Edge in the News: 2008 Annual Question

Xeni Jardin, [1.9.08]

I've been traveling in Central America for the past few weeks, so I'm late on blogging a number of things -- including this. Each year, EDGE.org's John Brockman asks a new question, and a bunch of tech/sci/internet folks reply. This year's question: What have you changed your mind about?

Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?

I was one of the 165 participants, and wrote about what I learned from Boing Boing's community experiments, under the guidance of our community manager Teresa Nielsen Hayden: Link to "Online Communities Rot Without Daily Tending By Human Hands."


Even IT gurus have the right to think twice.

This year the online salon Edge.org has drawn a lot of attention for the annual question it put out to a mixture of scientists and artists: What have you changed your mind about?

Contributors range from actor Alan Alda to folk singer Joan Baez, but some of the real gems came from technology visionaries who decided to take a second look at their original visions.

[Note to Globe and Mail: It's "the mathematician physicist John C. Baez", not his cousin the "folk singer Joan Baez", daughter of the physicist Albert Baez.]


"Flip-Flops" werden im Englischen verächtlich Menschen genannt, die plötzlich ihre Meinung ändern. Was bei Politikern oft als ein Zeichen von Opportunismus interpretiert wird, gehört in der Wissenschaft zum Wesen. Dennoch ist es auch unter Forschern und Forscherinnen nicht üblich, sich öffentlich zu einem Sinneswandel zu bekennen. Genau das haben sie aber nun gemacht. Bereits zum elften Mal hat der New Yorker Literaturagent John Brockman namhaften Wissenschaftlern zum Jahreswechsel knifflige Fragen gestellt. Diesmal lauten sie "Wobei haben Sie Ihre Meinung geändert? Und warum?"

Die Antworten von insgesamt 165 Forschern und Expertinnen sind unterschiedlich und oft amüsant: Der Biologe Richard Dawkins erklärt, warum Meinungswandel kein evolutionärer Nachteil sind; die Philosophin Helena Cronin zeigt, dass es unter Männer zwar mehr Nobelpreisträger gibt, aber auch mehr Trottel; und Anton Zeilinger erzählt von seinem Irrtum, die Quantenphysik einst für "nutzlos" gehalten zu haben. ...


Honorable mention (links.sfgate.com/ZBZY): It's not a top 10 list. It's not even a top 100. It has nothing to do with fashion or trends or politics or the year's coolest iPod accessories. It is intellectual hotbedEdge.org's annual question, this time a profound doozy: "What have you changed your mind about. Why?"

As of now, 165 of the world's finest minds have responded with some of the most insightful, humbling, fascinating confessions and anecdotes, an intellectual treasure trove of proof that flip-flopping is a very good thing indeed, especially when informed/inspired by facts and shot through with personal experience and laced with mystery and even a little divine insight. Best three or four hours of intense, enlightening reading you can do for the new year. Read it now.

Then flip it over and answer the same question for yourself.


BUENOS AIRES, jan. 8 (UPI) — On the occasion of the new year, the most sublime thinkers of the world have recognized that, from time to time, they are obliged to rectify their views.

When addressing topics as diverse as evolution man, the laws of physics and differences sex, a group of scientists and philosophers, among Which includes Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Paul Davies and Richard Wrangham, have confessed, all of them Without exception, they have changed their minds, reports Madrimasd.org.

This exhibition of scientific modesty has occurred As a result of the questions, coinciding with New year, annually raised the website edge.org, which has obtained responses from more than 120 of the most Important thinkers in the world.

A recurring theme in the answers is that what distinguishes science from other forms of knowledge and faith is that new ideas based on quickly replace old ones when they are based on evidence produced by tests. Accordingly, in the intellectual scope there is nothing of shameful in recognizing that one has changed positions.


Eines der anregendsten intellektuellen Spiele findet sich jedes Jahr im Januar auf der Website Edge.org, wenn Wissenschaftler und Künstler im "World Question Center" auf die Frage des Jahres antworten. 2007 prügelte man mit Vehemenz auf die Religionen ein, und so klingt schon die Frage für 2008 wie ein erneuter Generalangriff auf die Seligen: "Welche Ihrer Meinungen haben Sie einmal geändert?" Ist die Religion doch der Ort der göttlichen Wahrheit, die sich nicht begründen muss und nicht bezweifelt werden kann. Wenn er einer Partei angehöre, hatte der Agnostiker Camus auch gesagt, dann der des Zweifels. Keine Konfrontation sollte mehr gescheut werden. Die letzte Heimat der Unverzweifelten bleibt dagegen der Glaube. Was Edge angeht, wird diese Erwartung jedoch enttäuscht. ...


... As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to Web site editor John Brockman's impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and clarity.

In explaining why they have cast aside old assumptions, the respondents' short essays tackle an array of subjects, including the nature of consciousness, the existence of the soul, the course of evolution and whether reason will ultimately triumph over superstition.

Two of the most interesting answers may signal a cease-fire in the gender wars.

In 2005, Harvard President Lawrence *. Summers was assailed for suggesting that innate differences might explain why there are few top women scientists. Now Diane F. Halpern, a psychology professor at Claremont Mc-Kenna College and a self-described "feminist," says Summers was onto something.

"There are real, and in some cases sizable, sex differences with respect to cognitive abilities," she writes.

Her views are echoed by Helena Cronin, a philosopher at the London School of Economics.

"Females," she writes, "are much of a muchness, clustering around the mean." With men, "the variance — the difference between the most and the least, the best and the worst — can be vast." Translation: There may be fewer female geniuses in certain fields, but there are also fewer female morons...


What is the coolest online forum, one where scientists and great minds from all over the world exchange opinions and ideas, and the one that keeps the scientific debate alive? Almost certainly it’s edge.org, an American website whose most ardent supporters include, to quote some of the best known, Richard Dawkins, the famous and controversial evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene; Brian Eno, the visionary music producer; psychologist Steven Pinker; and physicists like Alan Guth or Gino Segré, who are changing the present vision of the universe. This where you’ll run into debates that count, thanks also to a device that has started a cultural trend: every year edge.org asks an artful question that the big brains who haunt its electronic pages are invited to answer. This year’s question is: What have you changed your mind about? Why?

The mea culpa flocked in in great numbers and from prestigious sources, (more than a hundred in a few days), revealing that the greatest minds are changing their opinions on a lot of subjects, from the expansion of the universe to evolution, from the meaning of science to the workings of the human brain through the value of the Roman Empire in front of the barbarians.

George Johnson, John Horgan, [1.4.08]

John and George’s New Year resolutions; John softens his pessimism about neuroscience ; The soccer club theory of terrorism; The trouble with relying on experts; How George got hooked on garage-band science; Happiness is a burning bridge.


Margaret Wente Comment Column; Second Thoughts

If you want to start your year with a jolt of fresh thinking, I have just the thing. Each year around this time, a Web-based outfit called the Edge Foundation asks a few dozen of the world's brightest scientific brains one big question. This year's question: What have you changed your mind about?

The answers address a fabulous array of issues, including the existence of God, the evolution of mankind, climate change and the nature of the universe. Some of the most provocative responses deal with the bonanza of new evidence from the fast-evolving fields of genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. This is the intellectual equivalent of a New Year's dip in the lake - bracing, possibly shriek-inducing, and bound to wake you up. For the full menu, go to www.edge.org. Meantime, here's a taste. ...

Daniel Gilbert, [1.4.08]

Change of Mind Could Spur A Hardening of the Heart
• EDGE -- JAN. 4

When scientists and other prominent intellectuals change their mind about important things, their new outlook often is gloomier.

That, at least, is the theme of responses to a survey conducted by online science-and-culture publication the Edge, which asked some influential thinkers: "What have you changed your mind about? Why?" ... d

...Fittingly, Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert says he has changed his mind about the benefits of changing one's mind. In 2002, a study showed him that people are more satisfied with irrevocable decisions than with ones they can reverse. Acting on the data, he proposed to his now-wife. "It turned out that the data were right: I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend."


Ralph Waldo Emerson called consistency the hobgoblin of little minds, yet we live in a world where 'flip-floppers' are treated with contempt. An ambitious new survey of top thinkers, however, serves as a reminder of how healthy it is to change one's mind

Sandro Contenta
Staff Reporter

...Challenging this complacency is a project by the Edge Foundation, a group promoting discussion and inquiry into issues of our time. To kick off the New Year, the group put this statement and question to many of the world's leading scientists and thinkers:

"When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy. When God changes your mind, that's faith. When facts change your mind, that's science. What have you changed your mind about?"

Answers, posted on the website www.edge.org, came from 164 people, many of them physicists, philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists. They ring like scientific odes to uncertainty, humility and doubt; passionate pleas for critical thought in a world threatened by blind convictions. In short, they're calls for more people who can change their minds. ...


RFQ: What Have You Changed Your Mind About? (Plus: Last Chance on the Coin Contest)

...University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt says he used to consider sports and fraternities to be the height of American celebration of stupidity. "Primitive tribalism, I thought. Initiation rites, alcohol, sports, sexism, and baseball caps turn decent boys into knuckleheads. I'd have gladly voted to ban fraternities, ROTC, and most sports teams from my university." But Haidt has changed his mind: "I had too individualistic a view of human nature. I began to see us not just as chimpanzees with symbolic lives but also as bees without hives. When we made the transition over the last 200 years from tight communities (Gemeinschaft) to free and mobile societies (Gesellschaft), we escaped from bonds that were sometimes oppressive, yes, but into a world so free that it left many of us gasping for connection, purpose, and meaning. I began to think about the many ways that people, particularly young people, have found to combat this isolation. Rave parties and the Burning Man festival are spectacular examples of new ways to satisfy the ancient longing for communitas. But suddenly sports teams, fraternities, and even the military made a lot more sense." ...


Plato Had a Bad Year [John Derbyshire]

For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words, this is hard to beat. ... What a feast of egg-head opinionating!

If there's a common tendency running through many of these pieces, it is the fast-rising waters of naturalism, released by a half-century of discoveries in genetics, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, submerging every other way of looking at the human world.

We are part of nature, a twig on the tree of life. If we are to have any understanding of ourselves, we must start from that. Final answers to ancient questions are beginning to come in. You may not be happy about the answers; but not being happy about them will be like not being happy about Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.


At the beginning of each year is a great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture, or rather, in the social life of that culture...The event is called the Edge Annual Question, bringing together much of the most interesting 

Anthropologist Richard Wrangham has introduced a subtle shift in the explanation of the evolutionary history of man: he once believed it to be caused by eating meat, now he believes that the decisive factor is the kitchen, ie, changing from raw to cooked. The response from the musician Brian Eno explains how he went from revolution to evolution, and how he left Maoism for Darwin. ...


Even the best minds of this world sometimes have to accept that they were wrong. Scientists to answer the question of Edge Foundation, which they change their mind — and why.

The responses of the intellectuals are personal, sometimes very technical, but also political. They cover a wide range of what people employed: Climate change, the difference between men and women, but also the question of the existence of God.




Quando lo scienza confessa: ho sbagliato
Dalle teorie sull'evoluzione alle differenze tra razze, 
in rete i mea culpa degli studiosi

LONDRA — «Quando pensare modifica la tua opinione è filosofia, quando Dio ti fa cambiare idea è fede. Quando i fatti ti fanno vedere le cose in modo diverso è scienza». Questa l'introduzione al quesito per l'anno posto da un'associazione culturale cui aderiscono i principali pensatori del momento, da Richard Dawkins, lo zoologo britannico autore del libro culto Il gene egoista e più recentemente L'illusione di Dio, allo psicologo Steven Pinker passando per il musicista produttoreBrian Eno.

Se nel 2006 aveva domandato ai suoi iscritti quale fosse l'idea più pericolosa e nel 2007 su che cosa si sentissero ottimisti, per il 2008Edge (il sito è www.edge.org) ha lanciato una provocazione: su cosa avete cambiato idea? E perché? L'obiettivo era spingere gli scienziati, gli scrittori e i ricercatori che utilizzano regolarmente il sito ad ammettere, in un certo senso, i propri errori.

Centinaia di loro hanno raccolto l'invito (a tanta solerzia ha forse contribuito il fatto che le ultime edizioni delle risposte sono state pubblicate sotto forma di libro), rivelando una gamma di dietro front tra il clamoroso e il simpatico.


It's becoming something of a New Year ritual. For almost a decade, the website www.edge.org has been asking a selection of eminent thinkers and scholars to answer a single question and publishing the results on 1 January.

In the past it has presented such posers as "What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?" and "What is the most important invention of the past 2,000 years?"

This year Edge wanted to know: "What have you changed your mind about and why?" As usual, it's a good question. And the responses of the likes of Steven Pinker and Helena Cronin are as fascinating and weighty as one would imagine.

Paul Kedrosky, [12.31.07]

This year's Big Question at Edge from John Brockman, et al., is this, What have you changed your mind about? This is, at least, an interesting question, so I'll start by saying that what I've changed my mind about is whether, in general, the Edge's annual question is worth reading. Okay, sometimes it is.

That said, are any specific answers to this year's Big Question worth reading? Somewhat surprisingly, yes. Granted, some of the answers are just wankery, scientists and others saying that they used to think we wouldn't solve Problem X, and now they think we will, someday, etc. Or, worse yet, there is a passel of up-with-the-environment puffery, where the previously unconverted become carbon holy-rollers. ...

Here are a couple worth reading. Feel free to add more.

Economist Dan Kahneman on the aspiration treadmill
Clay Shirky
 on science and religion
Nassim Taleb
 on .... nothing (okay, incomplete, but I still like the semiotic pun)...


Even the world’s best brains have to admit to being wrong sometimes: here, leading scientists respond to a new year challenge

Lewis Smith, Science Reporter

The new year is traditionally a time when people tend to look back and try to work out where it all went wrong – and how to get it right in the future.

The new year is traditionally a time when people tend to look back and try to work out where it all went wrong – and how to get it right in the future.

This time the Edge Foundation asked a number of leading scientists and thinkers why they had changed their minds on some of the pivotal issues in their fields. The foundation, a chat forum for intellectuals, posed the question: “When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy. When God changes your mind, that’s faith. When facts change your mind, that’s science. What have you changed your mind about? Why?”

The group’s responses covered controversial issues, including climate change, whether God or souls exist and defining when humanity began.

This time the Edge Foundation asked a number of leading scientists and thinkers why they had changed their minds on some of the pivotal issues in their fields. The foundation, a chat forum for intellectuals, posed the question: “When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy. When God changes your mind, that’s faith. When facts change your mind, that’s science. What have you changed your mind about? Why?”

The group’s responses covered controversial issues, including climate change, whether God or souls exist and defining when humanity began.


chrisd writes

"The Edge 2008 question (with answers) is in. This year, the question is: 'What did you change your mind about and why?'. Answers are featured from scientists as diverse as Richard DawkinsSimon Baron-CohenGeorge Church,David BrinJ. Craig Venter and the Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, among others. Very interesting to read. For instance, Stewart Brand writes that he now realizes that 'Good old stuff sucks' and Sam Harris has decided that 'Mother Nature is Not Our Friend.' What did Slashdot readers change their minds about in 2007?"


What did you change your mind about in 2007? The world's intellectual elite spread some New Year humility.

James Randerson, science correspondent

Since I wrote my piece on this year's show of scientific humility for the New Year's day paper some big names have added their thoughts to the mix.

Here's evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins on how being a "flip-flopper" is no bad thing in science...

The controversial geneticist Craig Venter has had a change of heart about the capacity of our planet to soak up the punishment humanity is throwing at it...

There are also interesting contributions from Simon Baron-Cohen, the University of Cambridge autism researcher who has changed his mind about equality; psychologist Susan Blackmore, who has gone from embracing the paranormal to debunking it; and artist and composerBrian Eno, who was once seduced by Maoism, but now believes it is a "monstrosity".

What did you change your mind about in 2007?


Helena Cronin, a philosopher at the London School of Economics, turns her attention to why men appear far more successful than women, by persistently walking off with the top positions and prizes in life — from being heads of state to winning Nobels.

Dr Cronin used to think it was down to sex differences in innate talents, tastes and temperament. But now she believes it has also something to do with the fact that women cluster around a statistical average, whereas men are more likely to be represented at the extreme ends of the normal spectrum — both at the top and the bottom.

Some replies to the Edge question ponder the perennial problem of God. Professor Patrick Bateson of Cambridge University has changed his mind on what to call himself after meeting a virulent creationist. He is no longer an agnostic but an atheist. Meanwhile the actor and writer Alan Alda said that he has changed his mind about God — twice.

What have you changed your mind about? Why?

Tim O'Reilly, [12.31.07]

...I eventually offered some ideas and he jumped on one: my skepticism about the term "social software" after Clay Shirky's "Social Software Summit" in November 2002. As it turns out, Clay was right and I was wrong. This was a powerful meme indeed, just five years early.

Here's what I wrote for the 2008 Edge question. As I suspected, it's a meager offering at a remarkable feast of the intellect. Use it, if you must, as an entry point to an amazing group of reflections on science, culture, and the evolution of ideas. Reading the Edge question is like being invited to dinner with some of the most interesting people on the planet.


The changes of mind that gave philosophers and scientists new insights

James Randerson, science correspondent

They are the intellectual elite, the brains the rest of us rely on to make sense of the universe and answer the big questions. But in a refreshing show of new year humility, the world's best thinkers have admitted that from time to time even they are forced to change their minds.

When tackling subjects as diverse as human evolution, the laws of physics and sexual politics, scientists and philosophers, includingSteven PinkerDaniel DennettPaul Davies and Richard Wrangham, all confessed yesterday to a change of heart.

The display of scientific modesty was brought about by the annual new year's question posed by the website edge.org, which drew responses from more than 120 of the world's greatest thinkers.


What have you changed your mind about, and why? John Brockman’s Edge put the question to over a hundred scientists and scholars... more»