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"So, what are are you up to this summer? What new ideas are you exploring? What new questions are you asking yourself? How about emailing a postcard?" A summer-long Edge event.

Maria Siropulu

[most recent first:] J. Craig Venter, James O'Donnell, Stephen Kosslyn, Philip Zimbardo, Stewart Brand, Maria Spiropulu, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Steven Johnson, Brewster Kahle, Joseph LeDoux, Paul Davies, Gregory Benford, Jordan Pollack, Keith Devlin, Steven Pinker, Steve Jurvetson, Roger Schank, Leonard Susskind, William Calvin, Gary Marcus, Timothy Taylor, Catherine Bateson, Daniel Gilbert, Sue Blackmore, Stuart Hameroff, Karl Sabbagh, Marc D. Hauser, Daniel C. Dennett, Ned Block, Bruce Sterling, John Markoff, Esther Dyson

J. Craig Venter

Papeete — Tonga — Fiji

Sorcerer II Expedition Log-10
Papeete thru Tonga and Fiji
April 15 thru July 2

Many miles and days have past since our last log. While space prevents us from including everything that has happened on our scientific adventure since then, we have attempted to give you a small sampling of the science, sun, and sea that we have experienced in the last several months.


After a hectic sampling schedule in the Galapagos Islands we started the long crossing toward the Central Pacific Ocean and French Polynesia. On the way, we targeted sampling near two of the long-term physical oceanographic data moorings, which are part of the Tao Array of buoys.

After taking these samples, we proceeded on to the French Polynesian region. The central region of the Pacific Ocean in which the Polynesian archipelagos are scattered is almost entirely swept by the immense South Pacific Gyre. The circular motion of the Gyre results from the combined effects of the tropical trade winds and the westerly winds prevailing in the sub-tropical regions. The convergent nature of this circular pattern of flow leads to the surface waters accumulating in the centre of the Gyre. The relatively homogeneous water mass thus formed behaves like a floating disk some 200 metres thick, supported by the denser, deeper surrounding water. Owing to the great vertical stability conferred by this process of stratification, the very low nutrient tropical waters are isolated from the surrounding ocean. We anticipate that this unique system will provide an interesting data set.

Our specific sampling sites were chosen after multiple conversations with our collaborators (both in France and in French Polynesia) and a good review of the existing literature. We also employed the expertise of our collaborator, Dr. Dave Karl from the University of Hawaii to assist us with the nutrient analysis of our water samples. Dave's lab has experience and equipment that is uniquely suited to detecting very low ambient nutrient levels.

Once in French Polynesia, the Sorcerer proceeded to the island of Moorea.

Cook's Bay: Moorea

Moorea is home to two research stations: the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station (operated by UC Berkeley) and the Centre de Recherches et Observatoire de l'Environnement (CRIOBE). The scientists working through these labs will help us to place our obtained data into ecological context during the analysis phase of the program. We also hope that our data will compliment other research programs in the region.

While the vessel was in Moorea, members of the crew were able to take some much deserved vacation time and have a more casual pace with normal work days and vacation time for all! Charlie enjoyed a two week trip home to Canada to visit family and to check out his house in Regina. When he returned, refreshed with Canadian gifts for the crew, the rest took local vacations enjoying the jungle, beaches, kite surfing and lots of lounging. Soon after, we set off happily sampling once again with the necessary permits and the full cooperation of the French Government. We returned to the Tuamotus region to sample Tikehau and Rangiroa atoll lagoons, both well-studied sites by the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD) program.

In the Tuamotus Islands, Scott Nicholas joined the vessel in preparation for evacuating a large set of samples back to Rockville.

Scott finally finds "blue" water

We enjoyed the solitude of this area with no other boats in sight and the only real crowds were groups of hermit crabs. Charlie got his chance to finally rig up the kite-surfer, which is a giant and powerful kite with a harness that holds a person in as they are being dragged across the water. As if this isn't daunting enough there is a dangling board strapped to your ankle. Witnesses have seen the kite pull humans swiftly and gracefully across the water at high speed, leaping 10-20 feet in the air! This was not the case on this day and the practice session presented a spectacular show for the rest of the crew! We were delightfully entertained by the vision of Charlie soggy and dragging behind the kite until the colorful kite swooped dramatically downward, crashing into the blue waters. Spirits were high and a bonfire under the stars was in order!

Brooke warming her feet by the fire

The sampling trip was quick but fruitful, and we were happy to have these important samples in hand.

We returned to the Moorea Biological Station for scientific presentations during their Science Day. We also had to provision the boat there to continue our sampling trip through French Polynesia on our way to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

Raitea View!

We had 3 days in Huahine and Raitea which were beautiful and much less crowded and developed than Moorea. Then after another provisioning stop in Papeete and topping off the fuel, we departed for Bora Bora. When we arrived we were treated to miles of sandy spits with hotels and a huge lagoon surrounding the famous dual peak of the island center. It is truly a classic island paradise. From there it was a 3 day sail to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.


On Dock in Rarotonga

"Raro" is not far geographically but is very different from the islands in French Polynesia, being a colony of New Zealand instead of France. Suddenly everything was English, which took some getting used to since we were accustomed to speaking our minds very colorfully and verbally with no one understanding. We found this island to be friendlier at half the price and so for 3 days we lived like kings.

Lucky for us the island was filled with many friendly and helpful people as our stop had to be extend slightly due to a broken seal in the main engine pump. After a two day wait, we received the new part from New Zealand and were up and running again! This crisis was a small price to pay and a good excuse to stop in such a beautiful country! It was also the perfect site for a celebration‹Jeff's birthday! .
There is far less ongoing marine science in the region, so we only took one general water sample as we transited through the waters of the Cook Islands.

The Kingdom of Tonga was now calling us and we had to shove off for a 4 day sail to the Vava'u Group of islands where we were scheduled to do more sampling.


A beautiful group of limestone islands with friendly people, a gathering of cruising boats from all over the globe, and a friendly government scientist, named Apai, welcomed us to Tonga. Apai, the Tongan representative who would oversee our sampling and learn about what we were doing, was a soft spoken, kind man who specialized in water quality for the whole island group.

Apai and Crew
Brooke enjoyed Apai's local knowledge and began gathering new and exciting recipes for her father who now has the ability to make a tasty roasted fruit bat (flying fox) and jellyfish ceviche. The local sampling included an afternoon in open water which kept Apai more focused on his lunch than the sampling technique as Cyrus noted. The wind had picked up and began moving the boat about as did Hapai's lunch, apparently. Unfortunately, he did not enjoy the excursion until we were safely inside the island group again.

Again, the island was home (permanent and temporary like us) to many friendly people. We enjoyed listening to stories from fellow cruising boats and we even had a fun evening of karaoke one night. This was a hit with the female crew who created a new music sensation as the "B Sharps". They were a PHENOMENON!

Strong winds persisted while we were in Tonga and limited our excursions but we still had a chance to explore areas such as "the Mariners Cave," a fascinating snorkel with its underwater entrance and airtight chamber. And "Swallows Cave," which was large enough to drive the dinghy into!

Crew Inside Mariners Cave

Swallow's Cave


This is truly a country that is still unspoiled and overflowing with generous and kind people. We were also challenged by the navigation through the multitude of reefs just below the surface. When we were still 10 miles out from land we noticed two fishing trawlers that seemed to be anchored.

Wrecks on a reef in Fiji
As we got closer we realized that they were recent wrecks that were high and dry. Of course the talented crew kept Sorcerer safe with their well-honed skills. We checked into customs and immigration in "Levuka" which once was the capital of Fiji 100 years ago and has hardly changed since. It is still a small town of perhaps 500 people living in clean but simple dwellings up the hillside. Down below in the harbor the only real employer in town takes up the majority of the waterfront with the "Bumblebee Tuna canning plant," which our noses will never forget.

Levuka homes on hillside

Once we were cleared in it was just a 60 mile day sail around to the main city of Suva where we needed to apply for our long-term Australian visas. On the way into the harbor we were welcomed by the antics of a humpback whale breaching for almost 10 minutes outside the reef at the entrance. Inside we found a good anchorage and close to the town however we were a bit shocked by the confusion of cars, buses, markets and shops and the multitude of pedestrians.

Suva Kava Market

Tess was pleased though with the well-stocked market! Charlie found the local crafts market a fun place to bargain for some of their fine local wood carvings, Jeff and Wendy found the nightlife entertaining, Brooke enjoyed the people watching and Indian food, while Cyrus found Suva offensive. Cyrus had issues with the sanitation procedures and commented, "they use a bulldozer to push heaps of trash into the harbor!!"

After replenishing our supplies and enjoying the sites and sounds of the town, we moved on our way with a two day sail up to Savusavu, stopping for the night at Makoqai.

Makogai hawksbill to be released


This island used to be a leper colony and is now a nursery for giant clams and sea turtles. The afternoon of the second day we arrived at Savusavu, the main harbor on the second biggest island where we made plans for our next sample sites and island routes. Brooke was eager to dive as this was one of her dream diving destinations. Her dreams were soon realized at our next destination: Taveuni. We anchored off a backpacker's hotel and enjoyed two amazing wall dives with soft corals. Another highlight of the stop was a Sevusevu (gift) ceremony where we learned how to drink Kava. We unfortunately had not been able to enjoy a Sevusevu in our last destination.

When one arrives to a new village, it is customary to introduce yourself, and present a gift (Sevusevu) of Yaquona root (used for making the Kava drink). The villagers will bring you to the chief for this ceremony. All will sit around a large wooden Kava bowl to listen to the Chief. He accepts our gift, welcomes us into the village, and blesses our travels (or he may chase us off, but fortunately this never happened). We found the bitter drink numbing to the lips and now understand why people compare it to dishwater. However, we enjoyed meeting the various villagers that we encountered and the ceremony was a wonderful way to absorb more of their fascinating culture.
After fueling up in Savusavu we sailed overnight to Kadavu at the south of the islands where we enjoyed the hospitality of an unspoiled village and another dive.

Another overnight sail brought us to Musket Cove and Fiji. This was a beautiful crescent shaped sandy island surrounded by reef with two resorts on the shores under palm trees. Taxi boats shuffle people to and fro with bars, shops and resorts just a short ride away.

After traveling 10 miles to the new marina in Denarau we spent a day provisioning and getting ready for a visit by Craig, board of trustee, Juan Enriquez, and some other friends and family.

When Juan and Nico (Juan's son) arrived the next day we were ready to return to Musket Cove for some diving and exploration while waiting for Chris (Craig's son), and Erling Norrby (former head of the Swedish Royal Academy and collaborator with Craig on an upcoming book) to arrive. After a pinnacle dive and a night dive later, we were all back in good form.

Nico found his first wave

We just had time to do a 4 day trip up thru the Yasawa island group to take in Manta Ray viewing, beautiful beaches, more diving and caves, once the Family was complete.

Friends made on the Night dives

After saying farewell to Juan and Nico, we headed to Vanuatu with a few changes. Crew member Wendy joined a boat named "Don Juan" for a trip to Australia and then back to America, and "Jess" a diver and adventurer joined us to take Wendy's place. Soon all our extra crew, Craig and the guests left Vanuatu. Tess, our chef, will be headed home at the end of the summer bringing our crew down to just 5 for a month or so. It looks like we are going to slow things down for approximately the next six months planning to spend cyclone season in Australia. The team back in Rockville is busily procuring the necessary permits and collaborative agreements with the government and with scientists in Australia as we hope to make this extra time there very intently focused on our science. Stay tuned for news of our latest adventures from New Caledonia and sailing into Australia.

New crew "Jess" in Kandavu

Brooke enjoying new playmates

Tongan Market with Tess

James O'Donnell

St. Petersburg—Southeast isia

It took a little effort to get the airline to sell us a "round the world" ticket, but when there's one meeting in St. Petersburg and others in southeast Asia, it's the only way to go. Flying Bangkok Air, Lao Aviation, and Vietnam Airlines was a trip, to say the least - and Vietnam Airlines much the most impressive, but all of them did their jobs perfectly well. Here are a few images.

Case of butterflies, "Nymphalidae", on display in the library of the house in St. Petersburg where Vladimir Nabokov grew up. The house had a checkered history under the Soviets (at one point serving as Danish embassy and then as an architecture school. A few ground floor rooms of the three story mansion are now open as a museum, with a few quite interesting things (first editions of VN), but mainly in seriously dilapidated state. They have hopes of raising funds to restore the house and make a more ambitious museum.

Toilet busses parked outside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg: notice signage and sewage house running along the ground underneath — truly portable portapotties. St. Petersburg has a long way to go.

Row of sculpted figures from Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, Laos, the old royal capital and site of many temples. Now a small but steady stream of western tourists pass through. The cybercafes are the cheapest I've ever seen, taking payment in Laotian currency, which has essentially no value outside the country.

The Mekong river towards sunset from downtown Vientiane, Laos. Laos is small and poor and remote, but the people were remarkably engaging and aware of what they need to do to improve their lot. Busts of Ho Chi Minh are still on display and the international bank of commerce has the hammer and sickle flying outside and the telecommunications infrastructure needs work, but the signs were promising.

The most surprising consumer product on sale in Laos and Cambodia was the American style birthday cake, labeled "family cake". We saw at least a dozen small sidewalk bakeries with identical refrigerated cases on the sidewalk, as here, each with an average of a dozen or so circular layer cakes, brightly frosted, and usually with the English language inscription "Happy Birthday". These were not products for expats or wealthy westernized locals, but clearly were for the "mass market".

The Peace Book Center, big and erratically stocked bookstore on Boulevard Monivong in downtown Phnom Penh. English language stock includes a wide variety of language-learning books, children's books, business books, and books about the pope and George Bush. There were also several copies of The Bell Curve.

The English language non-guidebook shelves in the airport bookstore in the new international terminal at Pochentong Airport in Phnom Penh. This was a big surprise. Earlier visits to Phnom Penh in 1996 and 1999 found a failed state still living on the edge, gritty and slightly dangerous. Now a flood of consumer products filled supermarkets and sidewalk shops and the airport had moved from primitive to polished, with fourteen airlines now where eight years ago there had only been Thai Air coming into the country and Royal Air Cambodge flying ancient turboprops to carry tourists to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Now Eva Air was bringing in jumbos full of Chinese tourists.

Stephen Kosslyn

Cambridge — Santa Rosa — Xi'an


Probably the most important thing we did this summer was to convert our living room into a recording studio. About two years ago, the family began playing music together. The attached is a sample (MP4 format, for iTunes), with our friend TJ Thompson singing and finger picking (TJ, by the way, is the premier Martin guitar repair person in the United States), my wife Robin doing harmonies and playing rhythm guitar, sons Justin on drums, David on lead guitar, and Neil on organ; I'm playing bass.

For me, the high point of our trip around the world in August was our stopping off in Santa Rosa, California, where we toured the Alembic factory and I ordered a new bass —but I must admit that visiting Xi'an was also rather cool.

If you play music and are going to be visiting Boston, please let me know!

Be well...


Philip Zimbardo

Wellington - Christchurch - Milford Sound, New Zealand

After giving a keynote lecture to the New Zealand Psychological Society (Wellington), on "The Psychology of Evil and the Politics of Fear," I also offered a workshop on: "The Psychology of Time Perspective: Achieving an Optimal Temporal Balance in Your Life."

Work done,I explored some of the beautiful places in the south island, enjoying the wines from the Marlborough region, good food, and very friendly company of many New Zealanders.

At Christchurch, I dined with philosopher Denis Dutton, editor and publisher of Arts & Letters Daily, and his psychological colleague from Canterbury University, Garth Fletcher, discussing the American political scene, the war in Iraq, abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers, and the foundation of my ideas on the ways in which humanity is transformed by situational forces.

After a trip to Mt.Cook and a stay in Queensland, a journey to Milford Sound proved as spectacular as advertised, despite the winter cold and rain.


Stewart Brand

Tilford, Nevada

04 Long Mt. Expeditions Report

02004 was the year of expertise, and of taking on Spring Valley. As usual, the encampment in June was at the place called Tilford, with its big view of Mt. Washington

Present for the Long Now board were Danny Hillis, Kevin Kelly, Mike Keller, me, and rookie star David Rumsey. From the staff, Alexander Rose ran the camp, and Kurt Bollacker was on hand for a couple days. Dave Tilford assisted in every way, as did Gwen Johnson.

The experts, who came and went, were: Janet Bair—head of programs for The Nature Conservancy in Nevada; Greg Baiden—world class mining engineer and professor from Canada; Steve Reich—water engineer from California; The Dubnos—Dan from CBS and USGS imaging, and his brother Michael; Clifford Ross—high resolution photographer artist from New York; Gary Wolf—author and ace reporter for Wired; Peter Warshall—naturalist; with his Yaqui friend Dan; Matt Salzer and the rest of the bristlecone tree-ring crew from Arizona returning for a second summer.

Here are some of the photos:

Keller, Rumsey, Bollacker, Hillis, Kelly, Tilford, and Wolf on the requisite trip to the top of Mt. Washington

Kirkeby Ranch, a vertical mile below.

Dan and Michael Dubno on Spring Valley's private highway 894, New Yorkers perpetually agog in park-anywhere country.

Dan Dubno. The Dubno brothers experimented with what you can do with smoke, a green laser waved rapidly, and a sensitive digital camera.

Gwen stayed in a luxury suite at the Mirage Hotel.

Kevin Kelly has bicycled twice across America, but he never had experienced a wild hot springs.

Maria Spiropulu

Collider Point 5/CMS in France

Dear John,

Greetings from CERN.

Summer is not a walk in the park as the time is getting very close (~2.5 years) for 7 TeV protons colliding on 7 TeV protons here.

Thousands of scientists are working preparing the experiments and the accelerator for the collection of the physics data.

I just moved recently from the now highest energy machine in the world — the Tevatron at Fermilab — and there is a change in the scale of things. If what I knew I called grand this is brobdingnagian.

with best regards,


Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nw York — Larchmont — Russia — Lebanon — Spain

Dear John,

I will be unable to provide you with my summer pictures as I have (almost) never used a camera. I prefer to keep handwritten diaries instead. Photography (and the audiovisual) by reifying memories invests them with the concreteness they do not necessarily need. ( This means that should you come to dinner, I will not subject you to 12 volumes of photo albums).

New York is a very productive place for the summer. I worked obsessively on two related essays, one mathematical, the other literary, much of it on the beach in Larchmont. I also spent considerable part of my summer talking on the phone with Benoit Mandelbrot about Black Swans (although he only lives five minutes away). But I allowed myself a few long weekends in Russia, Lebanon, and Spain.

The highlight of my summer was a visit to Saint Petersburg, as I spent a long weekend aimlessly wandering its streets. If you want to be lost in a museum, try the Hermitage. Surprisingly, you hardly see tourists there (but please don't tell anyone). It is a suitable place to spend time with yourself. If, in addition,  you happen to be a writer, this is the place where you will be made to feel good about your profession. I saw children depositing flowers in front of a statue of Pushkin (it was not even his tomb).



Steven Johnson

Brooklyn — Westport Point — Napa

I spent the first two months of summer in Brooklyn in an extended stretch of research into and writing about the ways popular culture has steadily increased its cognitive demands on us over the past fifty years. (Sort of like that old joke from Sleeper where the hot fudge and cream pies turn out to be good for us after all.) Then I spent the last month doing everything I could to get it out of my mind.

Fortunately, I had plenty of distractions for that last month: three weeks in the lovely seaside town of Westport Point, right on the Massachussets/Rhode Island border, followed by five days in Napa for my old Feed partner Stefanie Syman's wedding. (Below is a pic of our back porch view in Westport.) The best distraction, of course, is spending time in a place with large unsupervised bodies of water with our two toddler boys, neither of whom has shown the slightest tendency for self-preservation yet.

It wasn't a need to unwind that caused me to avoid thinking about work. I was using the vacation as a kind of tool: for me, one of the most challenging things about any long stretch of writing is battling the dulling effects of repetition. The more I ponder and re-read, every twist in the argument becomes laboriously obvious, and the prose seems leaden; it's like a song you've played to death, where you can't hear the music of it anymore. So my idea is to insert a month-long stretch of complete distraction, so that when you finally sit down with the work again, you can approach it with some sense of how it would play to an audience unfamiliar with the ideas.

And if it means taking a month off in beautiful parts of the world to keep my mind clear — well, that's just the price I have to pay.


Brewster Kahle


Work/Play in Amsterdam for 2 months. Life scrubbing at many levels.

Different answers to the same questions.

Oh, and homeschooling for 4 weeks was a great learning experience all the way around.

We all have rejuvenated love of teachers.

What would a modern Museum of Knowledge look like?


Joseph LeDoux

The Catskills

Hi John,

Attached are some pics from my summer. I've been at my hide a way in the Catskills, just 10 minutes from the hallowed site where Woodstook happened 35 years ago.

I've been brushing up on my blues licks when taking a break from writing and doing things with my family.

The photos show me with my Stratocaster, and with my family (Nancy, Milo, and Jacob).

They also show some scenery from our deck.

The photos were taken my my son Milo, the younger one in the family pic.


Paul Davies

Hayman Island, Queensland

As in previous years, summer in the Northern Hemisphere is winter in Australia, so it has been business as usual. However, I did spend a very agreeable few days on Hayman Island in Queensland at a "Leadership Retreat."

This was a gathering of politicians, business leaders and a sprinkling of arts and science folk. The purpose was to solve the world's problems, or at least a few of them, in the most exclusive and isolated resort in Australia. During the meeting, the Prime Minister called an election, which predictably derailed some of the discussion. The topics ranged from terrorism to investment strategies and population ageing. I lectured on the search for life on Mars, outlining my controversial plan for a one-way mission.

Back at my desk, I am hosting a brief visit by Michael Berry from Bristol University, and preparing for a gala dinner at Parliament House next week on the occasion of the Prime Minister's Science Prize, which will be presented by Mr. Howard in person, assuming he isn't busy campaigning in the Outback.


Gregory Benford

New Zealand & Australia

I and Elisabeth Malartre spent a good portion of the summer in New Zealand and Australia, The silences of that vast continent are nowhere more profound than at Ayres' Rock (Uluru in aborigine ). The world seems more vast and various in Australia. I spent some of the time working with theorists on astrophysics, and the sense of vast space and time there gives all such work more meaning.


Jordan Pollack

St. Petersburg

Dear John,

This summer, for our 25th anniversary, we got both kids off to sleepaway camp, and took a cruise in the Baltic Sea, visiting ports like Copenhagen, St. Petersburg, Talinn, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Rostock. In Russia, we only visited tourist-grade Castle-Museums like Peterhof and the Hermitage. It showed that maybe there is a bright side to a kleptocracy—the unlikely concentration of one-of-a-kind intellectual property by the winner-take-all family.

My lab is getting ready to roll out several more peer-to-peer educational games based on co-evolution, like Spellbee. These work by letting students give each other problems over the Internet, using a novel scoring equation to drive them to be good teachers for each other.

What I've been working on non-stop this summer however, is the Artificial Life 9 conference, in all its gory logistical details. Once a decade it seems I sacrifice my summer for the greater good of Science! 

Between fighting the spreadsheets and schwag, I have had tremendous fun inventing a new Nano-Backgammon, which plays in a minute but maintains the feeling and turn-about dynamics of the full game. Because "Nannon" is small enough for computers to solve using Bellman's value function approximation, I have been studying the relationship among a bunch of different algorithms for learning by self-play in games.

But the convergence of VFA is very closely related to the single-value-limit of Barnsley's IFS fractals, and now I now perceive a new grand convergence between recurrent neural net dynamics, iterated function systems, markovian games, co-evolution and morphogenesis! We've been noodling for the past couple of years about how to overcome errors in assembly as our evolved robot forms increase in complexity.

We can't assume factories which perfectly produce objects from blueprints the way a laser printer produces dots on paper. There will be more and more assembly errors which have to be intelligently overcome midstream. So, in this view, DNA is not a blueprint, but it is the ultimate value function, playing dice with the chaos game of morphogenesis to maximize the likelihood of successful reproduction.


Keith Devlin

Marin Headlands

Hi John,

After being a fairly serious runner for 25 years (I took it up when I was 30), last year my right knee finally decided it had had enough, and by spring of this year I was reduced to a slow 5 or 6 miles two or three times a week. Not wanting to reduce my enjoyment of the great restaurants of the Bay Area and places I visit, I turned to biking to burn off calories, and earlier this year bought two bikes, a Giant roadbike and a Specialized hybrid for the rougher terrain. (For the noninitiated, as I was until a few months ago, those are leading brands of bikes. I haven't yet gravitated to the really rough trails where I'd need a real mountain bike.)

I spent a lot of this summer easing my leg muscles into a new kind of activity. Biking is like running in one respect, a great opportunity to let the mind reflect on whatever research problem is occupying my thoughts, in great surroundings without any interruptions. Perfect for a mathematician.

This photo of me on my hybrid is taken on the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, taken in July. Note the winter clothing, endorsing the famous line about the coldest winter day you will ever spend being a summer day in San Francisco.


Steven Pinker

Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

Dear John,

I just spent an educational weekend in Cape Cod with my 12-year-old nephew Eric, an avid birdwatcher who knows more birds than John James Audubon. Between the Nauset Marshes, Corn Hill, Pilgrim Beach, and the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary we saw 56 species, 13 of them new for Eric, including semipalmated plovers, long-billed dowitchers, lesser yellowlegs, and a horned lark. We also paid a pilgrimage to the Birdwatchers General Store in Orleans so that we could meet The Bird Folks, aka. Mike O’Connor, author of the "Ask the Bird Folks" column which appears in a local tabloid called The Cape Codder.

Eric quickly learned that Mike was not your ordinary bird-hugger when he asked him what we should do with a piping plover egg (a threatened species) we found on the beach and he said, "Make an omelet." Mike loves birds, he really does, but he does not crank out the reverential pomp that passes for most of today’s nature writing. In my book he is among the best nature writer in the country, even though he thinks of himself as a guy in Cape Cod who sells birdseed. Oh, and he tells me that a piping plover egg that is not in a tended nest won’t hatch.



Steve Jurvetson

Sand Hill Road — Half Moon Bay — Tallinn and Tartu — Olympic Park


The summer brought a number of new investments and various conference talks on nanotechnology. I have become increasingly fascinated by the idea that biology will drive the future of intelligence and information technology — not literally, but figuratively and metaphorically and primarily through powerful abstractions. Tackling the big unsolved problems in info tech will likely turn us to biology — as our muse, and for an existence proof that solutions are possible.

It has been a great summer of learning. I started a blog, The J Curve, and let it take a random walk of curiosities and exploration.

It's interesting how the blog format works as a filter for a diversity of ideas and connections. I have very much enjoyed the summertime conversations with thoughtful people like Jaron Lanier, Larry Lessig, Michael Powell, Matt Ridley, and an assortment of other interesting thinkers.

We moved to our new offices on Sand Hill Road

Wild life included. There goes the neighborhood.

Salmon Fishing with Gordon Moore

He is a great fisherman, and my wife caught the largest salmon (near the Mavericks surf spot in Half Moon Bay, CA)

Estonia trip

Tallinn, with my father

I had a great trip to Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia for a Skype board meeting and a visit to EGeen and the Estonian Genome Foundation. I brought my father with me. His most recent memory of Estonia was as he was leaving on the last boat out of Tallinn in 1944. The flag was still flying proudly, the harbor was exploding, and planes were machine gunning the boats. This was his first trip back in 60 years, and it was quite moving. We found his old home, school, and even childhood friends who survived the Siberian gulag.

Bobsled Ride at Olympic Park in Utah

About to pull 4 g’s with Joi Ito of Technorati Japan…. It was a rest break from a weekend non-profit conference.

Breeding Triops Longicaudatus

These adorable and hyperactive fresh water creatures from the Devonian period have three eyes and 140 feet (they breathe through their feet). To survive the temporary ponds of pre-Jurassic Pangaea, they can survive in diapause for 20 years without water. Strangely, they also love to eat carrots. I guess that’s similar to cats eating tuna.

Steve Jurvetson

Roger Schank

France — Greece — Palm Beach

Dear John,

I have never been convinced that summer is the time for travel. It is kind of like eating out on Saturday night, one of the best times not to try it because that's when everyone else is trying it. So, we journeyed out before summer began. I gave a speech in France and then we hopped off to Greece to hang out on the seaside with friends, which turned out to be way too cold to do (should have tried summer I suppose) so we found ourselves reluctant tourists in Greece. In the spirit of the Olympics, which I could care less about, we visited the Olympic Flame in Athens.

In the spirit of the quest for why things must have been better before because they sure aren't so good now, we visited the Olympic Flame in Olympia (which seemed to have gone out after all these years.)

Then we returned home. While my wife Annie was busy making stained glass for a show she is exhibiting in this summer, I found myself with plenty of time to contemplate questions such as whether my house was soon going to resemble a religious institution because of all the stained glass, how to improve my batting average in the old guy's softball league, and why people can't seem to think their way out of a paper bag. This last one has had my attention for some years now, but hanging around in the old guys softball league has brought it up again. I play with average Joe and average Joe has some pretty odd beliefs. One of the players died the other day (this happens in the old guy's league from time to time.) When this was announced to the assembled players on the field before the game the announcement came with the hope that Tom (the deceased) was now playing softball in the heaven league and the expectation that he would get five hits in today's heaven league game. Everyone said "amen."

I couldnt make this stuff up.

I could, however, wonder if one joined the heaven league that fast. (He had only died two days earlier.) Wouldn't there have to be tryouts first in the heaven league, or did everyone automatically make the team? How good could the teams be if everyone got to play? Was Tom still playing on a dislocated hip (as he had on my team last winter) or did these problems clear up in heaven? If bad joints got fixed in heaven did you still run slow because you were old, or did you suddenly get younger? Did anyone lose a game in the heaven league? In what sense was it heaven then?

It isn't that these questions in particular are of concern to me. Rather I have been wondering about conscious versus unconscious thought and have come to the conclusion that people actually can't think consciously at all. I have been collecting and reading books on how to make a decision that purport to help people think more clearly but they come with a serous anomaly. They make the assumption that people have trouble thinking clearly which is obviously correct but then they make the assumption that telling people how to think clearly will suddenly make them capable of doing it. This is a bit like expecting a book by Babe Ruth to suddenly make you a home run hitter. It just doesn't work that way. We can think about how we should think but we can't actually do what we just read we should do, because thinking, like home run hitting, is simply not a conscious process.

Oh well, more of this later when I figure out how to think about thinking without being conscious of what I am thinking.


Leonard Susskind

Exotic Palo Alto

Dear John.

Greetings from beautiful exotic Palo Alto. My summer has been fully occupied by writing, responding to journalists about Stephen Hawking's recantation concerning black holes and information, responding to Lee Smolin's critisism of "Unscientific Theories" (see Edge) and gritting my teeth and ranting about state of the nation and world. Other than that, I have spent an extremely quiet summer at home in my garden, watching the flowers grow with my wife.

Next week I'm off to South Korea and then Holland for a couple of months. Here is a picture of me with H. A. Lorentz in Leiden Holland. I am officially this year's Lorentz Professor, a great honor I am told. Lorentz is of course he of the Lorentz Transformation. The picture was taken by a Dutch Journalist.

Best regards,


William Calvin

Friday Harbor Labs, San Juan Island, Washington USA

Hi John,

I just bought a serious telephoto, and have started working on portraits of the great apes.  No, there are no young female bonobos practicing tool use up in the San Juans.  This one is at the San Diego Zoo, photographed when I was down for the human evolution meeting.

What goes on up here at The Labs is marine biology, where students learn to appreciate what the dredge brings up from the muddy bottom.  Then too, people like me may mostly write books or invent new lectures on the precursors of the "modern" mind.

We all assume that bigger brains are better, yet our ancestors went through several million-year-long periods when toolmaking techniques didn't improve, despite a lot of brain size increase.  Even after our species was walking around Africa 162,000 years ago, we spent the next 100,000 years doing more of the same.

The burst of creativity (since maybe 75,000 to 50,000 years ago) is what we moderns associate with intelligence and our kind of consciousness.  And clearly, this is not what the 2.5 million year bigger-brain slog was all about.  If those ancestors were getting better and better (maybe for something that doesn't show in the archeological record such as short-sentence protolanguage or more extensive sharing), it sure didn't feed back to improve toolmaking, long-distance trade, or even using bone as raw material for toolmaking — surely the handy-to-hand raw material at any campsite.

No, as I watch the meteor showers in the clear skies away from city lights and think about thought, I reflect on how recent it must be to think complicated thoughts.  If you can't speak sentences of more than 2-3 words at a time without them all blending together like a summer drink, you likely cannot think complicated thoughts either — where you also have to resolve the ambiguities and improve the quality of the ensemble offline.  That takes an ability to structure thoughts, what you also need to speak long sentences or recursively nest clauses.  ("I think I saw him leave to go home.")  And without quality bootstrapping aiding structuring, you can't be a poet who creates ensembles where every word resonates with the rest, just so.



Gary Marcus

New York City

Dear John,

Though I traveled to no distant lands this summer (unless you count Quebec), I did rediscover recreational photography, right here at home. Here are three shots from NYC, taken a month before the Republican Invasion.


Timothy Taylor

Järrestad, Sweden

Dear John,

Imagine you are standing on a low dome of quartzitic rock in a farmer's field. Over the hedge two bay horses graze. A few miles away, the white plaster walls and red tiled roof of a church can just be seen, offset against a small blue-grey triangle of Baltic Sea. It has just rained and the sun is evaporating the water at different rates from different parts of the surface. Here and there little pocks and faults appear in dark relief as the surrounding rock, quicker to dry, regains its matt sparkle. Matt sparkle sounds paradoxical, but to my bare feet it feels smoothly gritty too.

I am not the first to stand here. Like magic, a human footprint suddenly appears, toes splayed. Then you see another another, and over there just the toes. Then a whole row of prints made by someone wearing shoes. Then you see that the entire rock is covered with art: footprints, shoeprints, oared warships, figures on horses, figures with axes, figures in wheeled chariots, a snake, a dancing shaman (perhaps), and a pair of horseshoe impressions. They are not actual prints of things: each image has been carefully pecked into the hard surface and now, when it rains, the pictures do what they did when they were first made, over three thousand years ago. They disappear. And then they reappear.

This is Järrestad in southern Sweden, where I love taking my shoes off and placing my toes next to prehistoric toes. This visit was part of an excursion organized by the University of Lund's ‘Old Norse religion in long-term perspectives' conference. My fellow archaeologist Richard Bradley, who is an expert on this enigmatic Bronze Age rock art, stood at the top of the great slab and got delegates to find the carved footmarks and stand with their feet in them. We ended up forming little processions down the slope.

The conference was the culmination of a major 5-year interdisciplinary, international project aimed at investigating how the religion and ritual of deep prehistory was transformed into the paganism of Odin and Freya, and then lived on in Christianized form to the time of Wagner to be reinterpreted in the modern world by neo-pagan groups, Hell's Angels and wicca. The recent burning of some of the unique carved wood stave churches of Scandinavia in a bizarre attempt to reawaken the spirit of Valhalla made a more sophisticated understanding imperative. What the project has found is that there never was a unitary pagan past; instead there is a palimpsest of myths and legends, places and landscapes, changing and continuing.

Just as the the red and white medieval church with the sea behind it can be seen from Järrestad, so Järrestad can be seen from church and sea. It is no coincidence: the church founders knew as we do now that the quartz is a numinous surface. No pictures of birds or fish break its strict two-dimensionality: it is to be crossed, barefoot or booted, by chariot, on horseback, in a boat, or leglessly by a snake. If the makers saw it as a membrane, then they knew it had two sides. Thinking like that, the processions we formed mirrored the ancient dead, lined up beneath us.

Wittgenstein said that"the human body is the best picture of the human soul"; with my shoes off, it feels like standing with an ancestor, sole to sole, and soul to soul.


Mary Catherine Bateson

London — Croatia — Boulder — Hancock, New Hampshire

Hey John,

I've been in New Hampshire with grandson Cyrus, arguing that we should be making our voting decisions on the basis of their impact twenty years ahead, i.e. voting for the children because they can't vote themselves. Why is it that as we live longer we think shorter? US politics is not a great demonstration of lifelong learning but it could be.

I'm voting for my grandson!

And as if to demonstrate the changed shape of the life cycle today, which I keep writing about, this granny has been to London and Croatia and Boulder this summer for conferences about such topics as climate change and the systemic basis of trust between nations (part of the Gregory Bateson centennial).

The Granny Voter logo is a rocking chair flying through the air, and that's what it's felt like.


Daniel Gilbert

Fenway Park, Boston

I've never understood why people leave Boston in the summer, when the weather is perfect, the restaurants are empty, and the Red Sox use the Yankees as tackle dummies. (In fact, this photo is from the July 24th game, which featured both a third inning brawl and a heart-stopping, come-from-behind, Red Sox victory on a ninth inning home-run). So I've spent the summer at home, thinking about illusions of foresight (i.e., the mistakes people make when they think about the future). Marilynn and I promise to send you more exotic postcards in the winter, when sane Bostonians travel as often as possible.


Sue Blackmore

Tuscon — San Diego — Australia

This summer I'm taking a break from trying to solve the problem of consciousness, and am asking other people what they think— and some wonderful people have been joining in.

I've been to Tucson where Dave Chalmers was still struggling with the hard problem, while Stu Hameroff thinks he's solved it with microtubules. I've had lunch in a roadside “family restaurant” with Dan Dennett, who doesn't agree there even is such a problem. In Bristol I've discussed the qualia of coffee with Rama, served by Richard Gregory among his collection of antique telescopes.

And I've been to San Diego where both of the Churchlands convinced me (at least for the duration of our breakfast by the pool) that the problem will one day just disappear. Then I had lunch with Francis Crick, not long before he died, and was urged to ignore all those philosophers and get on with the real science.

Finally, I travelled to Australia where, in their gloomy mid-winter, I took an intensive workshop on memes and complexity theory, and had a great debate on consciousness with Paul Davies and Dave Chalmers who seems to be chasing me round the world, for he's now back in Australia to set up a centre for consciousness studies. I am no closer to knowing what consciousness is, but the conversations are great.


Stuart Hameroff

Grand Canary Island

Hi JB,

I spent most of May in Europe, starting at the University of Milan to lecture and visit Rita Pizzi's lab where they have evidence for neuronal coupling by quantum entanglement. Neurons grown from a common cell culture are separated and placed on isolated, shielded silicon chips. When either group of neurons is pulsed by a laser, the two groups oscillate coherently. It doesn't work with cells from different cultures, suggesting that entanglement may be passed through cell division. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and they are busy replicating results and honing controls.

Breakfast at Mario's (that's me at far right)

From Milan I took a train to Monte Carlo to visit my friend, yacht contractor Mario Velona (see velona-yachting.com) and see the Grand Prix of Monaco. Mario's villa is on a beach several miles east of town, and I rented a scooter to beat the heavy race-week traffic, learning to ride the center line in a continuous game of chicken. With Mario's family and friends, we watched the race from his office balcony as Italian Jarno Trulli, driving for Renault, upset Ferrari's Michael Schumacher. Evenings were spent sauntering around the harbor, wining and dining divinely.

I then flew to Grand Canary Island for a weeklong physics conference at a luxury hotel. My girlfriend Samantha Clark was waiting, having flown from Arizona the previous day. We hit the beach, a 20 kilometer stretch of sand-dune-meets-ocean, luxuriated in the hotel pools and drove a rental car to the volcanic top of the island.

The conference concluded with a Plenary Debate on the significance of quantum effects in biology. On the "Pro" side were physicist/author Paul Davies, experimentalist Anton Zeilinger, and me. Our opponents included Hans Frauenfelder, the protein dynamicist from Los Alamos. Paul gave compelling (in my view) arguments in favor of quantum biology, and Anton described quantum interference of porphyrin, a biological molecule.

I argued that protein dynamics, the engines of life, were controlled by quantum forces, specifically van der Waals London forces. Having spent years studying how anesthetic gases erase consciousness by the same London forces in non-polar pockets in critical brain proteins, I noted that high energy interactions in proteins cancel out, and weak but numerous, leveraged London forces reign.

Frauenfelder was having none of it. He said protein dynamics reflected purely solvent fluctuations; proteins were slaves! But his talk on myoglobin protein showed a xenon atom sitting in a non-polar pocket. He said the xenon inhibited the dynamics, but was of no biological significance. "But" I said, "xenon is an anesthetic, and binds only by quantum London forces. Your myoglobin has a quantum switch!" We lost the debate by audience vote of about 60% to 40%. But I was gratified to align with Paul Davies.


Karl Sabbagh


Dear John,

My summer began with a trip to France for two meetings. I'd say it was business rather than pleasure, except that my business — writing — is always a pleasure.

First, I went to a beautiful old former priory about forty miles from Paris as a member of a study group following up a conference I participated in at Roger Williams University, R.I. in April. I had spoken about the history of Palestine to a group of macroengineers who were brainstorming ways in which large engineering projects could bring peace in the Middle East. Effectively I said they couldn't. The conference was called Land for Peace, as if the problem was merely a matter of not enough square kilometres for two peoples to share when there's actually far more at stake. But with a certain change of focus, the architecture department at the new Center for Macroengineering and Diplomacy at RWU had come up with three or four schemes for transforming Gaza to provide jobs, accommodation, agricultural land and a Gaza-West Bank rail link to ease the plight of the Palestinians. The meeting was hosted by Frank Davidson, a man who has packed into his eighty-odd years a whole clutch of large imaginative engineering projects, starting with the Channel Tunnel between England and France. He now wants to build a transatlantic train, maglev in an evacuated tube, that would cross the Atlantic in an hour. Seems OK to me.

Late night drafting — Professor Stephen White, Dr Christoph von Braun and me.

The study group meeting came at a time when the evacuation of Israeli settlements from Gaza was being talked about seriously. Hot off the press and delivered to the house by a courier, was an addition to the portfolio of projects we were discussing. This was a plan drawn up by the architecture department for developing the sites that would be vacated by the Israelis. I pointed out one key defect in the plan. It was based on the idea that the buildings and infrastructure would be left as they are when the settlers leave. I said the chances of that were small and that it was likely that all the settlements, along with their water supply, sewage power and other infrastructure elements, would be destroyed by the settlers, with the help of the Israeli army, thus greatly increasing the cost of any redevelopment. All of this was useful thinking for my next book which will be about Palestine.

After this meeting, I was driven off to a mediaeval Normandy manor house in connection with an unrelated project, to meet two people who wanted to discuss a future book that I might write, about them and their activities. It's early days at the moment, too early to describe, but one attraction about the project would be the possibility of working in this beautiful environment, where the butler takes your bags as soon as you arrive and you find, two hours later, that your dirty shirts have been washed and ironed and hung up in the wardrobe of your guest suite. The food was pretty good too, washed down with Chateau La Tour and the estate's own Calvados. We decided that the next step was for me to spend a week there in July, writing a book proposal. It's tough work but someone has to do it…

All the best


Marc D. Hauser


Hey John,

As we logged in our 60,000th subject from our moral sense web site, and submitted a paper to Science showing that centuries of philosophers have been duped into thinking that conscious reasoning as opposed to intuition guides moral judgments, I headed off with my wife Lilan and 3 year old daughter Sofia to the heartland of logic and reason Greece. My wife had lived on the island of Naxos when she was a child. Naxos owes its fame to mythology, the location where Theseus [of philosophical fame in the Ship of Theseus paradox on individuality] abandoned Ariadne [who had fallen in love with the god of wine, Dionysus] after slaying the Minotaur. A small part of the trip was centered on a conference exploring the evolution of a tool using brain, a fitting meeting for a country that did so much for the technological revolution. The majority of our trip was spent soaking in the beauty of the archaeological sites as well as the gorgeous topography.

A natural crater with a church built into the rock face

I am proud to report that I left my computer at home, never once checked email, and managed to finish two awful books on moral philosophy and Tom Robbins' terrific new novel "Village Incognito." A vacation sans email is highly recommended!


Daniel C. Dennett

Blue Hill, Maine (as usual)

Hi John,

After almost forty years of postponements for a tedious variety of reasons, I finally have my dream sailboat, a twenty-one-year old Beneteau First 42 that I found in Newport last October and sailed to Blue Hill, Maine, where my farm is.

click here for sailing video:
| Modem]

Over the winter she was repaired, repainted, renamed (Xanthippe, after Socrates' notoriously shrewish wife). (John, I already sent you the video clip of me sailing her to Maine in snowy October. You could run it to contrast with the summer pix.) Here are a couple of shots of her. I'm training a racing crew of former students, and we'll try not to disgrace ourselves in Down East Race Week in August. And Susan—who won't race—is happy to cruise among the many islands and inlets, with friends or just us. Today we charged down Blue Hill Bay to Flye Point and anchored offshore to listen to the Flye Point Folk Music Festival wafting downwind to us, and then ran back up the bay, making 7 and 8 knots with just our genoa flying—Xanthippe is fast and agile.

But she's also a great thinking platform, a place to work out kinks in my book in progress on religion as a natural phenomenon. (The trick now is to keep the nautical metaphors out of the text. Let's see if I succeed.)


Ned Block

Villa La Pietra — Florence, Italy

I am at NYU's Villa La Pietra in Florence where a workshop I organized has just come to a close. Sir Harold Acton donated the 57 acre estate on Montughi Hill overlooking Florence with its 15th
Century villa and Acton's collection of paintings to NYU in 1994. (It is valued at $500 million.) It is now used as the NYU campus in Florence and as a conference center. The conference was on consciousness and intentionality with special attention to the following questions:

Is the phenomenal character of experience reducible to its intentional content? If not, is one more basic than the other? What kinds of properties do conscious states represent? Sensory properties only? Natural kind properties? Do the arguments for externalism apply to the representational contents of experience? Do experiences have their representational contents intrinsically? What does the transparency of experience show about its conscious content?

Can an unconscious state represent the same properties as a conscious state? Are the contents of experience Fregean? Are there constitutive connections between the content of perception and the explanation of action? If so, why, and what are they? How more generally should we conceive of the relation between the philosophy of perception and the philosophy of action?

In what respects are both conscious thought and perception phenomenal? What is the correct account (1) of a person's possession of concepts of his own conscious states? (2) of a person's knowledge of his own conscious states? What is the proper relation between a philosophical accounts of (1) and (2) and the developments accounts of empirical psychology? What is the nature of conscious thinking?

Back row: (left to right) Maja Spener, UC London; Rachel Bernstein, artist; Jesse Prinz, Chapel Hill; Gideon Rosen, Princeton; Anne Barnhill, NYU; Liz Harman, NYU; behind Liz Harman, partially obscured, Michael Tye, UT Austin; Beatrice Longuenesse, NYU; Alex Byrne, MIT, Dale Jamieson, NYU; David Velleman, Michigan; Benj Hellie, Cornell; Jessica Wilson, Michigan; behind Jessica Wilson, partially obscured, Charles Siewert; Jim Pryor, Princeton; Susanna Siegel, Harvard; Bob van Gulick, Syracuse; Scott Sturgeon, Birkbeck London, plus small Sturgeon; in front of Sturgeons, Veronique Munoz-Darde, UC London; Mike Martin, UC London, Paul Boghossian, NYU; Front row: David Chalmers, Arizona; Christopher Peacocke, Columbia; Ned Block, NYU; Bob Stalnaker, MIT

Bruce Sterling

Basel, Switzerland

Bruce Sterling, at the premiere of his designer objet "(C)lamp,"at the Art Fair in Basel, Switzerland. June 16, 2004.

John Markoff


QuickTime Movie (3.3MB)


A step forward into multimedia... It's from the start of the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal last week... (turn up the volume for best results...)

These things are real Cyborgs....as close as fighter pilots....


Esther Dyson

Moscow, Tverskaya Street


I can't resist... this is from my Treo. I'll send you more. (of course, it wasn't summer yet.....)



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