Home
About
Features
Editions
Press
Events
Dinner
Question Center
Video
Subscribe

Edge 321 — July 8, 2010
8,000 words

THE THIRD CULTURE

WHY WE TALK TO TERRORISTS
By Scott Atran and Robert Axelrod

DREAM-LOGIC, THE INTERNET AND ARTIFICIAL THOUGHT
By David Gelernter

IN THE NEWS

The Scientist, GQ, Die Welt, Sueddeusteche Zeitung,
Investment e Noticias, Washington Post
, Deutschlandradio Kultur, Il Sole 24 Ore


subscribe

WHY WE TALK TO TERRORISTS
By Scott Atran and Robert Axelrod

The two of us are social scientists who study and interact with violent groups in order to find ways out of intractable conflicts. In the course of this work and in our discussions with decision makers in the Middle East and elsewhere we have seen how informal meetings and exchanges of knowledge have borne fruit. It’s not that religious, academic or scientific credentials automatically convey trust, but when combined with a personal commitment to peace, they often carry weight beyond mere opinion or desire.

SCOTT ATRAN, an anthropologist, is Director of Research, ARTIS Research and Risk Modeling; Research Director in Anthropology at the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, France. He is the author of In Gods We Trust.

Scott Atran's Edge Bio Page

ROBERT AXELROD is the Mary Ann and Charles R. Walgreen, Jr. Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan. He is the author of The Evolution of Cooperation and The Complexity of Cooperation.

Robert Axelrod's Edge Bio Page

[PERMALINK]


WHY WE TALK TO TERRORISTS

Not all groups that the United States government classifies as terrorist organizations are equally bad or dangerous, and not all information conveyed to them that is based on political, academic or scientific expertise risks harming our national security. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court, which last week upheld a law banning the provision of “material support” to foreign terrorist groups, doesn’t seem to consider those facts relevant.

Many groups that were once widely considered terrorist organizations, including some that were on the State Department’s official list, have become our partners in pursuing peace and furthering democracy.

The African National Congress is now the democratically elected ruling party in South Africa, and of course Nelson Mandela is widely considered a great man of peace. The Provisional Irish Republican Army now preaches nonviolence and its longtime leader, Martin McGuinness, is Northern Ireland’s first deputy minister. Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization have become central players in Middle East peace negotiations.

In the case of each of these groups, there were American private citizens — clergymen, academics, scientists and others — who worked behind the scenes to end the violence.

The two of us are social scientists who study and interact with violent groups in order to find ways out of intractable conflicts. In the course of this work and in our discussions with decision makers in the Middle East and elsewhere we have seen how informal meetings and exchanges of knowledge have borne fruit. It’s not that religious, academic or scientific credentials automatically convey trust, but when combined with a personal commitment to peace, they often carry weight beyond mere opinion or desire.

So we find it disappointing that the Supreme Court, in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, ruled that any “material support” of a foreign terrorist group, including talking to terrorists or the communication of expert knowledge and scientific information, helps lend “legitimacy” to the organization. Sometimes, undoubtedly, that is the case. But American law has to find a way to make a clear distinction between illegal material support and legal actions that involve talking with terrorists privately in the hopes of reducing global terrorism and promoting national security.

There are groups, like Al Qaeda, that will probably have to be fought to the end. The majority opinion of the Supreme Court reasonably conjectures that any help given such enemies, even in seemingly benign ways like instruction about how to enhance their human rights profile, could free up time and effort in pursuit of extremist violence.

Yet war and group violence are ever-present and their prevention requires America’s constant effort and innovation. Sometimes this means listening to and talking with our enemies and probing gray areas for ways forward to figure out who is truly a mortal foe and who just might become a friend.

It is important to realize that in a political struggle, leaders often wish they could communicate with the other side without their own supporters knowing. Thus the idea that all negotiation should be conducted in the open is simply not very practical. When there are no suitable “official” intermediaries, private citizens can fill the gap.

Conditions, of course, should be stringent — there must be trust on all sides that information is being conveyed accurately, and that it will be kept in confidence as long as needed. Accuracy requires both skill in listening and exploring, some degree of cultural understanding and, wherever possible, the intellectual distance that scientific data and research afford.

In our own work on groups categorized as terrorist organizations, we have detected significant differences in their attitudes and actions. For example, in our recent interactions with the leader of the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad Ramadan Shallah (which we immediately reported to the State Department, as he is on the F.B.I.’s “most wanted” list), we were faced with an adamant refusal to ever recognize Israel or move toward a two-state solution.

Yet when we talked to Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas (considered a terrorist group by the State Department), he said that his movement could imagine a two-state “peace” (he used the term “salaam,” not just the usual “hudna,” which signifies only an armistice).

In our time with Mr. Meshal’s group, we were also able to confirm something that Saudi and Israeli intelligence officers had told us: Hamas has fought to keep Al Qaeda out of its field of influence, and has no demonstrated interest in global jihad. Whether or not the differences among Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and other violent groups are fundamental, rather than temporary or tactical, is something only further exploration will reveal. But to assume that it is invariably wrong to engage any of these groups is a grave mistake.

In our fieldwork with jihadist leaders, foot soldiers and their associates across Eurasia and North Africa, we have found huge variation in the political aspirations, desired ends and commitment to violence. And as one of us (Scott Atran) testified in March to the emerging-threats subgroup of the Senate Armed Services Committee, these differences can be used as leverage to win the cooperation of the next generation of militants, who otherwise will surely become our enemies.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, but direct interaction with terrorist groups is sometimes indispensable. And even if it turns out that negotiation gets us nowhere with a particular group, talking and listening can help us to better understand why the group wants to fight us, so that we may better fight it. Congress should clarify its counterterrorism laws with an understanding that hindering all informed interaction with terrorist groups will harm both our national security and the prospects for peace in the world’s seemingly intractable conflicts.


DREAM-LOGIC, THE INTERNET AND ARTIFICIAL THOUGHT
By David Gelernter

Will computers be able to think again? And what Sigmund Freud would have to do with cyberspace? Internet pioneer David Gelernter predicts the next stage of development of artificial intelligence.


This is the second in a series of essays by Gelernter commissioned by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The German translation was published on June 22nd ("Ein Geist aus Software").

DAVID GELERNTER is a professor of computer science at Yale and chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies (New Haven). His research centers on information management, parallel programming, and artificial intelligence. The "tuple spaces" introduced in Nicholas Carriero and Gelernter's Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer communication systems worldwide. He is the author of Mirror Worlds, and Drawing a Life: Surviving the Unabomber.

David Gelernter's Edge Bio Page

FURTHER READING ON EDGE:
"Time To Start Taking The Internet Seriously" By David Gelernter
"Cloud Culture: The Promise And The Threat" By Charles Leadbeater
Edge
@DLD: "Informavore": David Gelernter, Andrian Kreye, Frank Schirrmacher, John Brockman
"The Age of the Informavore": A Talk with Frank Schirrmacher

"Lord of the Cloud": John Markoff and Clay Shirky talk to David Gelernter
"The Second Coming: A Manifesto" by David Gelernter
The Edge Annual Question 2010: "How Is The Internet Changing the Way You Think?"

[PERMALINK]


DREAM-LOGIC, THE INTERNET AND ARTIFICIAL THOUGHT

What does it mean to think?  Can machines think, or only humans? These questions have obsessed computer science since the 1950s, and grow more important every day as the internet canopy closes over our heads, leaving us in the pregnant half-light of the cybersphere.  Taken as a whole, the net is a startlingly complex collection of computers (like brain cells) that are densely interconnected (as brain cells are).  And the net grows at many million points simultaneously, like a living (or more-than-living?) organism.  It's only natural to wonder whether the internet will one day start to think for itself.

(Or is it thinking already?)

These questions are important not only to the internet but to each individual computer.  Computers grow more powerful all the time.  Today, programs that are guided not just by calculations but by good guesses are important throughout the software landscape.  They are examples of applied artificial intelligence — and the ultimate goal of artificial intelligence is to build a mind out of software, a thinking computer — a machine with human-like (or super-human) intelligence.

In a way these possibilities are frightening, or at least thought-provoking.  But after all, human intelligence is the most valuable stuff in the cosmos, and we are always running short.  A computer-created increase in the world-wide intelligence supply would be welcome, to say the least. 

It's also reasonable to expect computers to help clean up the mess they have made.  They dump huge quantities of information into the cybersphere every day.  Can they also help us evaluate this information intelligently?  Or are they mere uncapped oil wells pumping out cyber-pollution — which is today just a distraction but might slowly, gradually paralyze us, as our choices and information channels proliferate out of control?  As each of us is surrounded by a growing crowd of computer-paparazzi all shouting questions and waving data simultaneously, and no security guards anywhere?

Here is an unfortunate truth: today's mainstream ideas about human and artificial thought lead nowhere. 

We are trapped by assumptions that unravel as soon as we think about them: "we" meaning not only laymen but many philosophers and scientists. Here are three important wrong assumptions.

Many people believe that "thinking" is basically the same as "reasoning."

But when you stop work for a moment, look out the window and let your mind wander, you are still thinking.  Your mind is still at work. This sort of free-association is an important part of human thought.  No computer will be able to think like a man unless it can free-associate.

Many people believe that reality is one thing and your thoughts are something else.   Reality is on the outside; the mental landscape created by your thoughts is inside your head, within your mind.   (Assuming that you're sane.)

Yet we each hallucinate every day, when we fall asleep and dream.  And when you hallucinate, your own mind redefines reality for you; "real" reality, outside reality, disappears.  No computer will be able to think like a man unless it can hallucinate.

Many people believe that the thinker and the thought are separate.  For many people, "thinking" means (in effect) viewing a stream of thoughts as if it were a PowerPoint presentation: the thinker watches the stream of his thoughts.  This idea is important to artificial intelligence and the computationalist view of the mind.  If the thinker and his thought-stream are separate, we can replace the human thinker by a computer thinker without stopping the show. The man tiptoes out of the theater. The computer slips into the empty seat.  The PowerPoint presentation continues.

But when a person is dreaming, hallucinating — when he is inside a mind-made fantasy landscape — the thinker and his thought-stream
are not separate.  They are blended together. The thinker inhabits his thoughts.  No computer will be able to think like a man unless it, too, can inhabit its thoughts; can disappear into its own mind.

What does this mean for the internet: will the internet ever think?  Will an individual computer ever think?

We need to see, first, that in approaching the topic of human thought, we usually stop half-way through. In fact, the human mind moves back and forth along a spectrum defined by ordinary logic at one end and "dream logic" at the other.  "Dream logic" makes just as much sense as ordinary "day logic"; it simply follows different rules.  But most philosophers and cognitive scientists see only day logic and ignore dream logic — which is like imagining the earth with a north pole but no south pole.

Imagine a simple, common-sense view of thought.  Philosophers often disparage such ideas as "folk psychology." Naturally our ultimate goal is scientific explanation.  But the first goal of science is to explain (or explain away) common sense.

We begin with "focus" or "attention" or "alertness." Our alertness varies.  We are alert when we are rested and wide-awake.  As we grow tired, our focus or alertness declines.  From this simple observation grows an entire intuitive, even self-evident view of thought—which is nonetheless different from any mainstream view.

We think differently when we are alert on the one hand, and not alert (or sleepy) on the other.  To solve analytical or mathematical problems, to think acutely or logically, we must be alert. 

On the other hand, low-alertness plays its own important role:  in this state, our thoughts tend to move by themselves with no conscious direction from us. As you come near to falling asleep, you will find thoughts flowing through your mind without conscious guidance.  (Shelley: "The everlasting universe of things/ Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves…")

In this state of free-association, each new thought resembles or overlaps or somehow connects-to the previous thought. As our alertness continues to fall — as we continue to grow more tired — we lose contact with external reality. "The sweetness/ of the gentle world you had made for him dissolving beneath/ his drowsy eyelids, into the foretaste of sleep — ."  (Rilke, transl. Stephen Mitchell.) Eventually we sleep and dream.

It follows that your level of "focus" or "alertness" is basic to human thought.  We can imagine focus as a physiological value, like heart rate or temperature.  Each person's focus moves during the day between maximum and minimum.  Your focus is maximum when you are wide-awake.  It sinks lower as you become tired, and reaches a minimum when you are asleep.  (In fact it oscillates up and down several times over a day.)

This continuum of thought-styles is the "cognitive spectrum," the basic fact of human thought. 

Now, why does reality-loss happen as you fall asleep and dream? How does it work? Your mind stores memories; some are remembered scenes or experiences.

Each remembered experience is, potentially, an alternate reality.  Remembering such experiences in the ordinary sense — remembering "the beach last summer" — means, in effect, to inspect the memory from outside.   But there is another kind of remembering too: sometimes remembering "the beach last summer" means re-entering the experience, re-experiencing the beach last summer: seeing the water, hearing the waves, feeling the sunlight and sand; making real the potential reality trapped in the memory.

(An analogy: we store potential energy in an object by moving it upwards against gravity.  We store potential reality in our minds by creating a memory.)

Just as thinking works differently at the top and bottom of the cognitive spectrum, remembering works differently too.  At the high-focus end, remembering means ordinary remembering; "recalling" the beach.  At the low-focus end, remembering means re-experiencing the beach.  (We can re-experience a memory on purpose, in a limited way: you can imagine the look and fragrance of a red rose.  But when focus is low, you have no choice.  When you remember something, you must re-experience it.)

We re-experience (or re-enter) memories when we dream.  The memories we re-enter are sometimes distorted, or incomplete, or have other memories added to them; "dream-logic" governs the process by which memories are re-experienced in dreams.  (Dream-logic connects memories together, sometimes one on top of another, using the powerful glue of shared emotional content.  As focus falls, memories grow sticky.)

When your focus is high, you control you thoughts.  You observe and consider logically; you confront problems and solve them rationally.  As your focus-level falls, you begin to lose control of your thinking.  Your mind wanders; one thought leads to another.  When you look out a window and let your mind drift, your thoughts take their own course — but you can still resume control (and get back to work) when you choose. 

As focus-level falls still lower, your thought-stream moves completely beyond conscious control.  And when you fall asleep, your dreams seem to happen without conscious guidance.  You experience dreams in nearly the same way you experience external reality.

Losing control of your thought stream equals losing reality. Partway down the spectrum, as you look out that window and your thoughts wander, you have not yet lost reality; you are still aware of your environment.  But you are day-dreaming, distracted, less aware of reality.  As your focus drifts still lower and you approach sleep, loss of thought-control and loss of reality progress. ("Dissolving," lösend, writes Rilke, describes your sense of reality as you approach sleep.) When you sleep and dream, your thoughts are beyond ordinary conscious control — dreams make themselves; and reality is gone.




"On ne doit pas dire, je pense," wrote Rimbaud, "mais, on me pense."  "One should say not `I think' but `I am thought.'" Like nearly all poets, he frequented the mental neighborhood between wakefulness and sleep: just beyond conscious control, just before sleep and dreams. "What is time?  When is the present?" asks Rilke in a letter after completing the Duino Elegies. He was a master of low-focus thought; he watched his own mind carefully as he descended the long, stout rope of the cognitive spectrum into mental regions where external reality fades and imaginary reality brightens; where thoughts flow freely and strange new analogies emerge.  (Rilke himself uses the image of mental descent: "I have descended into my work farther than ever before.")

Poets and madmen haunt this mental neighborhood.  Coleridge was intrigued by the state of "half-awake & half-asleep"; he composed Kubla Khan (he called it "a psychological curiosity") in an opium haze. Keats: "Fled is that music.  Do I wake or sleep?"  Büchner's view of the slightly-insane Lenz: "If I could only decide, whether I am dreaming or awake….."

Some prophets and poets experience this twilight consciousness as a region of visions. A friend of William Blake wrote, "Of the faculty of Vision he spoke as One he had had from early infancy —
He thinks all men partake of it — but it is lost by not being cultivated."  Blake believed, in other words, that seeing visions is normal; "all men partake of it."  And all men do indeed move down the cognitive spectrum every day.

But some people are more alive to this experience than others.  T.S. Eliot comments on the medieval sensibility of Dante: his is "a visual imagination…. It is visual in the sense that he lived in an age in which men still saw visions.  It was a psychological habit, the trick of which we have forgotten."  We each pass through this zone of visions every day on our way to sleep; but the journey makes no impression on most of us, and we have no desire to linger.

The daily oscillation of human thought is like an ocean tide.  Let's pursue this analogy: as the tide (or your focus-level) falls, large stretches of sandy sea-bottom are exposed — and you can see bottom-thoughts that are ordinarily hidden. As you lose control over your thinking, you can no longer consciously avoid bizarre or unpleasant thoughts (although, as Freud points out, you might still unconsciously avoid them).

Creativity has always been fascinating.  Cognitive psychologists generally agree that creativity happens when a new analogy is invented.  When your mind connects two things that aren't usually connected — an infant bird's first flight and a crack in a tea cup, to use a Rilke example — you have a new analogy, and a basis for seeing the world in a new light.  (Rilke draws a sort of conclusion from his new analogy:  "So the bat/ quivers across the porcelain of evening." (Transl. Stephen Mitchell.) Of all great lyric poets, perhaps only Keats had a more fertile mind for imagery.)

Most new analogies lead nowhere, but occasionally they reveal something important.  Creativity doesn't operate when your focus is high; only when your thoughts have started to drift is creativity possible.  We find creative solutions to a problem when it lingers at the back of our minds, not when it monopolizes attention by standing at the front.  You can't make yourself fall asleep; nor can you make yourself have a creative inspiration (in the way you can make yourself solve an arithmetic problem).  Sleep and creativity happen only when your thoughts drift beyond your control.

Which leads to a final observation.  How do we invent new analogies? This is a major unsolved problem of cognitive science. Often, remembered and re-experienced emotions are the key to novel, unexpected analogies.  Emotion summarizes experience.  If the subtle emotion you happen to feel on the first warm, bright day of spring (an emotion that has no name) is similar to the emotion you felt the first time you took a girl to the movies, this particular emotion might connect the two events; and next year's first warm spring day might cause you to remember the girl and the movie. 

No computer will be creative unless it can simulate all the nuances of human emotion.

We tend to think of emotions in a few primary colors: happy, sad, angry….  But our real emotional states are almost always far more subtle and complex.  How do you feel when you've hit a tennis ball hard and well, or driven a nail into a plank with two perfect hammer blows?  When you first re-enter, as an adult, the school you attended as a child?  When you spot the spires of Chartres on the horizon, or your son's girlfriend reminds you of a girl you once knew?  Or the day turns suddenly dark and a storm threatens, or your best friend is about to make a big mistake but you can't tell him? 

Emotion is the music, the score or soundtrack, that accompanies life; emotions are as distinctive as musical phrases.  Just as a snatch of music might bring to mind some long-ago scene, a re-experienced emotion can make us remember a different time and place. 

But here the analogy breaks down.  A song or phrase might be associated purely by accident with a certain experience.  But an emotion is caused by the experience, and summarizes in one feeling an entire, complex scene.  An emotion encodes an experience.



We can't understand literature properly unless we know that different works are composed at different "focus levels" (as magnetic tapes are recorded at different speeds).  We must read at the correct focus level or "tape speed." Kafka is a famous case.  His intention, he said, was to write about his "dreamlike inner life." He meant it literally; we can understand his works only as examples of the dream as a literary form or genre.  Kafka's transcription of dream-thought is so accurate that we can use his work as a guide to the structure and logic of dreams.  Louis Begley writes in a recent study (2008) that Kafka's great invention was "the nonchalant treatment of events in his fiction that every reader knows are implausible … or outright impossible."  But it's better to say that his great invention was a modern version of the dream as a literary form.

Low-focus genres are especially important to ancient literature.  Jacob's all-night struggle in Genesis 32 can best be understood as an ancient example of the dream genre (as the medieval philosopher Maimonides knew).  Exodus 4:24-26 — perhaps the most difficult passage in the whole Bible — can only be understood as an example of the nightmare genre, which Kafka revived.

Epic, tragedy and romance are literary forms with their own typical structures; so are prophecy, dream, nightmare.


In all this, we have kept to the straight and simple path of common sense. Now we can describe, in rough and simple terms — "folk psychology" terms — the operation of human thought.

Imagine two entities, Consciousness and Memory.  Each corresponds to certain physical structures in the human body.  But we are interested in the piano sonata, not the piano.  The sonata's structure is real, although it is not physical.  (In modern terminology we might call it a "virtual structure.")  The piano has its own structure.  Our topic is the sonata of thought, not the grand piano of the brain.

We can picture the tidal process of human thought in terms of Consciousness and Memory.  Imagine a small circle inside a bigger one: at maximum focus, Memory (the small circle) is wholly contained within Consciousness (the large one); and Consciousness is surrounded in turn by external reality. You are conscious of memory within you and reality outside you.  You are in conscious control of your thinking and remembering. 

At minimum focus, Consciousness is the small circle, wholly surrounded by Memory.   Memory comes between consciousness and external reality; consciousness is shut off like a castle by its moat.  You are conscious only of internal, imaginary reality.

As focus-level falls, the two circles gradually trade places.

And this is the daily, tidal rhythm of the human mind.

(These pictures might sound abstract, but they can be rough blueprints for software.)



What does the cognitive spectrum have to with the intelligence of the internet, or artificial thought in general?

First: as the philosopher Paul Ziff insisted, intelligence can only mean human or human-like intelligence.  (We assume that an animal's mind is human-like to the extent that the animal itself seems human-like.)  Some people believe that the internet will develop an entirely new form of intelligence.  But this is meaningless (to put it differently, is nonsense).  It's like saying that you have discovered a new flavor of chocolate.  But the flavor called chocolate is exactly what we say it is; there is no other definition.  If your "new flavor" tastes like chocolate, it isn't new; if it doesn't, it isn't chocolate.  If your new form of intelligence is human-like, it's not new.  If it isn't human-like, it's not intelligence.

Could human-like intelligence emerge on the internet?  No.  First, the raw materials are wrong.  Human beings and animals are conscious and, as the philosopher John Searle has argued (in effect), a scientist must assume that consciousness results from a certain chemical, physical structure — just as photosynthesis results from the chemistry of plants.  You can't program your laptop or cellphone to transform carbon dioxide into sugar; computers are made of the wrong stuff for photosynthesis — and the wrong stuff for consciousness.

You can instruct one computer and one man to imagine a rose and then describe it.  You might get two similar descriptions, and be unable to tell which is the man's and which the computer's.   But there is an important difference: the man actually sees and senses a rose in his mind; he can imagine its color, feel and fragrance.  For the computer, no imaginary rose exists and there is no inner mental world; there is only a blank.  (In philosophical terms, this is the "absent qualia" problem.)

Furthermore, human consciousness and thought emerged from a mechanism (genetic mutation) that allowed endless, nuanced variations to be tested — under the uncompromising pressure of survival or death.  Neither condition holds on the internet as we know it.  Expecting intelligence to emerge on the internet is like expecting a car to move when you floor the accelerator, even though it has no motor.

As far as we know, there is no way to achieve consciousness on a computer or any collection of computers.  However — and this is the interesting (or dangerous) part — the cognitive spectrum, once we understand its operation and fill in the details, is a guide to the construction of simulated or artificial thought.  We can build software models of Consciousness and Memory, and then set them in rhythmic motion.

The result would be a computer that seems to think.  It would be a zombie (a word philosophers have borrowed from science fiction and movies): the computer would have no inner mental world; would in fact be unconscious.  But in practical terms, that would make no difference.  The computer would ponder, converse and solve problems just as a man would.  And we would have achieved artificial or simulated thought, "artificial intelligence."

But first there are formidable technical problems.  For example: there can be no cognitive spectrum without emotion.  Emotion becomes an increasingly important bridge between thoughts as focus drops and re-experiencing replaces recall.  Computers have always seemed like good models of the human brain; in some very broad sense, both the digital computer and the brain are information processors.  But emotions are produced by brain and body working together.  When you feel happy, your body feels a certain way; your mind notices; and the resonance between body and mind produces an emotion.  "I say again, that the body makes the mind" (John Donne).

The natural correspondence between computer and brain doesn't hold between computer and body.  Yet artificial thought will require a software model of the body, in order to produce a good model of emotion, which is necessary to artificial thought.  In other words, artificial thought requires artificial emotions, and simulated emotions are a big problem in themselves.  (The solution will probably take the form of software that is "trained" to imitate the emotional responses of a particular human subject.)

One day all these problems will be solved; artificial thought will be achieved.  Even then, an artificially intelligent computer will experience nothing and be aware of nothing.  It will say "that makes me happy," but it won't feel happy. Still: it will act as if it did.  It will act like an intelligent human being.
And then what?

David Gelernter

THE SCIENTIST
July 1, 2010

EAVESDROPPINGS
Science Quotations of the Month

"From the point of view of aesthetic and intellectual elegance, it is a bad experiment. But it is nevertheless a big discovery...It proves that sequencing and synthesizing DNA give us all the tools we need to create new forms of life."

—Theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson on the Venter synthetic biology paper in Science, quoted in Edge.org.



"The price we will pay for this huge amplification of our technological prowess is probably an equal and opposite vulnerability. Welcome to the fast lane, humanity."

Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts University philosopher on the Venter synthetic biology paper in Science, quoted in Edge.org.


DIE WELT
26.06.10

EASYGOING INTO SPACE (LEICHTFÜSSIG INS WELTALL)
Four Science Books Explain Very Simply How Life Works

By Alan Posener

Children are born scientists. They are curious. Ask questions. They want to know how things work and why things are so and not otherwise. Better to go to the zoo than an art gallery. But at some point — or more precisely in puberty — this is this mostly lost. If you are still interested in the natural sciences, you become the pimply nerd, while the others are the cool teens. In the battle of cultures, the arts always have the upper hand in this regard. One does not win the prize by knowing how the Internet works, but you can make money with a book describing its adverse effects on your own concentration. Scientific skepticism is hip, scientific knowledge is disturbing. Where have all the curious children gone? ...

...If there is one man who has done more to popularize the natural sciences despite our feuilletonistic preferences, it is literary agent John Brockman, whose roster includes stars like the aforementioned Jared Diamond or the enfant terrible of evolutionary biology, and critic of religion, Richard Dawkins. Every year Brockman poses a question in his Internet magazine "Edge", to which Brockman's alarmingly widecast network of corresponding scientists responds. In 2005, for example, the question was What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?; In 2006 it was What Is Your Dangerous Idea?. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag now has taken up the commendable task of translating the responses to the annual question into German. A perfect read for a brief flight: after an hour you feel pleasantly stimulated and smarter than your fellow passengers.

Brockman's son Max now has stepped into the shoes (and the company) of his father and in Die Zukunfstmacher assembles essays from 18 young scientists about their respective fields of research. They deal with the multiverse, with dark matter, mirror neurons and the evolution of morality, with phantasy, the spread of good thoughts and the relation of scientific thought and reality — which is where we come back to [Natalie] Angier's starting point. You don't have to be a pimply nerd to get excited about natural sciences. To become childlike again, just read these books.

Natalie Angier: Naturwissenschaft. C. Bertelsmann, München. 382 S., 22,95 Euro.
Stefan Klein: Wir alle sind Sternenstaub. S. Fischer, Frankfurt/M. 269 S., 8,95 Euro.
John Brockman (Hg.): Das Wissen von morgen. S. Fischer. 287 S., 9,95 Euro.
Max Brockman (Hg.): Die Zukunfstmacher. S. Fischer, Frankfurt/M. 270 S., 19,95 Euro.

[German OriginalGoogle Translation]


SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG
JUNE 21, 2010

NEWS FROM THE WEB
By Michael Moorstedt

Children are born scientists. They are curious. Ask questions. They want to know how things work and why things are so and not otherwise. Better to go to the zoo than an art gallery. But at some point — or more precisely in puberty — this is this mostly lost. If you are still interested in the natural sciences, you become the pimply nerd, while the others are the cool teens. In the battle of cultures, the arts always have the upper hand in this regard. One does not win the prize by knowing how the Internet works, but you can make money with a book describing its adverse effects on your own concentration. Scientific skepticism is hip, scientific knowledge is disturbing. Where have all the curious children gone? ...

...If there is one man who has done more to popularize the natural sciences despite our feuilletonistic preferences, it is literary agent John Brockman, whose roster includes stars like the aforementioned Jared Diamond or the enfant terrible of evolutionary biology, and critic of religion, Richard Dawkins. Every year Brockman poses a question in his Internet magazine "Edge", to which Brockman's alarmingly widecast network of corresponding scientists responds. In 2005, for example, the question was What Do You Believe Is True Even Though You Cannot Prove It?; In 2006 it was What Is Your Dangerous Idea?. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag now has taken up the commendable task of translating the responses to the annual question into German. A perfect read for a brief flight: after an hour you feel pleasantly stimulated and smarter than your fellow passengers.

Brockman's son Max now has stepped into the shoes (and the company) of his father and in Die Zukunfstmacher assembles essays from 18 young scientists about their respective fields of research. They deal with the multiverse, with dark matter, mirror neurons and the evolution of morality, with phantasy, the spread of good thoughts and the relation of scientific thought and reality — which is where we come back to [Natalie] Angier's starting point. You don't have to be a pimply nerd to get excited about natural sciences. To become childlike again, just read these books.

Natalie Angier: Naturwissenschaft. C. Bertelsmann, München. 382 S., 22,95 Euro.
Stefan Klein: Wir alle sind Sternenstaub. S. Fischer, Frankfurt/M. 269 S., 8,95 Euro.
John Brockman (Hg.): Das Wissen von morgen. S. Fischer. 287 S., 9,95 Euro.
Max Brockman (Hg.): Die Zukunfstmacher. S. Fischer, Frankfurt/M. 270 S., 19,95 Euro.

[German OriginalGoogle Translation]


GQ (GENTLEMAN'S QUARTERLY—Britain)
July, 2010

TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE. Or, how the annual networking session of America's nerd elite became the world's most important and influential talking shop. MICHAEL WOLFF reports on the technology, entertainment and design conference that's the global power summit for the new super-wealthy, tech-savvy, hyper-connected intelligentsia

...But TED, which launched first in 1984, and then became an annual event from 1990. was always a little different. It was a pageant of nerdiness, in a sense combining the key forms of nerd social life: summer camp, talent show and adult education class. Physicists competed with juggling acts. Magicians with New Yorker writers. Quincy Jones followed Richard Dawkins (who gave one of his first talks about atheism at TED). Cellist Yo-Yo Ma shared a stage with superstring theorist Brian Greene.

Most elementally, it attracted the world's biggest nerds. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, the Yahoo! boys, the Google boys and everybody else who ever made a billion dollars. They, in turn, attracted Hollywood royalty, who in turn attracted the media moguls. TED is where I first went drinking with Rupert Murdoch and first flirted with American television personality Martha Stewart.

If there was a theme at TED, then it was "insider-ism". Everybody present was somebody And everybody knew everybody. (For several dotcom years, TED was the main driver of my social life.) The tech business was the Mafia and TED was the biggest Mafia wedding of the year.

A key feature and sought-after invitation at TED, hosted on the second night by the literary agent John Brockman, is the Billionaires' Dinner — row upon row of the world's most successful (and richest) human beings ...

[See: The Billionaires' Dinner]


INVESTIMENT E NOTICIAS
July 1, 2010

TECHNOLOGY CHOICE AND THE SEVENTH UNITED
Ruy Guerra de Queiroz Barreto, Associate Professor, Center for Informatics, UFPE

Any thoughts on the key role that technology plays in modern life seems to leave a certain feeling of ambivalence. At the same time they have helped to save lives, promote the welfare of human beings as well as offering more choice, technological advances are often achieved at an environmental cost is not always negligible. In an article on the portal Edge.org (the Edge Foundation, Inc.) entitled "The Technium and the 7th Kingdom of Life", published on 19/07/2007, Kevin Kelly, possibly one of the most important contemporary thinkers dedicated to fundamental questions about the nature and evolution of the technology, aims not only to examine the significance of technology in our lives, but rather to investigate where the technology would be placed in the universe and the human condition. Recalling that technology as a system in itself to which it assigns the name "Technium" seems to be a dominant force in today's culture and past times, Kelly wonders what can we expect this strength, and ultimately analysis, which governs it. Gleaming goals as ambitious as visionaries, declares that its intention is to seek a better understanding of long-term consequences of technology in the world, placing it on par with biological nature, the history of the universe, the physics of the cosmos, and the very future.

It is true that common sense is a feeling that each new technology brings new problems and new solutions.We should then look for a conceptualization of this thing called technology so that we could achieve a minimum degree of understanding to the point of being able to assess whether this apparently ceaseless generation of news would be something that we should, or could even reply. One of pure reflex responses to problems caused by technology would be prohibited. Since nuclear power to genetically modified foods, to mitigate the detrimental effects restrict its use to certain carefully delineated borders.In the same spirit would be the principle that there are certain ideas that we should not even consider, directions of research that we should ban a priori as well as technologies that should never be experienced outside the laboratory, perhaps even within the laboratory. An opposing theory, however, argues that the prohibitions do not work and there is no way to manage the technology simply prohibiting their use. Instead, you need to know to move, replace, adjust, tune, finally, to transfer technology to another paper without removing it. ...

[Portugese Original Google Translation]


WASHINGTON POST
June 24, 2010

ON SUCCESS

FROM BOOKS TO BOARDROOM
Virginia Bianco-Mathis

Q: We all need advice as we seek success in our careers and lives. What are your five favorite business books, and why? What advice wasn't so helpful?

I believe there are three "must reads" for business. ...

... Last is a quasi-business book entitled "This Will Change Everything" (Brockman, 2010). This book compiles the thoughts of great thinkers of our time from every walk of life, including business, art, neuroscience, physics, chemistry, education, computers, etc. Every business person should read this book in order to maintain the big perspective and to hone one's thinking in strategic and synergistic ways. The best business people are those who can balance several yet seemingly contrasting concepts at once and, like a silver bullet, make the best decisions for overall effectiveness.

Stay away from quick-fix books. They are fun to read on airplanes or when you need to fall asleep. Yet in the complex business world, it takes energy and thought to continually develop and perfect the art of leadership and business success. Read books that challenge and force you to think beyond your daily grind. Or pick up the paper and read Dilbert. Laughing is always good.


DEUTSCHLANDRADIO KULTUR
July 1, 2010

NACHWUCHWISSENSCHAFTLER DISKUTIEREN IHRE FORSCHUNG
[
LEADING YOUNG SCIENTISTS DISCUSS THEIR RESEARCH]

[Audio: click here]

Max Brockman (ed.): "The Future Makers. The Nobel Prize Winners of Tomorrow Reveal What They Are Researching," S. Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 2010, 270 pages

18 young scientists show which issues the company must confront in the future. The focus is the question of the nature of man.


[ROUGH TRANSLATION] "What's Next? In the past these matters would be left to future researchers, but in this new book, the editor Max Brockman, "brings together 18 young scientists on this issue which he defines as "dispatches on the future of science."  

More than a few are aiming their basic research old and not-asked recently, dusty-looking question of the nature of man. They want to help "to redefine who and what we are."

Seemingly harmless academic research questions often turn out to be explosive devices. For example, the question of the temporal processing of various components of an everyday experience. Auditory, visual, tactile and other stimuli are both processed by different brain areas and that do not work simultaneously. 

So how does our brain coordinate the different components, so that the stimuli are perceived as an event, interpreted and assessed its relevance, that they be compared with other memory contents and stored as a model for future action? 

Could it be that certain disorders — dyslexia, for example, the limited reading skills to go back — not on defects of speech, but in time to impaired processing? The neurologist David Eagleman suspects that acoustic and visual representations of coordinates may not occur simultaneously.

Another example: linguist Lera Boroditsky emphasizes that differences in language can be responsible for changes in our thought patterns. Language is not only an expression of content, it defines. Similarly, control of cultural values and concepts have different evolutionary patterns, shows the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom. 

And anthropologists have long since demonstrated that, conversely, can give rise to various biological, genetic patterns turn around each other cultural and social value preferences. 

The fact that Buddhism and Confucianism in the east to fix, and Christianity in the West: This was no accident, claims the neuropsychologist Matthew Lieberman — but a kind of bio-cognitive consistency, increased evolutionary, genetic, hormonal controlled by the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Surprisingly, many researchers claim — given the growing opportunities to intervene in nature — a conscious control of evolution. Experiments on animals show that people can make changes only by a living environment in a few generations of genetic changes, even without directly intervening in the genetic material, said the biologist Brian Hare. Desirable types of people are already bred a long time: education is nothing but an attempt at such an evolutionary control.


IL SOLE 24 ORE
July 1, 2010

E SE IL TEMPO FOSSE SOLO LA COSTRUZIONE DEL CERVELLO? (BRAIN TIME)
Giulia Crivelli

By DAVID M. EAGLEMAN

David M. Eagleman has a degree in English and American literature at Oxford and the University of Houston holds a doctorate in neuroscience. The following passage was written by Eagleman for What's Next, edited by Max Brockman and published by Il Saggiatore. ...


Your brain, after all, is encased in darkness and silence in the vault of the skull. Its only contact with the outside world is via the electrical signals exiting and entering along the super-highways of nerve bundles. Because different types of sensory information (hearing, seeing, touch, and so on) are processed at different speeds by different neural architectures, your brain faces an enormous challenge: what is the best story that can be constructed about the outside world? ...

[...Continue: Italian Original]

[First Published by Edge: Brain Time By David M. Eagleman]


subscribe

THE EDGE ANNUAL QUESTION BOOK SERIES
Edited by John Brockman

"An intellectual treasure trove"
San Francisco Chronicle


THIS WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING: IDEAS THAT WILL SHAPE THE FUTURE
(*)
Edited by John Brockman

Harper Perennial

NOW IN BOOKSTORES AND ONLINE!

[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.


"a provocative, demanding clutch of essays covering everything from gene splicing to global warming to intelligence, both artificial and human, to immortality... the way Brockman interlaces essays about research on the frontiers of science with ones on artistic vision, education, psychology and economics is sure to buzz any brain." (Chicago Sun-Times)

"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?)

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