing native in you that its B-cell receptor will bind hard to.

After that, it's just left alone, or it hangs out in a lymph node. It probably gets a medal indicating it's legal. If now something foreign appears in your body that it CAN bind to, a reasonable assumption is that the thing is not you. There are other cells that sense when there are increasing numbers of this foreign thing, indicating that it could be a threat, and an immune response gets underway. What began as a lone cell, with the ability to make an antibody resembling its unique B-cell receptor except that the antibody can be excreted in quantity, gets a new medal or two and is instructed to divide itself as fast as possible, and the daughter cells start pumping out the antibodies. The antibodies attached to the invader are an invitation for all kinds of specialized immune cells to have their way with it.

The elapsed time since the foreigner arrived could have been weeks.

It took a long time for scientists to understand how it is that from a limited genome, we can make antibodies that bind tightly to anything at all. Something from Mars could show up in your body and you could make an antibody to it. It didn't make sense. There wouldn't be enough information in your DNA to make a strong binding site for all possible entities. Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet came up with the explanation just offered.

It generally works.

One of the problems is that the immune system might not figure out that there is a foreign entity present until that entity has already multiplied rapidly. A bacteria can reproduce itself every 30 minutes, and so the numbers go up really fast when you get infected with a bacteria. If the right cells are not there in the little spot where the bacteria is, it may take quite a while before your immune system responds.

This long bureaucratic process by which the right cell is put to work can be described as a hierarchy of immune cells having to make a lot of decisions. The question would be whether this thing is reproducing rapidly enough that we need to make a response at all? And if so, what kind of a response? And every single action your immune system takes causes some collateral damage. It's like you're going to go to war or you're not going to go to war. And so it's not a cheap thing to do, for one thing. It's a serious decision.

It usually takes a couple of weeks before you really have a strong immune response to any particular new thing.

This immune response lasts until there are many antibody receptors on the growing clone that are left empty. When the system senses an abundance of these, it realizes the foreign thing is gone. It is like an army withdrawing from war. Most of those cells, specifically suited to fight the defeated entity, are slowly eliminated. A few of them are kept, like keeping a reserve. They're called memory cells, so if you ever run into that thing again, there's at least a thousand cells to start with instead of one. This way, you can make an immune response faster.

I started thinking about this and how we might help it along. It occurred to me that there are certain powerful immune responses that we have from shortly after birth, and we keep them powerful, prepared to act at any time. They target things that are fairly common in our environment.

One of these things is called the alpha-Gal epitope. It's a fairly simple trisaccharide which happens to be chemically synthesizable in a lab. About one percent of our immunity is devoted expressly to it.

What if you could chemically alter those antibodies with a drug, such that they would bind to something else? Something that you had just contracted, and you would like to be immune to today.

Instead of your immune system having to figure out what you have — a hospital lab could figure it out. Perhaps a patient has staphylococcus aureus. Chemists could devise a linker molecule which on one end would bind to some part of Staph, and on the other end, it would sport an alpha-Gal epitope. The alpha-Gal antibodies would bind to the alpha-Gal and thereby to the Staph.

It's a clever trick and so far, it works. It is applicable to any organism that has something specific on its surface, and all organisms do. It's a matter of pride.

We can now easily look through the literature of the ten or twenty different organisms that are starting to escape antibiotics to determine what their surface proteins are. You always find some little fragment that stands out. Just like if you were looking at a person, you could say this person has got a funny little ear, and he's always going to have it when I run into him. If I can get something to clamp to his ear, that itself is attached to an alpha-Gal epitope, I've got him. That's the way the immune response works. It doesn't stick to the whole organism but basically finds some feature on it that's sticking out somewhere.

So I'm looking for something that's always going to be on an organism that I expect to be a problem soon. Staph has a neat little spot where it has to have a receptor for picking up iron when it's living in a human. It has one kind that picks up the haem group from our hemoglobin, and takes it inside the staph cell. It's got to have that all the time. The reason for this is because Staph has to interact with a protein, created by the Staph, that goes out and gets the haem, brings it back, and docks with it. This feature of the Staph is always present on its surface, always conserved in the structure. If it messed with the structure, for example mutating it fast, then it wouldn't fit with the docking protein, the thing couldn't get iron, couldn't grow inside you, and you wouldn't have a problem.

I look through the structural information that's already accumulated by a thousand people in the world who study staphylococcus in a broad sense, and I say, well, here's a peptide, a ten amino acid peptide that looks like an unstructured kind of loop. It's wonderful that all that information is there, without having to go into a laboratory. Some people might find it boring, but I find it really exciting. I'm looking for the Achilles heel of any organism that needs to be taken off the street.

Once I find a possible target, colleagues can employ processes to discover relevant aptamer molecules to bind it. Our system uses 'aptamers', a relatively novel class of DNA/RNA binding molecules, which were originally discovered in a systematic manner using the clever Selex process, invented by Craig Tuerk twenty or so years ago, and are now being explored for a variety of applications through use of Selex and other methods.

Aptamers will bind very specifically to the target, and with high affinity — meaning that they attach to the given target but not to other targets, and to that given target strongly. It is fairly complicated, but chemists have come a long way from turning lead into gold. They use a machine to make single-stranded DNA, not the double kind in a spiral, but single strands. We want a known sequence of about 20 bases on the left end and a known sequence of 20 bases on the right end. Then in the middle we want about 30 bases, which are randomly selected from a bottle with all four bases in it. That means we have a potential for about 10^18 different molecules in the same tube. That's more than the number of stars in the visible universe. Even one copy of each of them would not fit in a test tube, so we have to be content with about 10^11, which is more like the number of stars in our own galaxy.

Some of them will bind to our target. They will be retained by a small column containing many copies of our target immobilized on a solid support. We wash the non-binders away, and using the polymerase chain reaction, we make billions of copies of the binders. We can do this because we know what sequence they all have on their ends and we can make short primers to match these. Now we sequence a few of them completely, and with the sequence in hand, we can synthesize large amounts.

All that is left to do is stick a synthetic alpha-Gal epitope on the aptamer and we have a drug. That's how it works in theory.

When I first started working on this, about ten years ago, the molecules that we made were not at all stable in serum. There are lots of enzymes that destroy foreign DNA. It also seemed likely that the kidney would dispose of such a drug right away once we started putting it in animals.

Following a suggestion from Jeeva Vivekananda we have found several innovative ways to stabilize the aptamers in the circulation, and these are currently under further investigation. Anyway, that is how we explain their serum stability to ourselves and the fact that in our first in vivo trials in rats, our drug that was designed to bind to the lethal factor, which is part of the anthrax toxin mechanism, saved the lives of the nervous rats who had been infected with a lethal dose of anthrax.

It was a very impressive experiment. We did it over and over again, and it definitely worked.

Now we are starting to work with organisms that are more likely to appear in a hospital, like staph and influenza, and we have our sights on Clostridia difficile, Pneumococcus aeruginosa, Acetinobacter baumanii and an alarming number of other bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. We are also working on influenza, which has a convenient little feature called M2e.

It's very promising, in my opinion, because the process for making the drug is prescribed completely.

A lot of different labs had to cooperate to make it. It's not something simple like PCR, for when I invented that, I could do it all by myself. But in the case of anthrax, you've got to have a lab that's used to doing it, or you'll end up killing yourself. You need an infectious disease lab and you need people that know how to raise and medically support small animals. It's a complicated process.

What I do personally is the research, which I can do from home because of the Internet, which pleases me immensely. I don't need to go to a library; I don't need to even talk to people face to face. I do travel to the labs. At Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, where we did the anthrax work, we are now working on a couple of strains of e-coli that are bothersome and dangerous.

Drugs that kill lots of different organisms breed many resistant strains of bacteria. They pass little things called plasmids freely around that contain instructions for making the resistance proteins. It's like somebody standing out on the corner giving out leaflets and not just to other members of its own species. That is why resistance to organisms is spreading rapidly.

When Alexander Fleming first discovered penicillin, his boss, Almoth Roth said bacteria would become resistant to it. It took longer than Roth thought, but it is happening. The narrowly directed drugs won't make bacteria resistant to them because they don't effect every other organism: they're not going to bother your e-coli or bother all the other organisms in your mouth and in your body. Once they are out of your body, they won't be effective at all. This is an important point. If you take penicillin, you excrete half of it. It goes down into the sewer in low, sub-clinical doses. It doesn't kill all the things in the sewer, but it definitely makes them start developing a resistance to penicillin. Most antibiotic resistance may not arise in our own bodies but elsewhere.

I've gone to the pharmaceutical companies with this concept and they know it is a great idea. I expected them to buy in, but they didn't. It doesn't look like our drugs will make them $3 billion in the first year, which is their model. They like blockbuster drugs that people take on a daily basis. You spend the $200 million to get it approved, and then you have ten years or so of an exclusive market on it. During that time, resistance to the drug might start happening, but you still have a proprietary product all the way through.

That's the economic model. It's not a good long-term strategy, because once you get resistance to one drug, you have resistance to that whole class of drugs, and there are most likely a limited number of classes. We're running out of antibiotics. But people will catch on. This is a good thing. We will produce a pipeline of antibiotic-type drugs. They're not really antibiotics in the sense that they don't kill bacteria; they urge your immune system to do it. They say "eat me!."

March 15, 201

by Olivia Scheck

I am embarrassed to say that before this weekend I had never visited Edge.org.

I was first directed to the site on Friday by a post on 3QD, and I have remained there ever since, devouring responses to the 2010 Edge Annual Question, “How is the internet changing the way you think?”

There are many wonderful ideas to glean from this incredible collection of essays, but I was especially interested in what the replies suggested for the future of journalism and – perhaps a separate issue – the future of journalists. ...

Sunday, March 14, 201


Each week, we publish an extract from a book that is topical or of general interest.

This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape The Future Edited by John Brockman Harper Perennial (2010)

What would your reply be to this question about change: 'What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?'

John Brockman, publisher and editor of an online scientific website, Edge, puts forward this hypothetical question to a group of scientists, thinkers, intellectuals and artists. The result? A collection of short essays where imagination, ideas and propositions know no bounds.

March 5, 2010



Algorithmic Culture
By Bruce Sterling

Those of us involved in communicating ideas need to re-think the Internet. Here at Edge, we are not immune to such considerations. We have to ask if we're kidding ourselves by publishing 10,000+ word pieces to be read by people who are limiting themselves to 3" ideas, i.e. the width of the screen of their iPhones and Blackberries.(((And if they're kidding THEMSELVES, what do you suppose they're doing to all those guys with the handsets?)))

Many of the people that desperately need to know, don't even know that they don't know. Book publishers, confronted by the innovation of technology companies, are in a state of panic. Instead of embracing the new digital reading devices as an exciting opportunity, the default response is to disadvantage authors. Television and cable networks are dumbfounded by the move of younger people to watch TV on their computers or cell-phones. Newspapers and magazine publishers continue to see their advertising model crumble and have no response other than buyouts.

Take a look at the photos from the recent Edge annual dinner and you will find the people who are re-writing global culture, and also changing your business, and, your head. What do Evan Williams (Twitter), Larry Page (Google), Tim Berners-Lee (World Wide Web Consortium), Sergey Brin (Google), Bill Joy (Sun), Salar Kamangar (Google), Keith Coleman (Google Gmail), Marissa Mayer (Google), Lori Park (Google), W. Daniel Hillis (Applied Minds), Nathan Myhrvold (Intellectual Ventures), Dave Morin (formerly Facebook), Michael Tchao (Apple iPad), Tony Fadell (Apple/iPod), Jeff Skoll (formerly eBay), Chad Hurley (YouTube), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Jeff Bezos (Amazon) have in common? All are software engineers or scientists.

(((So… if we can just round up and liquidate these EDGE conspirators, then us authors are out of the woods, right? I mean, that would seem to be a clear implication.)))

So what's the point? It's a culture. Call it the algorithmic culture.

(((Even if we rounded 'em up, I guess we'd still have to fret about those ALGORITHMS they built. Did you ever meet an algorithm with a single spark of common sense or humane mercy? I for one welcome our algorithmic overlords.))) ...

March 12, 2010

From Counterculture To Cyberculture: The Life And Times Of Stewart Brand

[ED. NOTE: A serious reprise of the work and influence of Stewart Brand over the past 40-odd years...JB]

This post was prompted by my reading Fred Turner's book "From Counterculture To Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism", which looks at the influence Bucky Fuller had on a range of people, in particular Stewart Brand, who helped create first the hippie counterculture and the back to the land movement of the sixties and seventies, then later the cyberculture that grew up around the San Francisco bay area. ... Turner has some great excerpts from his book at "EDGE" magazine — STEWART BRAND MEETS THE CYBERNETIC COUNTERCULTURE. ...

...Brand maintained that given access to the information we need, humanity can make the world a better place. The Whole Earth Catalog magazine he founded was promoted as a "compendium of tools, texts and information" which sought to "catalyze the emergence of a realm of personal power" by making technology available to people eager to create sustainable communities. Brand eventually achieved his goal of persuading NASA to release the first photo of the Earth from space (wandering around for some time wearing a badge saying "Why Haven't We Seen A Picture of the Whole Earth?") and the photo became the cover for the Catalog. ...

...Whole Earth (and later Wired) editor Kevin Kelly has noted that style of the Whole Earth Catalog preceded the modern internet / blogosphere, and was eventually made redundant by it. ...

...Brand discusses "Whole Earth Discipline" in this talk at EDGE....

About 40 years ago I wore a button that said, "Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?" Then we finally saw the pictures. What did it do for us?

The shift that has happened in 40 years which mainly has to do with climate change. Forty years ago, I could say in the Whole Earth Catalog, "we are as gods, we might as well get good at it". Photographs of earth from space had that god-like perspective.

What I'm saying now is we are as gods and have to get good at it.

WE ARE AS GODS AND HAVE TO GET GOOD AT IT: Stewart Brand Talks About His Ecopragmatist Manifesto

SABAH (Turkey)
March 12, 2010

Discussion of the meaning of dangerous ideas: Turkey is changing!
Emre Akoz

Starting from a book the other day, our readers "What is your most dangerous idea," he asked.
Danger here of course mean, "kill the man, let's bomb bay" is not as murderous ideas.
Objective existing (economic, political, social, moral) order and radical, surprising, memorization will lead to disruptive changes to the ideas put forth. ...

"most dangerous" What is your opinion?

...I've had an interesting collection in a bookstore Mumbai: "What is Your Dangerous Idea?" Almost got it.
Because the name was very attractive; and Helen Fisher, Jared Diamond, Ray Kurzweil, Sherry Turkle, such as Douglas Rushkoff I read with interest the short article I had the idea of people.

American writers and thinkers from many different areas in the book that was prepared by John Brockman's thinking people, who have put their own dangerous ideas.

According to what I am when I returned to Turkey in! In fact in 2009 the book "What's Your Dangerous Idea?" (Pegasus Press) translated to our language, even with the title.

Where the "dangerous ideas" and implied "murder, massacres, rape, robbery, such as" criminal actions in almost every period, and their planning is not sure.

There is talk of a threat by intellectuals in the book: So, the question that a certain moral, social, political or cultural order will change our basic assumptions about life that will shake the ideas ...

It's dangerous idea which is not wrong of course. Quite the contrary: if one day occur?

Let's say that as a result of scientific research who, what age would die to know we've become ... This knowledge was really nice to be in our resolve?

In this regard puzzle scientists who study would want to continue? Or as soon as possible discontinuation of funding for research would deal? ...

March 11, 2010

My Senate Armed Services Testimony: A Bottom-Up Approach to Extremist De-Radicalization By Scott Atran

SHADOWLAND JOURNAL by Christopher Dickey
[Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine.]

March 11, 2010: Anthropologist Scott Atran's statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 10 is one of the most consistently surprising — and smartest — rundowns on the nature of terrorist organizations and the best ways to figh.lkt them that I have seen anywhere. It should be read carefully by anyone concerned with these issues.

11 marzo 2010

La Scienza sperimenta l'ottimismo
by Alessandro Gnocchi

Financial crises to global warming, disease, terrorism: eminent physicists, biologists, psychologists and anthropologists explain why the future of man is not black like some prophesies

...In principle, scientists are incurable optimists, looking to the future, some in my heart to have the right ideas to put in place two or three things that do not or who do not yet know.

The Assayer in bookstores these days brings 153 reasons to be optimistic (pp. 424, euro 21) edited by John Brockman. A group of scientists responding to the same question: "What makes you optimistic?". Among them there are many well-known characters, such as Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, Lisa Randall, Ray Kurzweil, Gino Segre, Brian Eno, Daniel C. Dennett, Lawrence M. Krauss. Here is a la carte menu with recipes for solving energy problems, to democratize the global economy, increase government transparency, eradicate religious disputes, reduce hunger, improve our intelligence, to defeat the disease, progress in morals, improve the concept of friendship transcend our Darwinian roots, to understand the fundamental law of the universe, to unify all knowledge, reduce terrorism, colonize Mars.

The book, besides being fun, it is also serious. In the deck of the answers, there is one with a highly scientific (even if it seems at first sight) and Humanities. Maybe it will be the most compelling, is certainly the most touching. Alison Gopnik, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, the question "Why are you optimistic?" Replied: "Why do new born children." Who spend time to invent a better future if there were new children? But imagine preferable alternative to the actual world to bequeath to those who come after us "is the greatest gift evolutionary inscribed in our DNA."

March 10, 2010

Fight terrorism with science: Scott Atran
Xeni Jardin

"We are fixated on technology and technological success, and we have no sustained or systematic approach to field-based social understanding of our adversaries' motivation, intent, will, and the dreams that drive their strategic vision, however strange those dreams and vision may seem to us."—Anthropologist Scott Atran, who believes the quest to end violent political extremism needs more science. (edge.org)

March 8, 2010

Rod Dreher and the Templeton "bribe"

In a beliefnet column posted last week, Dreher decried the coming "Age of Wonder" touted by physicist Freeman Dyson, in which science may play an increasingly important role in our life:

This, in the end, is why science and religion have to engage each other seriously. Without each other, both live in darkness, and the destruction each is capable of is terrifying to contemplate — although I daresay you will not find a monk or a rabbi prescribing altering the genetic code of living organisms for the sake of mankind's artistic amusement. What troubles me, and troubles me greatly, about the techno-utopians who hail a New Age of Wonder is their optimism uncut by any sense of reality, which is to say, of human history. In the end, what you think of the idea of a New Age of Wonder depends on what you think of human nature. I give better than even odds that this era of biology and computers identified by [Freeman] Dyson and celebrated by the Edge folks will in the end turn out to have been at least as much a Dark Age as an era of Enlightenment. I hope I'm wrong. I don't think I will be wrong. ...

March 6, 2010

6 marzo 2010

Corpo, coscienza ed emozioni. "Mi ritorno in mente"
by Anna Borrelli

At the Press Club of Milan, on 22 February, the scientist Edoardo Boncinelli presented "I remembered" (Longanesi, 2010), assisted by prof. Julius Giorello and the philosopher and epistemologist Armando Massarenti.

This text belongs to the breed of parent who sees in books "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins and, more generally, the genre of so-called third culture, as defined by literary agent John Brockman, namely a new type of books written by scientists and historians of science, which impart their vision of the world to a broad audience rather than just the readers of magazines, showing how science is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and complex. ...

March 2, 2010

Over a hundred reasons to believe in the future thanks to science
Caprara Giovanni

The title of the book "153 reasons to be optimistic" (Il Saggiatore) attracts at a time like ours dotted with gloomy news of any kind. But even more intriguing if one also reads the subtitle: "The challenge of the great research. What promises? You wonder. The reasons are the answers gathered by John Brockman curator 's work, by many scientists working on the frontiers of science more extreme. I identify what the reason, from their point of view and work, it is right to look positively at the future. A scientist must be an optimist by definition driven by 'enthusiasm to conquer something new. And the prospect to which he devoted his life is destined to bring the news that improve the lives of us all. The round-up of short answers, but the content is impressive because he hears from the genome mapper Craig Venter (pictured) to Marvin Minsky that deals with immortality, by physicist Lee Smolin and Martin Rees on the energy challenge, by Freeman Dyson at Nobel George Smoot. Many issues relate to general culture and society. All agree on one point: to show that the reason for optimism is absolutely true.

March 8, 2010

The Templeton Bribe

...Now if you're interested in seeing how science and religion "illuminate" one another, what's the first thing you think of? How about this: is there any empirical truth in the claims of faith? After all, if you're trying to "reconcile" two areas of thought, and look at their interactions, surely you'd be interested if there's any empirical truth in them. After all, why 'reconcile' two areas if one of them might be only baseless superstition? Is the evidence for God as strong as it is for evolution? Does the 'fine-tuning' of physical constants prove Jesus? Was the evolution of humans inevitable, thereby showing that we were part of God's plan?

It's not that there's nothing to say about this. After all, one of the speakers in the Fellows' symposia is Simon Conway Morris, who has written a popular-science book claiming that biology proves that the evolution of human-like creatures was inevitable. It's just that the Templeton Foundation doesn't want to promote, or have its Fellows write about, the other side, the Dark Side that feels that no reconciliation is possible between science and faith. John Horgan, who was once a Journalism Fellow, talks about his experience: ...

February 20, 2010

Bill Gates, the Chauncey Gardiner of the Great Decession?
Tim Cavanaugh

Michael Shermer, the libertarian-leaning skeptic and critical thinker who is as formidable and illustrious as he is implacable and indefatigable, lets his hair down in a paean to Bill Gates that is so fulsome I suspect it's a joke.

Describing a TED-related dinner organized last week in Long Beach by John Brockman, Shermer describes how the multibillionaire Microsoft founder wowed everybody at his table. (Imagine a man so brilliant he makes John Cusack seem like a minor league penseur by comparison.) ...

February 15, 2010

Quella scienza un pò causale chiamata uomo

by Aldo Forbice

...Perhaps the most are the same, for ignorance, mental laziness or just to absolve from mistakes, continue to define "luck." But the future has a direction for each of us? Not ask wizards, witches or 'oroscopari, but scientists. He did it Max Brockman, a literary agent in charge of popular science: it has invited 18 young scientists to write as many essays that have now been collected into a book, Science: The Next Generation. These young scholars are trying to give answers to questions like these: what direction we want to give the future?, What he is trying to tell us the universe? How to improve human beings? How important is the imagination?, Homo sapiens is destined to die ', and so on. The answers take into account the data and scientific knowledge, trying to interpret the broad outlines of science that will come. ...

February 15, 2010

Much better

Farewell to the scientist with his head in the clouds, now prefer to surf: the science has become pop
Franco Bolelli

...If you venture between the conference video of TED, a real brain trust of innovation, if you dip into that inexhaustible source of ideas that have multiple and choral books edited by John Brockman (particularly Science: The Next Generation) will not have no doubt: the science has not only taken possession of the philosophical debate, but is rewriting the map of our imagination. There is a force in science communication and energy that does not want more to do with being inside the old borders and the old categories.

In this modern age, biology, genetics, chemistry, physics, are now spreading in all directions, in a lush variety of new knowledge, and this is the clearest sign that the science is experiencing a very expansive and evolutionary. More specialists without self, without mediation, scientific research is developing the center of herself and our sensitivity to the question of human existence. Our life is not just highlighting the limits — as do all Epress conventional systems of thought — but above all the resources, power. There will be plenty to have fun, believe me.

February 15, 2010

The dangers and delights of the web

The anonymity that the internet affords can foster lively and robust debate — but it also brings dangers

Having spent many a column espousing the wonders of the internet, my final column will sound a warning on the dangers. ... The online forum edge.org recently tackled this problem. It asked leading scientists, technologists and thinkers: How is the internet changing the way you think? A number of people, including American writer Nicholas Carr and science historian George Dyson, outlined fears that the web is at risk of reducing serious thought rather than promoting it.

One argument posits that a more democratic approach — with everything posted online attributed an equal weight, whether right or wrong — encourages a cavalier attitude to the truth.

Another is that collecting information online reduces our attention span. We will scan a Wikipedia article on a subject, rather than read a book about it.

Furthermore, it is harder to distinguish between the relative value of sources online. Whereas in real life we would trust a professor more than a eight-year-old, online those boundaries are blurred by a lack of clear distinction between sources — both people would be able to type a comment on a site, and we have no way of knowing who they are, other than their words.

The "trust distinguishers" we use in the physical world are easier to fake online. Whereas a professor offline could be examined for reliability by his age, manner of speaking and so on, these things are easier to disguise on the web.

In many ways the internet represents many of the same problems as a democracy. By giving an equal voice to all, it empowers many of those who are disenfranchised economically or socially and who would not otherwise be heard. ...

February 12, 2010

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: the new central organ of the Nerds?
Christoph Bieber

Now comes the "binary-turn"? A Nerdisierung clues to the FAZ.

Some time ago I had — known more as a joke — the venerable Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in a couple of tweets as "nerd-central". This was occasioned by Frank Schirrmacher full-page defense of nerds just before the election, the publication offensive around the iPad-disclosure or the opening of the FAZ as a platform for self-confessed nerds, such as in the article by Frank Rieger (Chaos Computer Club). Once the word was taken up by the "central" every now and then, I've been thinking about it again a bit and listed a few thoughts on the "binary turn" the FAZ.

One thing is certain: Frank Schirrmacher is the driving force behind this process, as a glance in its editorial of 23 January in which he vehemently for more digital intelligence and Deuschland (calling is a rogue, who even at this date, the nerd-ringing alarm bells are heard). One might suspect that behind this realignment of FAZ sketches debates and articles on digital culture first instance an accompanying report on his latest book project payback, but that would be far too superficial and would not Mr. Schirrmacher sense of justice issues.

In substance the swing — will take away the least a little of the gene to welcome bio-and nano-technology debates of recent years — absolutely, because in fact the public discourse in Germany on issues of digitization and its significant social impact backlog. Gets a special twist this Nerdisierung but by every now and then breaking through arrogance and rejection of online culture — shows itself in many different parts of the leaf, are currently fighting in which at least schlagseitigen position in the event Hegemann.

If one looks more closely, then there are some indications that the FAZ had much longer a place for nerds — is a small clues.

Exhibit 1: The feuilleton of 27 June 2000

Across multiple pages, the FAZ had expressed an excerpt from the code of the human genome, which applies to many as "ungelesenster article in the German media history". Was opened so that a publication under the banner of the Initiative, initiated by John Brockman "Third Culture" debate based on the intertwining of intellectual discourse between the natural and human sciences aimed. The "digital transition" this time was "just opened" with some Schirrmacher texts. But who knows, maybe coming soon still a double page in binary code. ...


Edited by John Brockman

"An intellectual treasure trove"
San Francisco Chronicle

Edited by John Brockman

Harper Perennial


[click to enlarge]

Contributors include: RICHARD DAWKINS on cross-species breeding; IAN McEWAN on the remote frontiers of solar energy; FREEMAN DYSON on radiotelepathy; STEVEN PINKER on the perils and potential of direct-to-consumer genomics; SAM HARRIS on mind-reading technology; NASSIM NICHOLAS TALEB on the end of precise knowledge; CHRIS ANDERSON on how the Internet will revolutionize education; IRENE PEPPERBERG on unlocking the secrets of the brain; LISA RANDALL on the power of instantaneous information; BRIAN ENO on the battle between hope and fear; J. CRAIG VENTER on rewriting DNA; FRANK WILCZEK on mastering matter through quantum physics.

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"11 books you must read — Curl up with these reads on days when you just don't want to do anything else: 5. John Brockman's This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future" (Forbes India)

"Full of ideas wild (neurocosmetics, "resizing ourselves," "intuit[ing] in six dimensions") and more close-to-home ("Basketball and Science Camps," solar technology"), this volume offers dozens of ingenious ways to think about progress" (Publishers Weekly — Starred Review)

"A stellar cast of intellectuals ... a stunning array of responses...Perfect for: anyone who wants to know what the big thinkers will be chewing on in 2010. " (New Scientist)

"Pouring over these pages is like attending a dinner party where every guest is brilliant and captivating and only wants to speak with you—overwhelming, but an experience to savor." (Seed)

* based On The Edge Annual Question — 2009: "What Will Change Everything?)

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