THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER 2001

What Questions Have Disappeared?

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Jay Ogilvy

"What will life be like after the revolution?"

The disappearance of this question isn't only a trace of the deletion of the left. It is also a measure of our loss of faith in secular redemption. We don't look forward anymore to radical transformation.

Perhaps it's a result of a century of disappointments: from the revolution of 1917 to Stalin and the fall of communism; from the Spanish Civil War to Franco; from Mao's long march to Deng's proclamation that to get rich is glorious. Perhaps it's a result of political history. But there was more that had to do with psychological transformation. Remember Norman O. Brown's essay, "The place of apocalypse in the life of the mind"? Remember R. D. Laing's turn on breakdown as breakthrough? Remember the fascination with words like 'metamorphosis' and 'metanoia'?

Maybe we're just getting older and all too used to being the people we are. But I'd like to think we're getting wiser and less naive about the possibility of shedding our pasts overnight.

It's important to distinguish between political liberalism on the one hand and a faith in discontinuous transformation on the other. If we fail to make this distinction, then forgetting about the revolution turns (metanoically) into the familiar swing to the right. Old radicals turn reactionary. If we're less dramatic about our beliefs, if we're more cautious about distinguishing between revolutionary politics and evolutionary psychology, then we'll retain our faith in the dream that we can do better. Just not overnight.

p.s. Part of the passion for paradigms and thier shiftings may derive from displaced revolutionary fervor. If you yearn for transfiguration, but can't find it in religion or politics, then you'll seek it elsewhere, like the history of science.

p.p.s. There is one place where talk of transformation is alive and kicking, if not well: The executive suite. The business press is full of books about corporate transformation, re-engineering from a blank sheet of paper, reinvention from scratch. Yes, corporate America is feeling the influence of the sixties as boomers reach thte board room. And this is not a bad thing. For, just as the wisdom to distinguish between revolutionary politics and evolutionary psychology can help us keep the faith in marginal improvements in the human condition, so the tension between greying warriors for change and youthful stalwarts of the status quo will keep us from lurching left or right.

JAMES OGILVY is co-founder and managing director of Global Business Network; taught philosophy at Yale and Williams; served as director of research for the Values and Lifestyles Program at SRI International; author of Many Dimensional Man, and Living without a Goal.


Verena Huber-Dyson

"Did Fermat's question, 'is it true that there are no integers x, y, z and n, all greater than 2, such that x^n + y^n = z^n?', F? for short, raised in the 17th century, disappear when Andrew Wiles answered it affirmatively by a proof of Fermat's theorem F in 1995?"

Did Fermat's question, "is it true that there are no integers x, y, z and n, all greater than 2, such that x^n + y^n = z^n?", F? for short, raised in the 17th century, disappear when Andrew Wiles answered it affirmatively by a proof of Fermat's theorem F in 1995?

The answer is no.

The question F? can be explained to every child, but the proof of F is extremely sophisticated requiring techniques and results way beyond the reach of elementary arithmetic, thus raising the quest for conceptually simpler proofs. What is going on here, why do such elementary theorems require such intricate machinery for their proof? The fact of the truth of F itself is hardly of vital interest. But, in the wake of Goedel's incompleteness proof of 1931, F? finds it place in a sequence of elementary number theoretic questions for which there provably cannot exist any algorithmic proof procedure!

Or take the question D? raised by the gut feeling that there are more points on a straight line segment than there are integers in the infinite sequence 1,2,3,4,.... Before it can be answered the question what is meant by "more" must be dealt with. This done by the 18th Century's progress in the Foundations, D? became amenable to Cantor's diagonal argument, establishing theorem D. But this was by no means the end of the question!

The proof gave rise to new fields of investigation and new ideas. In particular, the Continuum hypothesis C?, a direct descendant of D? was shown to be "independent" of the accepted formal system of set theory. A whole new realm of questions sprang up; questions X? that are answered by proofs of independence, bluntly by: "that depends" ‹ on what you are talking about, what system you are using, on your definition of the word "is" and so forth. With this they give rise to comparative studies of systems without as well as with the assumption X added. Euclid's parallel axiom in geometry, is the most popular early example.

What about the question as to the nature of infinitesimal's, a question that has plagued us ever since Leibniz. Euler and his colleagues had used them with remarkable success boldly following their intuition. But in the 18th Century mathematicians became self conscious. By the time we were teaching our calculus classes by means of epsilon's, delta's and Dedekind cuts some of us might have thought that Cauchy, Weierstrass and Dedekind had chased the question away. But then along came logicians like Abraham Robinson with a new take on it with so-called non standard quantities ‹ another favorite of the popular science press.

Finally, turning to a controversial issue; the question of the existence of God can neither be dismissed by a rational "No" nor by a politically expedient "Yes". Actually as a plain yes-or-no question it ought to have disappeared long ago. Nietzsche, in particular, did his very best over a hundred years ago to make it go away. But the concept of God persists and keeps a maze of questions afloat, such as "who means what by Him"?, "do we need a boogie man to keep us in line"?, "do we need a crutch to hold despair at bay"? and so forth, all questions concerning human nature.

Good questions do not disappear, they mature, mutate and spawn new questions.

VERENA HUBER-DYSON, is a mathematician who taught at UC Berkeley in the early sixties, then at the U of Illinois' at Chicago Circle, before retiring from the University of Calgary. Her research papers on the interface between Logic and Algebra concern decision problems in group theory. Her monograph Goedel's theorem: a workbook on formalization is an attempt at a self contained interdisciplinary introduction to logic and the foundations of mathematics.


Susan Blackmore

"Do we survive death?"

This question was long considered metaphysical, briefly became a scientific question, and has now disappeared again. Victorian intellectuals such as Frederic Myers, Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney founded the Society for Psychical Research in 1882 partly because they realised that the dramatic claims of spiritualist mediums could be empirically tested. They hoped to prove "survival" and thus overturn the growing materialism of the day. Some,
like Faraday, convinced themselves by experiment that the claims were false, and lost interest. Others, like Myers, devoted their entire lives to ultimately inconclusive research. The Society continues to this day, but survival research has all but ceased.

I suggest that no one asks the question any more because the answer seems too obvious. To most scientists it is obviously "No", while to most New Agers and religious people it is obviously "Yes". But perhaps we should. The answer may be obvious (it's "No" — I'm an unreligious scientist) but its implications for living our lives and dealing compassionately with other people are profound.

SUSAN BLACKMORE is a psychologist and ex-parapsychologist, who — when she found no evidence of psychic phenomena — turned her attention to why people believe in them. She is author of several skeptical books on the paranormal and, more recently, The Meme Machine.


Keith Devlin

"Why can't girls/women do math?"

Heavens, I take a couple of days off from reading email over Christmas and when I next log on already there are over twenty responses to the Edge question! Maybe the question we should all be asking is "Doesn't anyone take time off any more?"

As to questions that have disappeared, as a mathematician I hope we've seen the last of the question "Why can't girls/women do math?" With women now outnumbering men in mathematics programs in most US colleges and universities, that old wives' tale (old husbands' tale?) has surely been consigned to the garbage can. Some recent research at Brown University confirmed what most of us had long suspected: that past (and any remaining present) performance differences were based on cultural stereotyping. (The researchers found that women students performed worse at math tests when they were given in a mixed gender class than when no men were present. No communication was necessary to cause the difference. The sheer presence of men was enough.)

While I was enjoying my offline Christmas, Roger Schank already raised the other big math question: Why do we make such a big deal of math performance and of teaching math to everyone in the first place? But with the educational math wars still raging, I doubt we've
seen the last of that one!

KEITH DEVLIN is a mathematician, writer, and broadcaster living in California. His latest book is The Math Gene: How Mathematical Thinking Evolved and Why Numbers Are Like Gossip.


Raphael Kasper

"What does all the information mean?"

The ubiquity of upscale coffee houses has eliminated the need to ask "Where can I get a cup of coffee?" But I suspect that the question "What questions have disappeared?" is meant to elicit even deeper and [perhaps] more meaningful responses.

The coffee house glut has been accompanied — although with no necessarily causal link — by an avalanche of information [or, at least, of data] and in the rush to obtain [or "to access" — groan] that information we’ve stopped asking "What does it all mean?" It is as though raw data, in and of itself, has real value, indeed all of the value, and thus there is no need to stop, to assimilate, to ponder. We grasp for faster computers, greater bandwidth, non-stop connectivity. We put computers in every classroom, rewire schools. But, with the exception of a great deal of concern about the business and marketing uses of the new "information age," we pay precious little attention to how the information can be used to change, or improve, our lives, nor do we seem to take the time to slow down and deliberate upon its meaning.

We wire the schools, but never ask what all those computers in classrooms will be used for, or whether teachers know what to do with them, or whether we can devise ways to employ the technology to help people learn in new or better ways. We get cable modems, or high-speed telephone lines, but don’t think about what we can do with them beyond getting more information faster. [Really, does being able to watch the trailer for "Chicken Run" in a 2-inch square window on the computer screen after a several minute long download, constitute a major advance — and if we could cut the download time to several seconds, would that qualify?]

Most insidious, I think, is that the rush to get more information faster almost forces people to avoid the act of thinking. Why stop and try to make sense of the information we’ve obtained when we can click on that icon and get still more data? And more.

RAPHAEL KASPER, a physicist, is Associate Vice Provost for Research at Columbia University and was Associate Director of the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory.


Jason McCabe Calacanis

"How long before all nations obey the basic principles of the human rights as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10th, 1948?"

The distinctive Amnesty International arched sticker, with a burning candle surrounded by a swoosh of barbed wire, seemed to adorn every college dorm-room door, beat up Honda Accord, and office bulletin board when I started college in the late '80s at Fordham University. Human rights was the "in" cause. So, we all joined Amnesty and watched our heroes including Bruce Springsteen, Sting, and Peter Gabriel sing on the "Human Rights Now" tour (brought to you, of course, by Reebok).

As quickly as it took center stage, however, human rights seemed to fall off the map. Somewhere in the mid-90s, something stole our fire and free time, perhaps it was the gold rush years of the Internet or the end of the Cold War. The wild spread of entrepreneurship and capitalism may have carried some democracy along with it. Yet just because people are starting companies and economic markets are opening up doesn't mean that there are fewer tortures, rapes, and murders for political beliefs. (These kinds of false perceptions may stem from giving places like China "Most Favored Nation" status).

Youth inspired by artists created the foundation of Amnesty's success in the '80s, so maybe a vacuum of activist artists is to blame for human rights disappearing from the collective consciousness. Would a homophobic, misogynistic, and violent artist like Eminem ever take a stand for anyone other than himself? Could anyone take him seriously if he did? Britney Spears' fans might not have a problem with her dressing in a thong at the MTV Music Awards but how comfortable would they be if she addressed the issue of the rape, kidnapping, and torture of young women in Sierra Leone?

Of course, you don't have to look around the world to find human-rights abuses. Rodney King and Abner Louima taught us that human rights is an important and pressing issue right in our backyard. (Because of these examples, some narrow-minded individuals may see is as only a race specific issue.) One bright spot in all of this, however, is that the technology that was supposed to create a Big Brother state, like video cameras, is now being used to police Big Brother himself. (Check out witness.org and send them a check — or a video camera — if you have the means.)

Eleanor Roosevelt considered her fight to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights her greatest accomplishment. How ashamed would she be that 50 years has elapsed since her battle, and now, no one seems to care.

JASON McCABE CALACANIS is Editor and Publisher of Silicon Alley Daily; The Digital Coast Weekly, Silicon Alley Reporter and Chairman CEO, Rising Tide Studios.


Douglas Rushkoff

"Is nothing sacred?"

It seems to me we’ve surrendered the notion of the sacred to those who only mean to halt the evolution of culture. Things we call "sacred" are simply ideologies and truths so successfully institutionalized that they seem unquestionable. For example, the notion that sexual imagery is bad for young people to see — a fact never established by any psychological or anthropological study I’ve come across — is accepted as God-ordained fact, and used as a fundamental building block to justify censorship. (Meanwhile, countless sitcoms in which parents lie to one another are considered wholesome enough to earn "G" television ratings.)

A politician’s claim to be "God-fearing" is meant to signify that he has priorities greater than short-term political gain. What most people don’t realize is that, in the Bible anyway, God-fearing is a distant second to God-loving. People who were God-fearing only behaved ethically because they were afraid of the Hebrew God’s wrath. This wasn’t a sacred relationship at all, but the self-interested avoidance of retaliation.

Today, it seems that no place, and — more importantly — no time is truly sacred. Our mediating technologies render us available to our business associates at any hour, day or night. Any moment spent thinking instead of spending, or laughing instead of working is an opportunity missed. And the more time we sacrifice to production and consumption, the less any alternative seems available to us.

One radical proposal to combat the contraction of sacred time was suggested in the book of Exodus, and it's called the Sabbath. What if we all decided that for one day each week, we would refrain from buying or selling anything? Would it throw America into a recession? Maybe the ancients didn't pick the number seven out of a hat. Perhaps they understood that human beings can only immerse themselves in commerce for six days at a stretch before losing touch with anything approaching the civil, social, or sacred.

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF is the author of Coercion, Media Virus, Playing the Future, Ecstasy Club. Professor of Virtual Culture, New York University.


Henry Warwick

"None."

Why:

1. If Barbour's theory of Platonia is even roughly correct, then everything exists in a timless universe, and therefore doesn't actually "disappear". Therefore, all questions are always asked, as everything is actually happening at once. I know that doesn't help much, and it dodges the main thrust of the question, but it's one support for my answer, if oblique.

2. Other than forgotten questions that disappear of their own accord, or are in some dead language, or are too personal/particular/atomised (i.e., What did you think of the latest excretion from Hollywood? Is it snowing now? Why is that weirdo across the library reading room looking at me?!?! When will I lose these 35 "friends" who are perched on my belt buckle? etc.) questions don't really disappear. They are asked again and again and are answered again and again, and this is a very good thing. Three Year Olds will always ask "Daddy, where do the stars come fwum?" And daddys will always answer as best they can. Eventually, some little three year old will grow into an adult astronomer and might find even better answers than their daddy supplied them on a cold Christmas night. And they will answer the same simple question with a long involved answer, or possibly, a better and simpler answer. In this way, questions come up again and again, but over time they spin out in new directions with new answers.

3. It's important to not let questions disappear. By doubting the obvious, examining the the same ground with fresh ideas, and questioning recieved ideas, great strides in the collected knowledge of this human project can be (and historically, have been) gained. When we consign a question to the scrap heap of history we run many risks — risks of blind arrogance, deaf self righteousness, and finally choking on the bland pablum of unquestioned dogma.

4. It's important to question the questions. It keeps the question alive, as it refines the question. Question the questions, and then reverse the process - question the questioning of questions. Permit the mind everything, even if it seems repetitive. If you spin your wheels long enough you'll blow a bearing or snap a spring, and the question is re-invented, re-asked, and re-known, but in a way not previously understood. In this way, questions don't disappear, they evolve into other questions. For a while they might bloat up in the sun and smell really weird, but it's all part of the process...

HENRY WARWICK sometimes works as a scientist in the computer industry. He always works as an artist, composer, and writer. He lives in San Francisco, California.


Andy Clark

"Why Is There Something Instead of Nothing?"

This is a question that the ancients asked, and one that crops up a few times in 20th century philosophical discussions. When it is mentioned, it is usually as an example of a problem that looks to be both deep and in principle insoluble. Unsurprisingly, then, it seems to have fallen by the scientific, cosmological and philosophical waysides. But sometimes I wonder whether it really is insoluble (or senseless), or whether science may one day surprise us by finding an answer.

ANDY CLARK is Professor of Philosophy and Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, UK. He was previously Director of the Philosophy/Neuroscience/Psychology Program at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of Microcognition: Philosophy, Cognitive Science and Parallel Distributed Processing, Associative Engines, and Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again.


Piet Hut

"What is Reality?"

It has become unfashionable to ask about the structure of reality without already having chosen a framework in which to ponder the answer, be it scientific, religious or sceptical. A sense of wonder at the sheer appearance of the world, moment by moment, has been lost.

To look at the world in wonder, and to stay with that sense of wonder without jumping straight past it, has become almost impossible for someone taking science seriously. The three dominant reactions are: to see science as the only way to get at the truth, at what is really real; to accept science but to postulate a more encompassing reality around or next to it, based on an existing religion; or to accept science as one useful approach in a plurality of many approaches, neither of which has anything to say about reality in any ultimate way.

The first reaction leads to a sense of wonder scaled down to the question of wonder about the underlying mathematical equations of physics, their interpretation, and the complexity of the phenomena found on the level of chemistry and biology. The second reaction tends to allow wonder to occur only within the particular religous framework that is accepted on faith. The third reaction allows no room for wonder about reality, since there is no ultimate reality to wonder about.

Having lost our ability to ask what reality is like means having lost our innocence. The challenge is to regain a new form of innocence, by accepting all that we can learn from science, while simultaneously daring to ask 'what else is true?' In each period of history, the greatest philosophers struggled with the question of how to confront skepticism and cynicism, from Socrates and Descartes to Kant and Husserl in Europe, and Nagarjuna and many others in Asia and elsewhere. I hope that the question "What is Reality?" will reappear soon, as a viable intellectual question and at the same time as an invitation to try to put all our beliefs and frameworks on hold. Looking at reality without any filter may or may not be possible, but without at least trying to do so we will have given up too soon.

PIET HUT is professor of astrophysics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. He is involved in the project of building GRAPEs, the world's fastest special-purpose computers, at Tokyo University, and he is also a founding member of the Kira Institute.


David Berreby

''How does [fill in the blank] in human affairs relate to the great central theory?''

I do not, of course, mean any particular Great Central Theory. I am referring to the once-pervasive habit of relating everything that had human scale — Chinese history, the Odyssey, your mother's fear of heights — to an all-explaining principle. This principle was set forth in a short shelf of classic works and then worked to a fine filigree by close-minded people masquerading as open-minded people. The precise Great Central Theory might be, as it was in my childhood milieu, the theories of Freud. It might be Marx. It might be Levi-Strauss or, more recently, Foucault. At the turn of the last century, there was a Darwinist version going, promulgated by Francis Galton, Herbert Spencer and their ilk.

These monolithic growths had begun, I suppose, as the answers to specific questions, but then they metastasized; their adherents would expect the great central theory to answer any question. Commitment to a Great Central Theory thus became more a religious act than an intellectual one. And, as with all religions, the worldview of the devout crept into popular culture. (When I was in high school we'd say So-and-So was really anal about his locker or that What's-his-name's parents were really bourgeois.) For decades, this was what intellectual life appeared to be: Commit to an overarching explanation, relate it to everything you experienced, defend it against infidels. Die disillusioned, or, worse, die smug.

So why has this sort of question vanished? My guess is that, broadly speaking, it was a product of the Manichean worldview of the last century. Depression, dictators, war, genocide, nuclear terror — all of these lend themselves to a Yes-or-No, With-Us-or-With-Them, Federation vs. Klingons mindset. We were, to put it simply, all a little paranoid. And paranoids love a Great Key: Use this and see the single underlying cause for what seems to be unrelated and random!

Nowadays the world, though no less dangerous, seems to demand attention to the seperateness of things, the distinctiveness of questions. ''Theories of everything'' are terms physicists use to explain their near-theological concerns, but at the human scale most people care about, where we ask questions like ''why can't we dump the Electoral College?'' or ''How come Mom likes my sister better?'', the Great Central Theory question has vanished with the black-or-white arrangement of the human world.

What's next?

Three possibilities.

One, some new Great Central Theory slouches in; some of the Darwinians think they've got the candidate, and they certainly evince signs of quasi-religious commitment. (For example, as a Freudian would say you doubted Freud because of your neuroses, I have heard Darwinians say I doubted their theories because of an evolved predisposition not to believe the truth. I call this quasi-religious because this move makes the theory impregnable to evidence or new ideas.)

Two, the notion that overarching theory is impossible becomes, itself, a new dogma. I lean toward this prejudice myself but I recognize its dangers. An intellectual life that was all boutiques could be, in its way, as stultifying as a giant one-product factory.

Three, we learn from the mistakes of the last two centuries and insist that our answers always match our questions, and that the distinction between theory and religious belief be maintained.

DAVID BERREBY'S writing about science and culture has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, Slate, The Sciences and many other publications.


Sylvia Paull

"What do women want?"

People in the Western world assume women have it all: education, job opportunities, birth control, love control, and financial freedom. But women still lack the essential freedom — equality — they lacked a century ago. Women are minorities in every sector of our government and economy, and women are still expected to raise families while at the same time earning incomes that are comparably lower than what males earn. And in our culture, women are still depicted as whores, bimbos, or bloodsuckers by advertisers to sell everything from computers to cars.

Will it take another century or another millenium before the biological differences between men and women are taken as a carte blanche justification for the unequal treatment of women?

SYLVIA PAULL is Founder, Gracenet (www.gracenet.net) Serving women in high-tech and business media.


Colin Tudge

"The Great Idea That's Disappeared"

The greatest idea that's disappeared from mainstream science this past 400 years is surely that of God. The greats who laid the foundations of modern science in the 17th century (Galileo, Newton, Leibnitz, Descartes) and the significant-but-not-quite-so-greats (Robert Boyle, John Ray, etc.) were theologians as much as they were scientists and philosophers. They wanted to know how things are, of course — but also what God had in mind when he made them this way. They took it for granted, or contrived to prove to their own satisfaction, that unless there is a God, omniscient and mindful, then there could be no Universe at all.

Although David Hume did much to erode such argument, it persisted well into the 19th century. Recently I have been intrigued to find James Hutton — who, as one of the founders of modern geology, is one of the boldest and most imaginative of all scientists — earnestly wondering in a late 18th century essay what God could possibly have intended when he made volcanoes. The notion that there could be no complex and adapted beings at all without a God to create them, was effectively the default position in orthodox biology until (as Dan Dennett has so succinctly explained) Charles Darwin showed how natural selection could produce complexity out of simplicity, and adaptation out of mere juxtaposition. Today, very obviously, no Hutton-style musing would find its way into a refereed journal. In Nature, God features only as the subject of (generally rather feeble) sociological and sometimes evolutionary speculation.

Religion obviously flourishes still, but are religion and science now condemned to mortal conflict? Fundamentalist-atheists would have it so, but I think not. The greatest ideas in philosophy and science never really go away, even if they do change their form or go out of fashion, but they do take a very long time to unfold. For at least 300 years — from the 16th to the 19th centuries — emergent science and post- medieval theology were deliberately intertwined, in many ingenious ways. Through the past 150, they have been just as assiduously disentangled. But the game is far from over. Cosmologists and metaphysicians continue to eye and circle each other. Epistemology — how we know what's true — is of equal interest to scientists and theologians, and each would be foolish to suppose that the other has nothing to offer. How distant is the religious notion of revelation from Dirac's — or Keats's? — perception of truth as beauty? Most intriguingly of all, serious theologians are now discussing the role of religion in shaping emotional response while modern aficionados of artificial intelligence acknowledge (as Hume did) that emotion is an essential component of thought itself. Lastly, the ethics of science and technology — how we should use our new-found power — are the key discussions of our age and it is destructive to write religion out of the act, even if the priests, rabbis and mullahs who so far have been invited to take part have often proved disappointing.

I don't share the modern enthusiasm for over-extended life but I would like to see how the dialogue unfolds in the centuries to come.

COLIN TUDGE is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Philosophy, London School of Economics. His two latest books are The Variety of Life and In Mendel's Footnotes.


Eberhard Zangger

"Where Was Lost Atlantis?"

Two journalists once ranked the discovery of lost Atlantis as potentially the most spectacular sensation of all times. Now, the question what or where Atlantis might have been has disappeared. Why?

The Greek philosopher Plato, the only source for Atlantis, incorporated an extensive description of this legendary city into a mundane summary of contemporary (4th century BC) scientific achievements and knowledge of prehistory. Nobody attributed much attention to the account during subsequent centuries. In Medieval times, scholarly interest focussed on Aristotle, while Plato was neglected. When archaeology and history finally assumed the shape of scientific disciplines ‹ after the middle of the 18th century AD ‹ science still was under the influence of Christian theology, its Medieval mother discipline. The first art historians, who were brought up in a creationist world, consequently interpreted western culture as an almost divine concept which first materialized in ancient Greece, without having had any noticeable predecessors. Accordingly, any ancient texts referring to high civilizations, much older than Classical Greece, had to be fictitious by definition.

During the 20th century, dozens of palaces dating to a golden age a thousand years older than Plato's Athens have been excavated around the eastern Mediterranean. Atlantis can now be placed in a historical context. It is an Egyptian recollection of Bronze Age Troy and its awe-inspiring war against the Greek kingdoms. Plato's account and the end of the Bronze Age around 1200 BC can now be seen in a new light. Why was this connection not made earlier? Four Egyptian words, describing location and size, were mistranslated, because at the time Egypt and Greece used different calendars and scales. And, in contrast to biology, where, after Darwin, the idea of creationism was dropped in favor of evolutionism, Aegean prehistory has never questioned its basic premises.

Geoarchaeologist EBERHARD ZANGGER is Director of Corporate Communications at KPNQwest (Switzerland) and the author of The Flood from Heaven : Deciphering the Atlantis Legend and Geoarchaeology of the Argolid. Zangger has written a monograph, published by the German Archaeological Institute, as well as more than seventy scholarly articles, which have appeared in the American Journal of Archaeology, Hesperia, the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, and the Journal of Field Archaeology.


Robert Provine

"Obsolete and Inappropriate Metaphors"

The detection of "questions that are no longer asked" is difficult. Old questions, like MacArthur's old soldiers, just fade away. Scientists and scholars in hot pursuit of new questions neither note nor mourn their passing. I regularly face a modest form of the disappearing question challenge when a textbook used in one of my classes is revised. Deletions are hard to find; they leave no voids and are more stealthy than black holes, not even affecting their surrounds. New text content stands out, while missing material must be established through careful line-by-line reading. Whether in textbooks or in life, we don't think much about what is no longer relevant.

My response to the inquiry about questions that are no longer asked is to reframe it and suggest instead a common class of missing questions, those associated with obsolete and inappropriate metaphors. Metaphor is a powerful cognitive tool, which, like all models, clarifies thinking when appropriate, but constrains it when inappropriate. Science is full of them. My professional specialties of neuroscience and biopsychology has mind/brain metaphors ranging from Locke's ancient blank slate (tabula rasa), to the more technologically advanced switchboard, and the metaphor de jour, the computer. None do justice to the brain as a soggy lump of wetware, but linger as cognitive/linguistic models. Natural selection in the realm of metaphors is slow and imperfect. Witness the reference to DNA as a "blueprint" for an organism, when Dawkins' "recipe" metaphor more accurately reflects DNA's incoding of instructions for organismic assembly.

ROBERT R. PROVINE is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.


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