Edge in the News

The Star - Malaysia [4.25.17]

This week's roundup of books highlights a diverse and exciting array of nonfiction titles.


Know This: Today's Most Interesting and Important Scientific Ideas, Discoveries, and Developments

With so much news on scientific developments inundating us today, how do we tell which are truly revolutionary? And what makes them so important? To help condense the most significant of the new theories and discoveries, John Brockman asked 198 of the world's finest minds which recent scientific ideas they found most significant. From technology to medical research to neuroscience to genetics, this book addresses a wide range of scientific developments, from the likes of Jared Diamond, Steven Pinker, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Carlo Rovelli, and Peter Gabriel.

Book Scrolling [1.19.17]

What are the best books to read if you want to become smarter? We looked at 196 of the top books to increase your intelligence, aggregating and ranking them so we could answer that very question!

Editor's Choice: John Brockman Edited Books

      
The John Brockman edited series of yearly books aren’t going to give you a deep dive into any one subject, but they will, hopefully, spark an idea or interest you might not know existed. Definitely good jumping off points for ideas, and a great resource to have around the house for a quick dive in for inspiration.

Peter Gabriel, Neue Zürcher Zeitung [5.4.17]

The activity of the brain becomes more and more precise for science. Genesis star Peter Gabriel sees a future in which thoughts can be made visible and digitized.

Christopher J. Anderson, Neue Zürcher Zeitung [5.1.17]

Five billion people are about to go online. The Internet is establishing itself as a decisive power factor - the question of who is winning is still open.

The New York Review of Books [4.4.17]

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds
by Michael Lewis
Norton, 362 pp., $28.95

In 2007, and again in 2008, Kahneman gave a masterclass in “Thinking About Thinking” to, among others, Jeff Bezos (the founder of Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sergey Brin (Google), Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft), Sean Parker (Facebook), Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla), Evan Williams (Twitter), and Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia). At the 2008 meeting, Richard Thaler also spoke about nudges, and in the clips we can view online he describes choice architectures that guide people toward specific behaviors but that can be reversed with one click if the subject doesn’t like the outcome. In Kahneman’s talk, however, he tells his assembled audience of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs that “priming”—picking a suitable atmosphere—is one of the most important areas of psychological research, a technique that involves offering people cues unconsciously (for instance flashing smiley faces on a screen at a speed that makes them undetectable) in order to influence their mood and behavior. He insists that there are predictable and coherent associations that can be exploited by this sort of priming. If subjects are unaware of this unconscious influence, the freedom to resist it begins to look more theoretical than real.

The Silicon Valley executives clearly saw the commercial potential in these behavioral techniques, since they have now become integral to that sector. …

Yuri Milner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung [3.30.17]

The life-friendly planet Earth is an exceptional event - but it is endangered. Experienced minds, therefore, play with the idea of ​​outsourcing our civilization partly or completely into the universe.

Alison Gopnik, Neue Zürcher Zeitung [3.3.17]

We should turn our gaze from the leather-ruffled mammoths, says the evolutionary biologist Alison Gopnik. Grandmothers and children—they are the true bearers of civilization.

De Morgen [2.22.17]

If we want to understand the reality, Mr Petry, we shoot anything with our intuition. Then we need figures, research, understanding, interpretation, knowledge. Not infrequently state of scientific knowledge even totally at odds with human intuition - just think of the theory of evolution, which few understand really, or the quantum theory, which even dizzy connoisseurs start. But you probably know all of them, because you have thoroughly read the exponents of the third culture. Yet? Yes? May I ask why you are still infatuated with psychoanalysis? Steven Pinker and others you should have learned that Sigmund Freud was a pitiful quack, who kept his intuition for the truth. A bit like you, sometimes.

Los Angeles Times [2.21.17]

We are in a particularly tribal moment in American politics in which “the enemy of my enemy is my ally” is the most powerful argument around.

John Tooby, the evolutionary psychologist, recently wrote that if he could explain one scientific concept to the public it would be the “coalitional instinct.” In our natural habitat, to be alone was to be vulnerable. If “you had no coalition, you were nakedly at the mercy of everyone else, so the instinct to belong to a coalition has urgency, pre-existing and superseding any policy-driven basis for membership,” Tooby wrote on Edge.org. “This is why group beliefs are free to be so weird.” 

We overlook the hypocrisies and shortcomings within our coalition out of a desire to protect ourselves from our enemies.

Today, the right sees the left as enemies — and, I should say, vice versa. ...

Michael Shermer, Scientific American [2.15.17]

. . . AI doomsday scenarios are often predicated on a false analogy between natural intelligence and artificial intelligence. As Harvard University experimental psychologist Steven Pinker elucidated in his answer to the 2015 Edge.org Annual Question “What Do You Think about Machines That Think?”: “AI dystopias project a parochial alpha-male psychology onto the concept of intelligence. They assume that superhumanly intelligent robots would develop goals like deposing their masters or taking over the world.” It is equally possible, Pinker suggests, that “artificial intelligence will naturally develop along female lines: fully capable of solving problems, but with no desire to annihilate innocents or dominate the civilization.”

Jon Kleinberg, Neue Zürcher Zeitung [2.5.17]

Three people are standing in front of a painting in the museum, each one taking a picture of it. The art student copies it with brush and paint; The professional photographer bans it on the film in its analog camera; The tourist presses on the button of her smartphone. Which of these images is different from the other two?

The art student has to spend more work on her copy; But in a sense the tourist is with the smartphone of cross-country skiers. Color on canvas, just like the bit of exposed film, is a purely physical representation; A chemical flower on a susceptible medium. The image can not exist independently of this physical embodiment. In contrast, the image stored in the smartphone is essentially numeric. In an approximate way, the camera divides its field of view into a grid of tiny cells in the smartphone and stores a set of numerical values ​​which represent the intensity of the colors in each of these cells; These numbers are the ones that are transmitted - in compressed form - when the picture is sent to friends or placed on the Internet.

El Espectador [2.4.17]

Each year, the director of the website edge.org, John Brockman, asks a question to a group of intellectual collaborators, many of them belonging to the world of science but also personalities from the world of art, technology and of the music. The question he asked on January 1, 2017 was: Which term or scientific concept should be better known? According to psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker the second law of thermodynamics should be better known.

Le Monde [2.4.17]

Each year, the prestigious journal online Edge.org ( @edge ) requests to dozens of contributors, mostly famous artists, thinkers and scientists, to answer any question. . . . 

This January, the question was: "What scientific term or concept should be better known? " On the menu, 206 answers covering both physics and biology or the social sciences. There is no question of mentioning all of them, but many contributions revolve around psychology and the cognitive sciences, exploring in particular the notion of bias. 

The Guardian [2.3.17]

One of the most quietly unsettling findings in psychology, for my money, is “verbal overshadowing” – a weird fact about memory that’s liable to make you wonder if anything you believe about your life is really true. The finding is this: putting your experiences into words – talking about them with others or writing them down – makes you less likely to recall them accurately.

On closer inspection, this psychological oddity starts to look less strange. Language, as the linguist Nick Enfield points out, pretty much exists in order to categorise things – to sift the chaos of reality into the pigeonholes provided by our pre-agreed words. (He chose verbal overshadowing as his answer to the Edge website’s annual question this year: “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?”) And putting something in a pigeonhole means not putting it into others, by definition. To describe someone as having three dogs is to focus on what the animals share – they’re dogs – and to disregard the fact that they’re a great dane, a sheepdog, and a yorkshire terrier; or old or young, excitable or placid. The research on verbal overshadowing, Enfield writes, suggests this pigeonholing overwrites the previous memory: “When words render experience, specific information is not just left out, it is deleted.” Even the best writer must unavoidably misrepresent the world – we couldn’t communicate otherwise . . .

Rolf Dobelli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung [1.25.17]

Try to build a tower by stacking irregularly shaped blocks. That is possible; Sometimes you reach a height of eight, nine, ten stones. Such man-made "Zen-Steintürme" or "Steinmannli" can be found along river banks and mountain peaks. They hold for a while, then the wind blows them over, or a bird lands on it and breaks the stone towers into the knee.

What is the relationship between skill and height? Take some round stones from a river bank. A two-year-old child will be able to build two stones; A three-year with advanced hand-eye coordination creates three. It takes experience to get up to eight rocks. And only with tremendous dexterity and a lot of Trial-and-Error attempts is it to be more than ten. Dexterity, patience, and experience are at times boundaries.

it.sohu.com [1.21.17]

"You can never understand a language—unless you understand at least two languages."

Edge.org also launched the 2017 annual issue—what are the most noteworthy scientific terms or concepts? Dr. Peter Lee, Senior Vice President of Microsoft Worldwide, was invited to give a briefing on the past and present of this scientific term transfer learning.

Ingeniøren [1.19.17]

This week's most important scientific news was enough that NASA and NOAA in the United States confirmed that 2016 was the warmest year.

The European Copernicus program recounted the same already for more than a half week ago, but since it's not exactly the same data set that underlies the two statements, there was still some uncertainty about whether 2016 was actually warmer than in 2015.

Rory Sutherland, The Spectator [1.12.17]

Writing recently at edge.org, one of the founding fathers of evolutionary psychology, John Tooby, answered a question which had long baffled me. Why do people on the left get more agitated about transgender bathroom access or hate speech than they do about modern slavery? Tooby explains: ‘Morally wrong-footing rivals is one point of ideology, and once everyone agrees on something (slavery is wrong) it ceases to be a significant moral issue because it no longer shows local rivals in a bad light. Many argue that there are more slaves in the world today than in the 19th century. Yet because one’s political rivals cannot be delegitimised by being on the wrong side of slavery, few care to be active abolitionists any more, compared to being, say, speech police.’ I might also add that many of the practitioners of modern slavery might be a bit foreign–looking, and so in criticising them you run the risk of violating some leftist tribal shibboleth.

Luca De Biase, nòva 24 Borders — Il Sole 24 Ore [1.8.17]

Society Needs Reliable Knowledge. Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Science is the most reliable way to generate knowledge. This is the conviction of the Edge community which every year, for the past twenty years, has gathered around its long-time driving force John Brockman to answer a big question through which we can supposedly arrive at the edge of knowledge. In this period, however, knowledge empirically derived by the scientific method reveals an amount of information of varying quality and varied provenance which would seem to question the credibility of any belief and any consensus on the practical experience of reality. So one might ask: do we know enough about scientific knowledge? And, above all, can the scientific method be recognized as the most reliable? This is probably why Brockman asked his community of scientists, researchers, intellectuals, and creative interpreters to answer a seemingly simple question: "What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?"

Many contributors decided to respond by citing the latest discoveries that are actually not well known. Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab, described Neurodiversity, a concept that challenges the definition of "autism" and embraces the diversity of ways of being human. Kevin Kelly, a pioneer in the narrative of technology, highlighted the concept of Premature Optimization to show that a success obtained in the first phase of a project’s development can put a brake on a bigger success: which is a recommendation for not only accepting the mistake but also for maintaining a critical attitude regarding what has already been discovered. And the Futurist Paul Saffo wrote about Haldane's Rule of the Right Size, which shows every organism has an optimum size and a change in size inevitably leads to a change in form, which is applicable not only to organisms, but also to technologies and organizations.

But the Edge community, with its distinguishing humility, thought that it was necessary to also take into account those who don’t know the most basic scientific concepts. An example? A couple of years ago a survey from the National Science Foundation reported that 25% of Americans are convinced that the Sun revolves around the Earth, more Americans than those who voted for the new President of the United States. So, with great sense of reality, astrophysicist and author Mario Livio decided to dedicate his contribution to The Copernican Principle, which states that the Earth is not at the center of the solar system. And Steven Pinker, who does research in a vast territory between cognitive science and language, in turn, has devoted his contribution to The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that in an isolated system (one that is not taking in energy), entropy never decreases. It is a basic concept that shows how closed systems not interconnected with the outside tend inexorably to become less structured, less organized, less able to do interesting things, until they fall into a monotonous and uniform situation where they stop. And die. For Pinker, this is instructive for society. Giving up the liaison with the other societies, not accepting energy and information from outside, leads to social death.

In writing about Confirmation Bias, the artist Brian Eno has found a balance between the need to provide information about a new scientific concept and to divulge an element of basic knowledge by dedicating his contribution to the error of perception due to the search for confirmation: “The great promise of the Internet was that more information would automatically yield better decisions. The great disappointment is that more information actually yields more possibilities to confirm what you already believed anyway.” In fact, scientifically, what was wrong was the word "automatically." The internet is not the wisdom machine, but only the information machine. But it was conceived in such a way that it is constantly renewed through innovation. This is what Edge pushed us to do.

La Nacion [1.8.17]


One cited anecdote—which some say is apocryphal and whose central character varies according to the story—tells us that when, in the last decades of the nineteenth century, Darwin's theory that humans descended from monkeys spread in England, the wife of the bishop of Birmingham responded, shocked: "Dear, let's hope it is not true. And if it is, let's hope it does not spread."

Those words take up the Edge website to present its annual question ( Edge Question ) this year. Every year, writer and publisher John Brockman hosts discussions on innovative ideas from the most diverse fields of science and proposes a provocative question to a number of intellectuals, scientists, artists and writers. Answers vary from small essays to a paragraph, but all have the spirit of those who are thinking about the boundaries of their disciplines or crossing them. "What should we care about?" "What scientific news was the most important this year?" "What do you think about the machines you think?" "What will change everything?" These are some of the questions from previous years, whose answers are then published in the form of books.

This year, the question was: "What term or scientific concept should be most widely known?" More than 200 scientists from the most varied fields, essayists and artists responded, and their texts—like all previous editions—can be freely read on the website.

"The Genetic Book of the Dead," "Reciprocal Altruism," "Neurodiversity," "The Second Law of Thermodynamics," "Common Sense," "Scientific Realism," and "The Copernican Principle," are some of the answers this year, which mostly propose reflections on the status of knowledge in the contemporary world, the ways in which science advances, and the role of uncertainty and chance in that movement.

It is not uncommon for that to be the approach. "Of all the scientific terms that should be better known to help clarify and inspire scientific thinking in general culture, none is more important than 'science' itself," Brockman wrote in presenting this year's Edge question. "Science is nothing more nor less than the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great figures in history, or the structure of DNA." Here, we reproduce excerpts from some of the essays.

Confirmation Bias (Brian Eno), The Anthropocene (Jennifer Jacquet), Navier-Stokes Equations (Ian McEwan), Mysterianism (Nicholas G. Carr), Epsilon (Victoria Stodden), Intellectual Honesty (Sam Harris)

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