Edge 96

January 14, 2002

(47,500 words)

EDGE 96 marks the 5th anniversary of EDGE.
Many thanks to all of you in the EDGE community for your continued support.
John Brockman, Publisher & Editor


"I can repeat the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?"



93 Contributors (48,000 words): Randolph Nesse • Ray Kurzweil • J. Doyne Farmer • Rafael Núñez •Brian Greene • James Gilligan • Stuart Pimm • Mark Hurst • Eberhard Zangger • Anton Zeilinger • Brian Eno • W. Daniel Hillis • Dan Sperber • John Allen Paulos • David Buss • Tor Nørretranders • Carlo Rovelli • Sir John Maddox • Robert Provine • Stephen Schneider • Richard Nisbett • Keith Devlin • Esther Dyson • Howard Gardner • Leon Lederman • Frank Schirrmacher • Steven Pinker • Samuel Barondes • David Gelernter • Steven R. Quartz • Jordan B. Pollack • Michael Shermer • John Markoff • Seth Lloyd • Steve Grand • Gary F. Marcus • Eduardo Punset • Gregory Benford • Joel Garreau • David Deutsch • Richard Dawkins • Milford H. Wolpoff • John D. Barrow • David G. Myers • Karl Sabbagh • Rodney Brooks • Stephen Grossberg • Antony Valentini • Julian Barbour • Piet Hut • Paul Davies • John Skoyles • Delta Willis • Lee Smolin • Henry Warwick • Alan Alda • Gerd Stern • Chris Anderson • Todd Siler • George Dyson • Margaret Wertheim • Paul Bloom • Martin Rees • Judith Rich Harris • Howard Lee Morgan • Terrence Sejnowski • Nicholas Humphrey • Todd Feinberg, MD • Sylvia Paull • Andy Clark • Mark Stahlman • Robert Sapolsky • Lance Knobel • Freeman Dyson • Jaron Lanier • Lawrence Krauss • Robert Aunger • James J. O'Donnell • Roger Schank • Marc D. Hauser • Timothy Taylor • William Calvin • Douglas Rushkoff • John McCarthy • Clifford A. Pickover • Derrick De Kerkhove • Daniel C. Dennett • John Horgan • Alison Gopnik • Stuart A. Kauffman • Paul Davies • Kevin Kelly [1.14.02]

A German-language version is being co-published by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frank Schirrmacher, Publisher)

"Wer Nicht Fragt, Bleibt Dumm"

Der Schleier des Nichtwissens ist noch nicht verschwunden: Wer richtige Antworten will, muß wissen, was er sucht - Eine Umfrage zum Jahr 2002 unter Wissenschaftlern und Künstlern

Als Kultur noch nicht numeriert wurde, lud, wenn wir Richard Wagner glauben können, der Landgraf von Thüringen seine Edlen zum "Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg", wo er Preisfragen stellte, deren berühmteste lautete: Könnt ihr der Liebe Wesen mir ergründen? Der Verleger und Literaturagent John Brockman, der Sängerkriege nun im Internet veranstaltet, knüpft zum Jahresanfang gern an diese Tradition an (F.A.Z. vom 9. Januar 2001). Sein Tannhäuser mag Steven Pinker heißen, sein Wolfram von Eschenbach sich als Richard Dawkins zu erkennen geben: ihnen und ihren Mitstreitern wäre wohl zuzutrauen, auch Spekulationen über des Landgrafen Lieblingsthema anzustellen. Brockmans Koryphäen der "Dritten Kultur", ob sie nun, wie Dawkins, in Oxford sich der Evolutionsbiologie widmen oder, wie Alan Alda, am Broadway Wissenschaftler rezitieren, kennen keine Tabus. Alles ist erlaubt, nichts bleibt ausgeklammert im intellektuellen Spiel. Am Ende aber geht es auch in seiner Wartburg, die elektronisch unter www.edge.org zu erreichen ist, um uns und unsere unerklärte und offenbar unerklärliche Bestimmung. Im neuen Jahr fragt Brockman nicht, sondern läßt wieder einmal Fragen stellen. Im Internet sind die Beiträge von heute an zu finden. Wir drucken gleichzeitig mit dem Start des Forums eine Auswahl der kommentierten Fragen, zum Teil in leicht gekürzter Fassung, in deutscher Übersetzung.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 14.01.2002, Nr. 11 / Seite 38

New Year's Greetings from Edge!


New "Websites of the year"

"INSPIRED ARENA: Edge has been bringing together the world's foremost scientific thinkers since 1998, and the response to September 11 was measured and uplifting. These included the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, who was despondent about the 21st century "because there seems no realistic chance of preventing these hazards from looming ever larger", and the former editor of Nature, Sir John Maddox: "There is no "technical fix" for terrorism." Who says that there is nothing of substance on the net?"

New "High concept all the way. Brockman seeks out the brightest scientists and thinkers today and engages them in heady interviews and serious discussions centered around ideas. The content is unfashionable and orthogonal to the media news. It's deep and refreshing like six-feet of rich topsoil. Of all the lists I am on this one is the most conversational." Kevin Kelly (Editor-at-large, Wired)


"What Now?:" A page featuring "serious conversation about the catastrophic events" of September 11 by intellectuals and thinkers. Trying to answer the question, 'What now?', the contributors, including such recognisable names as Richard Dawkins, Luyen Chou, David Deutsch and Yossi Vardi, weigh in often dispassionately with some highly informed, intelligent thoughts on terrorism and the fragile state of the world. The debate is lively and stimulating, and many of the exchanges are intelligent and filled with views that are argued with cool logic. It's also interesting to see how much mindful of clarity of expression intellectuals are when they're trying to appeal to a wide readership.


"I can repeat the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?"


The 5th Annual Edge Question reflects the spirit of the Edge motto: "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."

The 2002 Edge Question is:


I have asked Edge contributors for "hard-edge" questions, derived from empirical results or experience specific to their expertise, that render visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefine who and what we are. The goal is a series of interrogatives in which "thinking smart prevails over the anaesthesiology of wisdom."

Happy New Year!

John Brockman
Publisher & Editor

Read and print individual responses to the Edge Question, which are linked to the excerpts below. and presented in the order of most recent first. Or, click on the "Printer version", for a large file containing the complete book-length text of responses to date.

93 contributors
48.000 words
Most recent responses first

"Why is life so full of suffering?"

It is a bit embarrassing to admit a preoccupation with this gigantic old question, but it is human, I suppose.
....[click here]

Randolph M. Nesse is Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan and editor of Evolution and the Capacity for Commitment.

Who am I? What am I?

Perhaps I am this stuff here, i.e., the ordered and chaotic collection of molecules that comprise my body and brain.
....[click here]

Ray Kurzweil was the principal developer of the first omni-font optical character recognition, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind, the first CCD flat-bed scanner, among other major inventions, and author of The Age of Spiritual Machines.

"What is value?"

Oscar Wilde once said that "A fool is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing".
...[click here]

J. Doyne Farmer , one of the pioneers of what has come to be called chaos theory, is McKinsey Professor, Sante Fe, Institute, and the co-founder and former co-president of Prediction Company in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

"Are we ever going to be humble enough to assume that we are mere animals, like crabs, penguins, and chimpanzees, and not the chosen protégés of this or that God?"

Recent events around the world remind us of historical phenomena observed since the dawn of civilizations: wars, genocides, oppression, conquests, occupations, and, of course, killings in the name of some God.
....[click here]

Rafael Núñez is professor of Cognitive Science at the University of California at San Diego, and author of Where Mathematics Comes From (with George Lakoff).

"Are space and time fundamental concepts or are they approximations to other, more subtle, ideas that still await our discovery?"

It is hard to conceive of a universe that does not exist in space and persist through time: space and time seem to be the basic framework of the cosmos.
....[click here]

Brian Greene is a professor of physics and of mathematics at Columbia University and author of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for an Ultimate Theory.

"Is it possible to know what is good and what is evil?"

For the past four centuries, the attempt to answer this question has been the main driving force of world history ­ not only the history of ideas, but also the history of politics and collective violence. This is true for two reasons:
....[click here]

James Gilligan has been on the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School since 1966. He is the author of Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic.

" Does life on Earth have a future?"

By "life on Earth" I mean the variety of life, the multitude of species, the dazzling array of ecosystems they create from the permanent snow fields of the Himalayas to steamy jungles, and coral reefs, and the variety of including ourselves including and the 6000+ languages we speak and our cultures that they largely define.
....[click here]

Stuart Pimm is Professor of Conservation Biology at Columbia University in New Yorkand author of The World According to Pimm: A Scientist Audits the Earth.

"Is the PC desktop really dead?"

Much ado has been made lately over the problems of the PC "desktop metaphor," the system of folders and icons included in Macintosh and Windows PCs....[click here]

Mark Hurst is the founder of Creative Good, Inc., a leading user experience consulting firm.

"How do women's minds work?"

Try this question on any man: All you'll get for an answer is a shrugging of shoulders along with a puzzled facial expression
.....[click here]

"What will happen when the increasing speed of communication, the driving force behind cultural progress since the introduction of husbandry, suddenly becomes irrelevant?"

I am convinced that there is a predominant driving force behind cultural progress and that this driving force is speed of communications.....[click here]

Eberhard Zangger is the geoarchaeologist who uncovered the most plausible explanation for the legend of lost Atlantis of the past 2500 years and author of The Future of the Past.

"Will unification ever come to a stop?"

Unification of opposites is an underlying theme in the development of humanity.
....[click here]

Anton Zeilinger is a Professor of Physics at the University of Vienna whose work in quantum teleportation has received worldwide attention.

"Why do we decorate?"

Why do all the human cultures that we know of decorate things? Why not just leave them alone? Why put in all that extra, and apparently non-functional, energy? ....[click here]

Brian Eno, an artist, makes and produces records. He has produced U2 ("including this year's award- winning "All That You Can't Leave Behind"), Talking Heads and Devo and collaborated with David Bowie, John Cale, and Laurie Anderson.

"Why do people like music?"

People from every culture like listening to some kind of music, so it seems that it is something that is wired into us. Is there an evolutionary advantage to liking music?....[click here]

W. Daniel Hillis is Chairman and Chief Technology Officer of Applied Minds, Inc., a research and development company and author of The Pattern on the Stone.

"How much can we expect the social sciences to help build a just and free society?"

Marx and Engels argued for "scientific socialism", that is, for a political movement that would bring about a just and free society with the help of science. ....[click here]

Dan Sperber is a social and cognitive scientist at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris and author, with Deirdre Wilson, of Relevance: Communication and Cognition.

"What is the difference between the sigmoidoscope and the sigmundoscope? Less cryptically, how is extensional mathematical logic different from everyday narrative logic?"

It differs in countless ways, most of them poorly understood.....[click here]

John Allen Paulos is Professor of mathematics at Temple University adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University, and author Once Upon a Number.

"Why do people kill other people?"

No offense against another human being inflicts greater costs than killing....[click here]

David M. Buss is Professor of Psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, and author of Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind.

"Why bother? Or: Why do we go further and explore new stuff?"

Many human skills enable an individual to do something with less physiological effort....[click here]

Tor Nørretranders is a science writer, consultant, lecturer and organizer based in Copenhagen, Denmark and author of The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size.

"Are space, time, and all other physical quantities only relational?"

What do we actually know about the physical world after the scientific revolution of the last century? ....[click here]

Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist at the Centre de Physique Theorique in Marseille, France.

"Is there, or should we expect, a fracture in the logical basis on which people now look for a description of the nexus between particle physics and cosmology?"

Since the 1930s, we have had to live with Godel's theorem — the apparently unshaken proof by the logician Kurt Godel that there can be no system of mathematical logic that is at once consistent (or free from contradictions) and complete (in the sense of being comprehensive)....[click here]

Sir John Maddox who recently retired having served 23 years as the editor of Nature, is a trained physicist, and author of What Remains to be Discovered: The Agenda for Science in the Next Century.

"What Is Real?"

The question of what is "real," defined here as the physical universe, acquires special subtlety from the perspective of brain and cognitive science....[click here]

Robert R. Provine is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Maryland and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.

"Can democracy survive complexity?"

As any parent of adolescents has probably experienced, life has become sufficiently complex that emotional maturity by the end of teen years is a thing of the distant past....[click here]

Stephen H. Schneider is Professor in the Biological Sciences Department at Stanford University and author of Laboratory Earth.

"How different could minds be?"

Plato believed that human knowledge was inborn. Kant and Peirce agreed that much of knowledge had to exist prior to birth or it would be impossible to understand or learn anything....[click here]

Richard Nisbett is Professor of Psychology and Co-Director of the Culture and Cognition Program at the University and author numerous books.

"The hows and whys of what led to us"

There are, it seems to me, just two fundamental scientific questions that, for very different reasons, we may have no possibility of answering with any certainty.....[click here]

Keith Devlin, mathematician, is a Senior Researcher at Stanford University, and author ot The Math Gene.

"When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards, and just go ahead and do what you know is right?"

In the world we live in, mathematicians and investors have become ever better at calculating risks, assessing outcomes, laying out possible scenarios.....[click here]

Esther Dyson is president of EDventure Holdings and editor of the computer-industry newsletter, Release 1.0, and author of the book, Release 2.1: A Design for Living in the Digital Age.

"In view of globalization, which is here to stay, and the events of September 11and its aftermath, which were a shock to most of us, do we need to make fundamental changes in our educational goals and methods?"

Precollegiate education has been remarkably consistent over the decades: literacy in the primary years, initial mastery of a few major subject areas (math, science, history, language, perhaps in the arts) in middle and secondary school....[click here]

Howard Gardner is Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University at the co-author (with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon) of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet.

"Is it conceivable that the standard curriculum in science and math, crafted in 1893, will still be maintained in the 26,000 high schools of this great nation?"

The world is caught up in a paroxysm of change.....[click here]

Leon M. Lederman, the director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has received the Wolf Prize in Physics, and the Nobel Prize in Physics. He is the author (with Dick Teresi) of The God Particle.

"When will our souls be upgraded?"

If, as Harold Bloom puts it, Shakespeare invented the modern soul, if we are the way we are because Shakespeare existed as a writer, the question arises, whether this historic progression has come to an end and will soon be replaced by a new version of 21st century souls.
....[click here]

Frank Schirrmacher is Publisher, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and author of Die Darwin AG.

"What is the missing ingredient — not genes, not upbringing — that shapes the mind?"

We know that genes play an important role in the shaping of our personality and intellects....[click here]

Steven Pinker, research psychologist, is professor in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT and author of Words and Rules.

"What, me worry?"

This question, which has been asked by many, is now usually attributed to Alfred E. Newman, the poster boy of Mad Magazine.
...[click here]

Samuel Barondes is a professor and director of the Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry at the UC-San Francisco and author of Mood Genes: Hunting for Origins of Mania and Depression.

"Why is religion so important to most Americans and so trivial to most intellectuals?"

Is it just a matter of IQ? (Though I thought intellectuals no longer believed in IQ)....[click here]

David Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale, chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies and author of Drawiing a Life: Surviving the Unabomber.

"Can there be a science of human potential and the good life?"

Despite monumental advances in brain and behavioral sciences, nothing like a science of human potential and the good life has yet emerged.
...[click here]

Steven R. Quartz is Director of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

"Is there Progress?"

I work on the question of evolution, not as it exists in Nature, but as a formal system which enables open-ended learning....[click here]

Jordan B. Pollack is a computer science and complex systems professor at Brandeis University who works on AI, Artificial Life, Neural Networks, Evolution, Dynamical Systems, Games, Robotics, Machine Learning, and Educational Technology.

"Is God nothing more than a sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence?"

This question is based on what I call, tongue in cheek, "Shermer's Last Law," that any sufficiently advanced extra-terrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God....[click here]

Michael Shermer is the founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and the author of The Borderlands of Science.

"Can wealth be distributed?"

Even with productivity showing startling increases as a consequence of new information technologies everything suggests that the gap between rich and poor is growing dramatically globally and even beginning to increase again in the U.S. So much for trickle down economics.....[click here]

John Markoff covers the computer industry and technology for The New York Times and is co-author of Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw (with Tsutomu Shimomura).

"Is the universe a quantum computer?"

The universe is quantum mechanical, and its dynamics can be simulated precisely and efficiently using quantum information processing
....[click here]

Seth Lloyd is an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and a principal investigator at the Research Laboratory of Electronics.

"Why do we continue to act as if the universe were constructed from nouns linked by verbs, when we know it is really constructed from verbs linked by nouns?"

My question is to do with materialism, reductionism and the inertia of intellectual progress....[click here]

Steve Grand is an aritifical life researcher and creator of Lucy, a robot babay orangutan. He is the author of Creation: Life and How to Make It.

"How can a small number of genes build a complex mental machine?"

John McCarthy and I are from different generations (in the semester before McCarthy invented Lisp, he taught my dad FORTRAN, using punch cards on an old IBM) but our questions are nearly the same. McCarthy asks "how are behaviors encoded in DNA"?...[click here]

Response to Paul Davies' reply to John McCarthy

It is hard indeed to imagine that nature would endow an organism with anything as detailed as The Cambridge Star Atlas.....[click here]

Gary F. Marcus is a cognitive scientist at New York University and author of The Algebraic Mind.

"What is the pertinent question?"

Surely, the right question it is not what was wrong before Sept.11th. ....[click here]

Eduardo Punset is Director and Producer of "Networks," a weekly programme of Spanish public television on Science and author of A Field Guide to Survive in the XXI st Century.

"Do wormholes exist?"

Two startling ideas about wholly different classes of objects emerged from general relativity: black holes and wormholes. ....[click here]

Gregory Benford is a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine. His most recent nonfiction is Deep Time.

"Why is beauty making a comeback now?"

My hypothesis is that the modernist/post-modernist idea that beauty is a social construct (with no deep bedrock in reality) is dead.
....[click here]

Joel Garreau is the cultural revolution correspondent of The Washington Post and author of Edge City.

"How are moral assertions connected with the world of facts?"

Unlike many ancient philosophical problems, this one has, paradoxically, been made both more urgent and less tractable by the gradual triumph of scientific rationality. ....[click here]

David Deutsch, a physicist, is a member of the Centre for Quantum Computation at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford University, and author of The Fabric of Reality.

"How different could life have been?"

Physicists, including several in this group, are fond of asking, “What if the universe had been different?” ....[click here]

Reply to Paul Davies’s response to John McCarthy

Paul Davies notes that some night-migrating birds navigate by the stars, and asks whether avian DNA contains a map of the sky.....[click here]

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and the Charles Simonyi Professor For The Understanding Of Science at Oxford University. He is the author of Unweaving the Rainbow.

"Can we ever escape our past, or are we doomed to a future of biobabble?"

In mid-November 1999, New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead published a commentary on the candidacy of Al Gore, and in it she gave us a new word. ....[click here]

Milford H. Wolpoff is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan and author (with Rachel Caspari) of Race and Human Evolution: A Fatal Attraction.

"Are the laws of nature a form of computer code that needs and uses error

...[click here]

John D. Barrow is Research Professor of Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge and author of Between Inner Space and Outer Space.

"Why do we fear the wrong things?"

A mountain of research shows that our fears modestly correlate with reality. ....[click here]

David G. Myers is a social psychologist David G. Myers at Hope College (Michigan) and author of The Pursuit of Happiness.

"Would an extra-terrestrial civilization develop the same mathematics as ours? If not, how could theirs possibly be different?"

In writing my next book, about maths, I have been led to ponder this question by the fact that there are philosophers, and a few mathematicians, who believe that it is conceivable that there could be intelligences with a fully developed mathematics that does not, for example, recognize the integers or the primes, let alone Fermat's Last Theorem or the Riemann Hypothesis.
....[click here]

Karl Sabbagh is a writer and television producer and author of A Rum Affair: A True Story of Botanical Fraud.

"How will computation and communication change our everyday lives, again?"

The actual day to day things that we do have been changed drastically for many people in the world over the last twenty years by the arrival of personal computers.
....[click here]

Rodney Brooks is Director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and Fujitsu Professor of Computer Science. He is also Chairman and Chief Technical Officer of IS Robotics,

"How does being able to learn about a changing world endow our minds with expectations, imagination, creativity, and the ability to perceive illusions?"

When you open your eyes in the morning, you usually see what you expect to see. ....[click here]

Stephen Grossberg is a Professor of Cognitive and Neural Systems, Mathematics, Psychology, and Engineering at Boston University.

"When will we emerge from the quantum tunnel of obscurity?"

Can contradictory things happen at the same time?....[click here]

Antony Valentini is a theoretical physicist at Imperial College in London.

"Is the universe really expanding? Or: Did Einstein get it exactly right?"

As I prepare to head for Cambridge (the Brits' one) for the conference to mark Stephen Hawking's 60th birthday, I know that the suggestion I am just about to make will strike the great and the good who are assembling for the event as my scientific suicide note. ....[click here]

Julian Barbour
is an independent theoretical physicist and author of The End of Time.

Could our lack of theoretical insight in some of the most basic questions in biology in general, and consciousness in particular, be related to us having missed a third aspect of reality, which upon discovery will be seen to always have been there, equally ordinary as space and time, but so far somehow overlooked in scientific descriptions?

Is the arena of physics, constructed out of space and time with matter/energy tightly interwoven with space and time, sufficient to fully describe all of our material world? ....[click here]

Piet Hut, professor of astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, is involved in the project of building GRAPEs, the world's fastest special-purpose computers,

Paul Davies Responds

Response to John McCarthy:

John McCarthy asks how animal behavior is encoded in DNA. ....[click here]

Response to Martin Rees's response to my question:

Sir Martin Rees has eloquently outlined the key issues concerning the status of multiverse theories.....[click here]

Why is it only amongst adults in the Western world that has tradition been so insistently and constantly challenged by the raising of Edge questions?

Why do we ask Edge questions?....[click here]

John R. Skoyles is a researcher in the evolution of human intelligence in the light of recent discoveries about the brain, who, while a first-year student at LSE, published a theory of the origins of Western Civilization in Nature.

"Why doesn't conservation click?"

Three decades ago I began my first career working on a British television series called "Survival". ....[click here]

Delta Willis has searched for fossils alongside Meave and Richard Leakey, profiled physicists and paleontologists who draw inspiration from nature, and serves as chief contributor to the Fodor's Guide to Kenya & Tanzania.

"What is time, and what is the right language to describe change, in a closed system like the universe, which contains all of its observers?"

This is, I believe, the key question on which the quantum theory of gravity and our understanding of cosmology, depends. ....[click here]

Lee Smolin, a theoretical physicist, is a founding member and research physicist at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo Canada author of Three Roads to Quantum Gravity.

"What comes after Science? When?"

Questions? I don't ask questions. ....[click here]

Henry Warwick is an artist, composer, and scientist.

"What is the nature of fads, fashions, crazes, and financial manias? Do they share a structure that can in turn be found at the core of more substantial changes in a culture? In other words, is there an engine of change to be found in the simple fad that can explain and possibly predict or accelerate broader changes that we regard as less trivial than "mere" fads? And more importantly, can we quantify the workings of this engine if we decide that it exists?"

I have shelves of books and papers by smart people who have brushed up against the edge of this question but who have seldom attacked it head on.....[click here]

Alan Alda, an actor, writer and director, is currently playing Richard Feynman in the stage play QED at Lincoln Center in New York.

"If the medium is indeed the message, does (or can) the message define the medium?"

(As a poet, I don't think I need to explicate the question.) .....[click here]

Gerd Stern is a poet, media artist and cheese maven and the author of an oral history From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist 1948-1978.

"Will humankind be able to use its growing self-knowledge to overcome the biologically programmed instincts that could otherwise destroy it?"

I am intrigued by the interplay between the following: 1) People always want a little bit more than they have.....[click here]

Chris Anderson is the incoming Chairman and Host of the TED Conference (Technology, Education, Design) held each February in Monterey, California and formerly a magazine publisher (Future Publishing).

"What is the nature of learning?"

That question strikes me as being as infinitely perplexing and personal as, What's the meaning of life?....[click here]

Todd Siler is the founder and director of Psi-Phi Communications and author of Think Like A Genius.

"Where Are They?"

When Enrico Fermi asked his famous question (now known as the Fermi Paradox) more than fifty years ago — if there is advanced extraterrestrial life, intelligence, and technology, why don't we see unmistakable evidence of it? — it was the era of 60-megaton atmospheric bomb tests and broadcast television, with unlimited fusion power in plain sight. ....[click here]

George Dyson is a historian among futurists and the author of Darwin Among the Machines.

"How can we understand the fact that such complex and precise mathematical relations inhere in nature?"

Of course this is one of the oldest philosophical questions in science but still one of the most mysterious.....[click here]

Margaret Wertheim is a science writer and commentator and the author of The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet.

"How will people think about the soul?"

Cognitive scientists believe that emotions, memories, and consciousness are the result of physical processes. ....[click here]

Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at Yale and author of How Children Learn the Meanings of Words (Learning, Development, and Conceptual Change).

"Many Universes?"

We do not know whether there are other universes. ....[click here]

Sir Martin Rees, a cosmologist, is Royal Society Professor at Kings College, Cambridge. He directs a research program at Cambridge's Institute of Astronomy. His most recent book is Our Cosmic Habitat.

"Why do people — even identical twins — differ from one another in personality?"

This question needs to be asked because of the widely held conviction that we already know the answer to it. ....[click here]

Judith Rich Harris is a developmental psychologist and author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do.

"What makes a genius, and how can we have more of them?"

As any software developer will tell you, one great programmer is easily worth ten average ones....[click here]

Howard Morgan is Vice-Chairman, Idealab.

"Why Sleep?"

We need to sleep every day. Why do we spend a third of our lives in a dormant state? ....[click here]

Terrence Sejnowski, a computational neurobiologist and Professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, is a coauthor of Thalamocortical Assemblies: How Ion Channels, Single Neurons and Large-Scale Networks Organize Sleep Oscillations.

"To be or not to be?"

Old questions don't go away (at least while they remain unanswered). ....[click here]

Nicholas Humhprey is a theoretical psychologist at the London School of Economics, and author of Leaps of Faith.

"What is the relationship between being alive and having a mind?"

Last year, Steven Spielberg directed a film, based upon a Stanley Kubrick project, entitled "A.I. Artificial Intelligence". ....[click here]

Todd E. Feinberg, MD is Chief, Yarmon Neurobehavior and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Beth Israel Medical Center.

"At what age should women say, 'No,' to first-time pregnancy?"

Scientific advances now make it possible for a woman past normal child-bearing years to bear a child. ....[click here]

Sylvia Paull is the founder of Gracenet (www.gracenet.net).

"What are minds, that they are both essentially mental yet inextricably intertwined with body (and world)?"

We thought we had this one nailed. Believing (rightly) that the physical world is all there is, the sciences of the mind re-invented thought and reason (and feeling) as information-processing events in the human brain. ....[click here]

Andy Clark is Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, UK and the author of Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again.

"Is humanity in the midst of a cognitive 'Fourth-Transition?' Or, why doesn't the Encyclopedia Brittanica matter any more?"

It feels to me like something very important is going on. ....[click here]

Mark Stahlman, a venture capitalist who has been focused on next generation computer/networking platforms, is co-founder the Newmedia Laboratory, NYNMA.

"What's the neurobiology of doing good and being good?"

I've spent most of my career as a neurobiologist working on an area of the brain called the hippocampus. ....[click here]

Robert Sapolsky is a professor of biological sciences at Stanford University and author of A Primate's Memoir.

"Do we want to live in one world, or two?"

One of the great achievements of recent history has been a dramatic reduction in absolute poverty in the world. ....[click here]

Lance Knobel is Adviser, Prime Minister's Forward Strategy Unit, London, and the former head of the program of the World Economic Forums' Annual meeting in Davos.

"Why am I me?"

This question was asked by my eight-year-old grandson George. In eight letters it summarizes the conundrum of personal existence in an impersonal universe.....[click here]

Freeman Dyson is professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study and author of The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet.

"How much can we handle?"

We've got fundamental scientific theories (such as quantum theory and relativity) that test out superbly, even if we don't quite know how they all fit into a whole, but we're hung up trying to understand complicated phenomena, like living things. How much complexity can we handle?....[click here]

Jaron Lanier, computer scientist and musician, is currently the lead scientist for the National Tele-Immersion Initiative.

"Was there any choice in the creation of the Universe?"

Here I paraphrase Einstein's famous question: "Did God have any choice in the creation of the Universe". ....[click here]

Lawrence Krauss is Professor of Physics at Case Western Reserve University and the author of Atom.

"Is technology going to 'wake up' or 'come alive' anytime in the future?"

Bill Joy, the prominent computer scientist, argued in a Wired article last year that "the future doesn't need us" because other creatures, artificial or just post-human, are going to take over the world in the 21st century. ....[click here]

Robert Aunger is an evolutionary theorist and editor of Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science.

"Do the benefits accruing to humankind (leaving aside questions of afterlife) from the belief and practice of organized religions outweigh the costs?"

Given the political sensitivities of the topic, it is hard to imagine that a suitably rigorous attempt to answer this question could be organized or its results published and discussed soberly, but it is striking that there is no serious basis on which to conduct such a conversation.....[click here]

James J. O'Donnell is Professor of Classical Studies and Vice Provost at UPenn and author of Avatars of the Word: From Papyrus to Cyberspace.

"What does it mean to have an educated mind in the 21st century?"

While education is on every politician's agenda as an item of serious importance, it is astonishing that the notion of what it means to be educated never seems to come up.....[click here]

Roger Schank is Distinguished Career Professor, School of Computer Science, Carnegie-Mellon University and author of Virtual Learning: A Revolutionary Approach to Building a Highly Skilled Workforce.

"How will the sciences of the mind constrain our theories and policies of education?"

In several recent meetings that I have attended, I have been overwhelmed by the rift between what the sciences of mind, brain and behavior have uncovered over the past decade, and both how and what science educators teach.....[click here]

Marc D. Hauser is an evolutionary psychologist, a professor at Harvard University and author of Wild Minds: What AnimalsThink.

"Is morality relative or absolute?"

Humans spread out from a common origin into many different global environments....[click here]

Timothy Taylor is an archaeologist at University of Bradford, UK, and author of The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture.

"Eureka: What makes coherence so important to us?"

When something is missing, it bothers us that things don't hang together.....[click here]

William Calvin is a theoretical neurobiologist at the University of Washington and author of How Brains Think.

"Why do we tell stories?"

Why a story?....[click here]

Douglas Rushkoff is a Professor of Media Culture at New York University's Interactive Telecommu-nications Program and author of Coercion: Why We Listen to What "They" Say.

"How are behaviors encoded in DNA?"

Many animals have quite substantial hereditary behavior. Moreover, these behaviors are subject to evolution on fairly short time scales, so they probably have straightforward DNA encodings on which mutations can act. Mostly the behaviors seem to be sequences of actions, but perhaps there are some of the form "do X until Y is true".....[click here]

John McCarthy is Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University.

"Would you choose universe Omega or Upsilon?"

Consider two universes.....[click here]

Clifford A. Pickover is a researcher at IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center and author of The Paradox of God and the Science of Omniscience.

"'To be or not to be' remains the question"

The fact is that is "To be or not to be" is both a simple, perhaps the simplest, and a complex question, the hardest to sustain, let alone to ask.....[click here]

Derrick de Kerckhove is Director of the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto and author of Connected Intelligence.

"What kind of system of 'coding' of semantic information does the brain use?"

My question now is actually a version of the question I was asking myself in the first year, and I must confess that I've had very little time to address it properly in the intervening years, since I've been preoccupied with other, more tractable issues. ....[click here]

Daniel C. Dennett is Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor at Tufts University and author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea.

"Do we want the God machine?"

The God machine is the name that journalists have given to a device invented by the Canadian psychologist Michael Persinger.....[click here]

John Horgan is a freelance writer and author of The Undiscovered Mind.

"Why do we ask questions?"

We all take for granted the fact that human beings ask questions and seek explanations, and that the questions they ask go far beyond their immediate practical concerns. ....[click here]

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley and coauthor of The Scientist In The Crib.

"What must a physical system be to be able to act on its own behalf?"

In or ordinary life, we ascribe action and doing to other humans, and lower organisms, even bacteria swimming up a glucose gradient to get food. ....[click here]

Stuart A. Kauffman, an emeritus professor of biochemistry at UPenn, is a theoretical biologist and author of Investigations.

"Universe or multiverse, that is the question?"

Of late, it is fashionable among leading physicists and cosmologists to suppose that alongside the physical world we see lies a stupendous array of alternative realities, some resembling our universe, others very different.....[click here]

Paul Davies, a physicist, writer and broadcaster, now based in South Australia, is author of How to Build a Time Machine.

"What is your heresy?"

I've noticed that the more scientifically educated a person is, the more likely they will harbor a quiet heresy. ....[click here]

Kevin Kelly is Editor-At-Large for Wired Magazine and author of New Rules for the New Economy.


John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
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