EDGE


EDGE 50— February 8, 1999


THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER


WHAT QUESTIONS ARE ON PSYCHOLOGISTS' MINDS TODAY?
David G. Myers

Inspired by last year's The World Question Center on EDGE, psychologist David G.Myers, asked his own version of the Edge Question of some of psychology's leading lights. He received responses from Eliot Aronson, Daryl J. Bem, Ellen Berscheid, Gordon Bower, Noam Chomsky, William C. Dement, Paul Ekman, Rochel Gelman, Jerome Kagan, Walter Kintsch, Elizabeth Loftus, Jay McClelland, Don Meichenbaum, George Miller, Martin E. P. Seligman, Mark Snyder, Larry Squire, Shelley Taylor, Endel Tulving, Phil Zimbardo.


EDGE IN THE NEWS

"CONTEMPLATING THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD"
By Bill Gates

".....thoughtful and often surprising answers from more than 100 leading thinkers, a fascinating survey of intellectual and creative wonders of the world......The entire list of nominated inventions is posted on the Internet at www.edge.org. Reading them reminds me of how wondrous our world is."

Bill Gates reflects on nominations by Christopher Langton, James J. O'Donnell, Douglas Rushkoff, Tor Norretranders, Howard Gardner, Clifford Pickover, Lawrence Krauss, and Robert Shapiro in his New York Tmes Syndicate column (1/27/99).


THE THIRD CULTURE

WHAT IS THE GREATEST INVENTION? THE ARGUMENT GOES ON....
Asahi Shimbun
By Toshihiro Yamanaka (New York, February 3rd)
Front Page — Center Section
(Translation: Hiromichi Hashizume)

EDGE hits the front page of Japan's leading newspaper

"What is the greatest invention (innovation) man has ever made? Democracy? Mozart? A U.S. writer posed a question — 'What is the most important invention/innovation made in the last 2,000 years?', and more than a hundred renowned US and European natural scientists, including Novel prize winners, started an argument on the Internet. Their responses included 'reading glasses for the elderly', or 'the eraser'. And the arguments continue."

(3,785 words)


John Brockman, Editor and Publisher | Kip Parent, Webmaster



EDGE IN THE NEWS


"CONTEMPLATING THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD"
By Bill Gates

Bill Gates, software developer, is Chairman and CEO of Microsoft Corporation and the author of The Road Ahead (1995).

Recently, a reader asked what I consider to be the seven greatest wonders of the world.

When I drew up my personal list, I limited it to acts of nature and natural history that I've seen, such as gorillas in the wild and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. But the world has many other kinds of wonders, including astonishing ideas, influential inventions, artistic creations and architectural marvels such the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

The Great Pyramid is, of course, one of the original "seven wonders" of the ancient world. It's the oldest — 4,500 years old — and the only one that still exists. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, said to be a breathtaking spectacle 2,600 years ago, may never have existed. The other five ancient wonders — two statues, a temple, a marble mausoleum and a towering lighthouse — were built between 2,200 and 2,500 years ago and fell victim to earthquakes, plundering and other calamities.

Any list of wonders is very subjective and there's really no way to compare different kinds of wonders. Which is greater, the Taj Mahal or aspirin? The Grand Canyon or calculus?

I'll list my seven favorite natural wonders, followed by a sampling of wonders of very different kinds.

1. Gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans are thrilling to watch in the wild. These anthropoid apes at times seem almost human. I saw gorillas in Zaire, but nowadays people also go to Uganda. Tanzania is where you see chimps in the wild. Orangutans live only on two Indonesian islands, Kalimantan and Sumatra.

2. The Amazon River includes a vast tropical plain, which at times is as much as 30 miles wide. Until I visited, I didn't realize that there are forests where the base of the trees are always submerged — in a river that runs very slowly because it is so wide and amazingly flat (a drop of just a few feet over several miles). The resulting lifecycles are unknown elsewhere in the world. Monkeys live in treetops and don't come down because there's no ground to come down to. Birds are present in more varieties than anywhere else in the world.

3. Yellowstone National Park is singular, too. Heat bubbles up from inside the earth in more than 3,000 places, and the minerals deposited by the scalding water form multicolored cones and other shapes. Old Faithful, the best-known geyser, erupts on average about once every 65 minutes, although the interval varies.

4. Guilin, China, has been a center of Chinese art for centuries. Picturesque limestone hills rise abruptly along the banks of the Li River, and often are shrouded in fog. The hills have surprisingly vertical sides, and yet often had rounded tops. When you think of Chinese art, if you visualize steep-slopped hills along a river, you're recalling scenes from Guilin.

5. I loved snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, off the northeast coast of Australia. My friends who know scuba diving say that Belize or Papua, New Guinea, are even better.

6. I looked out my office window one morning in 1980 and saw Mount St. Helens erupt, about 100 miles away. It was the most powerful demonstration of the fury of Mother Nature that I've ever seen.

7. Until you've seen the Grand Canyon, you don't really get a sense of its immensity. It's BIG.

Maybe if I had traveled to more of the world's natural wonders I'd have a substantially different list of favorites. The Nordic countries are famed for their fjords, narrow bays that wind far inland between steep walls of rock. I haven't seen them, though. I've missed a lot of artistic and architectural wonders, too, including the Great Pyramid.

As for ideas and innovations, many achievements older than the Great Pyramid have had wondrous consequences. The domestication of plants and animals, the invention of written language and the discovery of mathematics are enduring wonders.

Recently, the author and literary agent John Brockman posed the question, "What is the most important invention in the past 2000 years?" He received thoughtful and often surprising answers from more than 100 leading thinkers, a fascinating survey of intellectual and creative wonders of the world.

Some people nominated inventions that were influential in bringing the world to where it is today, such as the printing press, calculus, the invention of the scientific method and effective contraception.

Other interesting suggestions included anesthesia, double-entry accounting, plumbing and sewers, reading glasses, batteries, the concept of education, self-governance, probability theory and the notion that mathematics could be used to represent things.

Christopher Langton, a computer scientist, proposed the telescope, which "opened the doors to the flood of data that would resolve what were previously largely philosophical disputes."

James J. O'Donnell, professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, proposed modern health care — from antibiotics to medical techniques to the soap that doctors use to wash their hands.

"Review your own life and imagine what it would have been like without late-Twentieth century heath care," he wrote. "Would you still be alive today? An astonishingly large number of people get serious looks on their faces and admit they wouldn't."

Douglas Rushkoff, a writer and teacher, proposed "the eraser. As well as the delete key, white out, the Constitutional amendment, and all the other tools that let us go back and fix our mistakes."

Tor Norretranders, a Danish science writer, nominated the mirror, which became commonplace during the Renaissance. "Only with the installation of mirrors in everyday life did viewing oneself from the outside become a daily habit," he wrote. "This coincided with the advent of manners for eating, clothing and behavior. This made possible the modern version of self-consciousness: Viewing oneself through the eyes of others, rather than just from the inside or though the eyes of God."

Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University, proposed classical music. "Most inventions — from nuclear energy to antibiotics — can be used for good or ill," he wrote. "Classical music has probably given more pleasure to more individuals, with less negative fallout, than any other human artifact."

Other people nominated inventions for the promise they hold for the future. The computer, the Internet and biotechnology were leading candidates.

"The Internet will dissolve away nations as we know them today," wrote Clifford Pickover, an IBM researcher. "Humanity becomes a single hive mind, with a group intelligence, as geography becomes putty in the hands of the Internet sculptor."

Lawrence Krauss, who chairs the physics department at Case Western Reserve University, wrote: "While the printing press certainly revolutionized the world in its time, computers will govern everything we do in the next 20 centuries ... The only other invention that may come close is perhaps DNA sequencing, since it will undoubtedly lead to a new understanding and control of genetics and biology in a way which will alter what we mean by life."

"Ultimately," said Robert Shapiro, professor of chemistry at New York University, "we may elect to rewrite our genetic code text, changing ourselves and the way in which we experience the universe."

I agree that gaining a complete understanding of the genetic code will be the greatest human achievement. It will show us exactly how the mind and body work, and open exhilarating and scary possibilities. We haven't achieved this understanding yet, but we will.

The entire list of nominated inventions is posted on the Internet at www.edge.org. Reading them reminds me of how wondrous our world is.

Copyright © 1998 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.


THE THIRD CULTURE


WHAT IS THE GREATEST INVENTION? THE ARGUMENT GOES ON....
Asahi Shimbun
By Toshihiro Yamanaka (New York, February 3rd)
Front Page — Center Section
(Translation: Hiromichi Hashizume)

EDGE hits the front page of Japan's leading newspaper

What is the greatest invention (innovation) man has ever made? Democracy? Mozart? A U.S. writer posed a question —"What is the most important invention/innovation made in the last 2,000 years?", and more than a hundred renowned US and European natural scientists, including Novel prize winners, started an argument on the Internet. Their responses included "reading glasses for the elderly", or "the eraser". And the arguments continue.

The arguments are taking place on the website "Edge", which is moderated by Mr. John Brockman— a writer living in New York City. To Dr. Philip Anderson, a U.S. Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and others, the most important invention was printing technology which spread knowledge to the public. Before that invention only a few people possessed and controlled knowledge. Another physicist supported "clocks" because they quantified time which had been only guessed at by human senses.

A professor of Oxford, a researcher of bio-science, nominated contraceptive pills because "they altered family structure and the role of women."

Some of the answers receiving wide support are the Copernican theory, mathematics and differential/integral calculus. Of course there are strong opinions in support of the discovery of "zero." A Harvard professor supports Mozart, because his music can never be harmful while other inventions such as nuclear fission and antibiotics are sometimes abused. "Reading glasses for the elderly" was nominated by one contributor who noted that "they have allowed people other than those with good vision to rule the world." The nominator of "erasers" pointed out that "without them humans could not correct and undo their errors."

The argument continues on the "Edge Website" at the following Internet address: http://ww w.edge.org.

The question was asked last November, and about a hundred people have provided answers so far. There is no deadline for the answers.

-----

The list of the candidates for "the most important invention:"

* Language (Nobody can make inventions without it)

* Cryptography (allows for privacy)

* Steam Engines (released people from labor, and provided free time)

* Indo-Arabic numeric notation (science started here)

* Anaesthesia (who can stand operations without it)

* Computers (will solve environmental problems in future, otherwise the civilization will be decayed)

* Hay (without it humans could not raise horses, and civilization would not have emerged)

* Democracy (presented the possibly of creating a society without class, and without racial and sexual discrimination)

* Television (but it produces crimes, sex, and has killed live performance)

* Education (knowledge recycling for the followers)

* Social Security cards (it brought the idea of supporting others)

* Space trip

* Batteries (mobile energy without plug cables)

* Christianity and Islam (two major religions made in the last 2,000 years)

* Spectroscopes

* Telescopes

* Mathematics

* Skepticism (it improved the ability of humans to interpret things)

* Commercialization of information (information brokers are able to adapt to the environmental change like nomads)

* Health care (could man have survived up to the 20th century without washing hands?)

* Human ego

* Digital information (integrated images, sounds and texts)

* Distilling (the great method to reveal the essence)

* Clocks (gave the objective sense to science)

* Freedom (yes it is an illusion, but an important illusion)

* The concept of unconsciousness

* Secularism (released people from God-centered world conception)

* Telecommunication (Up to 150 years ago, people had to meet in a room to communicate)

* Light bulbs and Aspirin

* Orchestras (they connected science and art)

* Currencies (linked the world in a market economy)

* The concept of an "exact question"

* Science (it enabled the interpretation of the world)

* Mirrors (gave the idea of others' view of oneself)

* Electric motors

* Plumbing (water supply and sewage)

* Texts (more important than printing technology)

* Airplanes

* Relativity theory

* The Stirrup (it allowed for efficient cultivation and led to the creation of the culture)


THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER


WHAT QUESTIONS ARE ON PSYCHOLOGISTS' MINDS TODAY?
David G. Myers

Inspired by last year's The World Question Center on EDGE, psychologist David G. Myers, asked his own version of the Edge Question of some of psychology's leading lights. He received responses from Eliot Aronson, Daryl J. Bem, Ellen Berscheid, Gordon Bower, Noam Chomsky, William C. Dement, Paul Ekman, Rochel Gelman, Jerome Kagan, Walter Kintsch, Elizabeth Loftus, Jay McClelland, Don Meichenbaum, George Miller, Martin E. P. Seligman, Mark Snyder, Larry Squire, Shelley Taylor, Endel Tulving, Phil Zimbardo.

DAVID G. MYERS is professor of psychology at Hope College and the author of Psychology (5th ed.) and The Pursuit of Happiness.


"WHAT QUESTIONS ARE ON PSYCHOLOGISTS' MINDS TODAY?"
David G. Myers

First, with John Brockman's blessing, are the psychologists who responded to his question:

"Do humans have evolved homicide modules--evolved psychological mechanisms specifically dedicated to killing other humans under certain contexts?" — David Buss, University of Texas

"How will minds expand, once we understand how the brain makes mind?" — William H. Calvin, University of Washington

"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?" — Howard Gardner, Harvard University

"Given the recent discovery on the origins of life from peptides rather than DNA, is it possible for us to create novel life forms with novel ways of thought?" Marc D. Hauser, Harvard University "Why is music such a pleasure?" — Nicholas Humphrey, New School for Social Research

"How does the brain represent the meaning of a sentence? — Steven Pinker, MIT

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

Now, the answers to the question when posed by The Psychology Place:

Answers of Leading Psychological Scientists

What is the question that you are asking yourself — the question that most fascinates you right now?

"How can we find effective ways to influence people away from dysfunctional behavior. For example, how can we influence people to be less aggressive, less prejudiced, more compassionate of themselves and others, not to engage in unsafe sex, more empathic, more protective of the environment, less aggressive." — Eliot Aronson, University of California, Santa Cruz

"I tend to be an intellectual dilettante and move from one mystery or puzzle to another. In the past 3 years, I have published articles on ESP and on the factors that influence an individual's sexual orientation. The one continuity throughout my career, however, has been my interest in people's beliefs, attitudes, and ideologies, especially public opinion on social issues. Thus, even in my work on ESP, I have been interested in what kinds of arguments and data persuade skeptical psychologists to be more open to the possibility that ESP exists. In my work on sexual orientation, I have been interested in how attitudes toward homosexuality are related to beliefs in the causes of sexual orientation and what leads members of the public to change those attitudes." — Daryl J. Bem, Cornell University

"The question that I am asking myself now is how people actively try to enhance and protect the quality of their close romantic relationships. I am particularly interested in learning if they are aware of the extent to which external, environmental conditions affect relationship quality and if they intentionally manipulate the environment in which the relationship is embedded in order to improve the quality of the relationship." — Ellen Berscheid, University of Minnesota

"The most fascinating question for me is, How does the mind/brain make possible the construction of imaginary "mental models" of spatial layouts and the events that transpire therein as a person reads or listens to a narrative story? What is the nature of that fabulous mental ability enabling us to call forth vivid imagery of places, characters, actions and emotional reactions from a small collection of mere words on a printed page?" — Gordon Bower, Stanford University

"There are a lot of such questions, ranging from very technical to much more general. Toward the former end of the spectrum, I have been extensively involved in very recent work that seeks to show that the human language faculty may be in important respects an "optimal solution" to "design specifications" imposed by the external systems with which it interacts in the mind/brain (the so called 'minimalist program')." — Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"I have worked all my life to create a field that is devoted to alleviating one huge area of human suffering. Today, what drives me to continue the work I am doing today is my desire to see the benefits of this work actually delivered to those in need." — William C. Dement, Stanford University

"How do individuals differ in their emotional experience, and what implications do mismatches in emotional experience have for how people can live and work together." — Paul Ekman, University of California, San Francisco

"What are universal concepts, ones whose underlying structures are shared by all humans, and what kind of learning theory accounts for their development in different environments?" — Rochel Gelman, University of California, Los Angeles

"The question that fascinates me most right now is the exact nature of the relation between brain events, described in the language of neuroscience, and psychological events described with the vocabulary of the social sciences." — Jerome Kagan, Harvard University

"How is the meaning of words, sentences, and texts represented in the human mind? Can we develop a computational model to simulate the way people comprehend language?" — Walter Kintsch, University of Colorado, Boulder

"What are the limits to the malleability of our memories? How is it that we can come to remember experiences that never happened to us? Why did we evolve with memories that work this way?" — Elizabeth Loftus, University of Washington

"How does experience structure our perceptual and conceptual representations, so that some things become self-evident (whether really true or not) while others are forever beyond our ken?" — Jay McClelland, Carnegie Mellon University

"How do the "stories" that children learn to tell themselves and others (about themselves and the world) develop and come to influence how they will behave in the future?" — Don Meichenbaum, University of Waterloo

"How is it possible that so many common words with multiple meanings lead to so little ambiguity in linguistic communication?" — George Miller, Princeton University

"How can psychologists come to measure, understand, and nurture the human strengths and the civic virtues." — Martin E. P. Seligman, University of Pennsylvania

"How do people solve the problem of being, at one and the same time, true to their own personal identities and sensitive to the demands placed on them by their social worlds?" — Mark Snyder, University of Minnesota

"How does the brain accomplish learning and memory?" — Larry Squire, University of California, San Diego

"The question that fascinates me most right now is how we can understand human behavior with reference not only to the dynamics of social groups and individual psychology, but by integrating important observations from behavioral genetics, behavioral neuroscience, and evolutionary biology as well. To put it another way, I am interested in how one goes about constructing a truly synthetic behavioral science." — Shelley Taylor, University of California, Los Angeles

"Why is it that people do not seem to know that most forms of memory have little to do with the past, and that only what was 'memory' for William James and what is 'episodic memory' today does so?" (I suggest that you discuss this issue with your students, BEFORE they learn of my 'surprising' question: "What does memory have to do with the past?" and find out what THEY think, and how they talk about it.) — Endel Tulving, University of Toronto, Emeritus

"There are two interrelated questions that fascinate me and drive me to seek their answers: the first is what are the conditions that induce ordinary, "good people" to first engage in evil deeds; the second is what circumstances lead some normal people to begin to experience psychopathological symptoms?" —w Phil Zimbardo, Stanford University

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The responses are also available with photographs at The Psychology Place Website at http:/ /www.psychplace.com/explore/oped/questions/questions.html.

(Copyright © 1998 by Peregrine Publishers. Thanks to Jim Behnke of Peregrine Publishers for permission to excerpt.)

 


Copyright ©1999 by Edge Foundation, Inc.

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