The darkest fears of the leading lights and rising stars of science, brought together by the Edge's John Brockman, could keep us all awake at night
WARNING: read the subtitle of this book first. Its editor, cultural impresario John Brockman, may well have you struggling to get your shut-eye as he sets out to keep us on our toes.
The trick this time lies in the tone of a book of answers to questions that Brockman poses annually to science's great and good on his Edge website. It's really not all good news.
In 2007, Edge asked what we were optimistic about. Six years later, the tone sounds like a pessimistic rejoinder: what shouldwe be worried about? But with Brockman it's rarely simple. He invited people to share a scientific worry that might not be on the popular radar, or one they think should drop off the radar. ...
At the end of the exercise, Brockman's crew has left us with a net balance of new fears. But they also introduce us to some big ideas. As psychologist Daniel Goleman puts it: "Effective worrying focuses our attention on a genuine threat and leads to anticipating solutions." Or perhaps biologist Craig Venter is onto something when he writes, hopefully tongue in cheek: "As a scientist, an optimist, an atheist, and an alpha male, I don't worry."
We care about the Third World War, aging, drug use but also about himself - zabrinjavanja. In the book "What Should We Be Worried About 'series of celebrity scientist reveals his greatest concerns and answers the question of how to prevent them.
What should we be worried? That's the question John Brockman, founder Edge.org ('smartest' global sites, according to a review in The Guardian) set by the world's most influential scientists including Steven Pinker, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Frank Wilczek, Seth Lloyd, Alison Gopnik, Nassim Nicholas Taleb Helen Fisher, Lawrence Krauss, Susan Blackmore and many others.
He asked them to discover what they are most concerned, with special emphasis on scenarios that have not yet appeared on the global radar.
The greatest minds of our time in the field of neuroscience, economics, philosophy, physics, psychology, biology and many other areas of its proposed 150 ideas that will bring a revolution in the understanding of the modern world.
Cosmologist Sean Carroll is one of many who have recently answered the annual question posed by Edge.org, which this year was: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Sean, whom I’ve met at the Naturalism workshop he organized not long ago, and for whom I have the highest respect both as a scientist and as a writer, picked “falsifiability.”
Which is odd, since the concept — as Sean knows very well — is not a scientific, but rather a philosophical one.
Now, contra some other skeptics of my acquaintance, at least one of whom was present at the above mentioned workshop, Sean is actually somewhat knowledgable and definitely respectful of philosophy of science, as is evident even in the Edge piece. Which means that what follows isn’t going to be yet another diatribe about scientism or borderline anti-intellectualism (phew!). ...
Is it better to worry about the concrete and the immediate or the nebulous and the unclear? Is it better to worry about the things that hit home or the larger shifts in society? Or is it even worth it to worry at all? ... this collection helps us see the myriad possible concerns laid out before us, articulating the various elements of fear that we need to fear.
The book also focuses on lesser-known ideas, such as the modular mind. These sections are the ones who make the work fun and interesting.
One or the other essay is difficult to understand for the layman, most texts but present themselves as easily digestible and entertaining. No contribution is longer than four pages. The shortest essay is even only three words: "Keep it short." He brings an idea from philosophy to the point - that of Occam's Razor. It says that one should be frugal in the formation of scientific theories: If you have the choice between several possible explanations of the same facts is to bring forward the simplest theory - that is the one that gets by with as few hypotheses. The tightness of the contributions makes the book even to the profitable reading if you just only has ten minutes time to read.
...The compilation of the brilliant, sometimes even stunning ideas can be recommended to all who are interested in science.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?
I've really come to look forward to these annual collections from contributors to Edge.org, the multi-disciplinary science website. Every year editor John Brockman throws out a question to scientists of any discipline to address. The responses are short essays you can snack on like brain-stretching popcorn.
This year the responses are ones that may keep you up at night, so be warned. All of the contributors address the question of what the real threats to our planet and way of life are, as opposed to the false fears that distract us too easily. The topics range all over the scientific map; the likelihood of war, advances in medicine and health care, population growth and distribution, the advance of the virtual, global economics...you get the idea.
There are some books that are not amenable to analysis' method writing 'or' flow of the plot. " Because quite simply it works anthology individual authors. Or, as in our case, distilled wisdom year 2013. This annual essay of online magazine Edge.org ("the world's smartest website" by the British newspaper Guardian). Contains a "peak exploration of the mysteries of logical thinking, decision making, intuition, ethics, willpower, problem solving, prediction, prognosis of unconscious behavior, etc.", edited by the publisher Edge John Brockman. You therefore only list the issues-the book's chapters and gleaming spiritual writers of each...
...all 16 chapters of the book full of recent findings for the top organ of life, the human brain. ... If you are thirsty for such knowledge, do not miss this book.
"A good book to read 3 times"
...How do you assess the level of scientific popularisation in Russia? How did you personally get information about science: from books, from the radio broadcasts of the lectures? What is the format of presentation is the most interesting for you?
I think that all at the same time. This book, and lectures. Lectures, perhaps, is that only recently appeared in as there is in the West. It would be great to build Ted.com and Edge.org experience here, which makes Brockman (John Brockman). We have a "PostNauka" which, so far, only approaching the Ted or Edge, but great that it appears, because video lectures is a modern and convenient format. Not all live in Moscow and can go to the Polytechnical Museum "or" CC "ZIL" in an interesting lecture.
From 1981 until today, through The Reality Club, or its online version, edge.org, the literary agent and provocateur John Brockman has brought together "the best minds of his generation" to talk. It's an old-fashioned salon of intellectuals, only adapted to the times, i.e. nearly free of literary intellectuals and full of scientists and technologists. we are not interested in received "wisdom". …
…In 1991 John Brockman wrote that the intellectual map of the West and the "traditional" intellectual world of the fifties had been condemned to the margins In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s.
Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.
So borrowing from C.P. Snow, author of "The Two Cultures" (1959), which described the divorce between science and humanities, and who, in 1963, predicted the emergence of a "third culture", in which the gap between the two fields of knowledge would narrow until it disappears, Brockman wrote his own essay on "The Third Culture" (1991). …
There's a splendid interview with Kevin Kelly on edge.org. He points out that, in the early days of the web, everyone assumed it would turn into "TV 2.0": "5,000 different sources giving you the specialty information about a horse channel and a dog channel and a cat channel and a saltwater aquarium channel... and you could get it all in your home.
"But, of course, that missed the entire real revolution of the web, which was that most of the content would be generated by the people using it. The web was not better TV, it was the web."
This story struck me when I was reading an article in The New York Times. In the 70s, an American academic shot scenes of ordinary interactions on street corners. A few years ago, another academic, looking to understand the effect of mobile devices on social interactions, realised he could use those films as a baseline comparison. So he went out and shot movies of the same street corners and squares. Then he got his students to compare both films – noting carefully the number of interactions, the amount of smiling, chatting and talking, and the texting and phoning and game-playing. Thousands of interactions later, they had a few interesting findings. ...
What should we be worried about? Real Scenarios that keep scientists up at night. This is the title of the new book edited by the literary agent John Brockman, founder of the website Edge.org, a discussion forum that includes novelist Ian McEwan, musician Brian Eno, physicists Frank Wilczek and Freeman Dyson, as well as yours truly, 13.7's Tania Lombrozo, and a couple of hundred of other academics and intellectuals. Every year, Brockman asks this group a "question." Answers in the form of short essays are compiled in paperback volumes with the intention of providing food for thought, as well as showcasing some of the cutting-edge ideas in science and technology and how they shape our culture. This is year, nothing less than 150 answers were published, of which I provide a meager sample here.
The telescope, that allows us to see far in space and thus back in time, giving us an unprecedented understanding of our own existence, is a far superior tool
Reese regards the internet as the greatest human invention of all time. In barely two decades, it has become so essential to our lives and work that one cannot imagine doing almost anything without it. Indeed, in a book that comes out this week, a collection of essays titled What Should We Be Worried About? by a hundred or so prime thinkers of the world, philosopher Daniel Dennett and historian of science and technology George Dyson consider the possible breakdown of the internet as the issue that they are most worried about. ...
A cross-disciplinary kaleidoscope of intelligent concerns for the self and the species.
In his famous and wonderfully heartening letter of fatherly advice, F. Scott Fitzgerald gave his young daughter Scottie a list of things to worry and not worry about in life. Among the unworriables, he named popular opinion, the past, the future, triumph, and failure "unless it comes through your own fault." Among the worry-worthy, courage, cleanliness, and efficiency. What Fitzgerald touched on, of course, is the quintessential anxiety of the human condition, which drives us to worry about things big and small, mundane and monumental, often confusing the two classes. It was this "worryability" that young Italo Calvino resolved to shake from his life. A wonderful 1934 book classified all of our worries in five general categories that endure with astounding prescience and precision, but we still struggle to identify the things truly worth worrying about — and, implicitly, working to resolve — versus those that only strain our psychoemotional capacity with thedeathly grip of anxiety.
In What Should We Be Worried About? (public library), intellectual jockey and Edge founder John Brockman tackles this issue with his annual question — which has previously answered such conundrums as the single most elegant theory of how the world works (2012) and the best way to make ourselves smarter (2011) — and asks some of our era’s greatest thinkers in science, psychology, technology, philosophy, and more to each contribute one valid "worry" about our shared future. Rather than alarmist anxiety-slinging, however, the ethos of the project is quite the opposite — to put in perspective the things we worry about but shouldn’t, whether by our own volition or thanks to ample media manipulation, and contrast them with issues of actual concern, at which we ought to aim our collective attention and efforts in order to ensure humanity’s progress and survival. . . .
. . .What Should We Be Worried About? is an awakening read in its entirety. For more of Brockman’s editorial-curatorial mastery, revisit the Edge Questions compendiums from 2013 and 2012, and see Nobel-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman on the marvels and flaws of our intuition.
LES COULISSES DE LA PAILLASSE. Quelles sont les théories scientifiques qui devraient être mises au placard ? C'est la question qu'a posée dans son "défi" annuel le site Edge (Edge.org), un forum de discussion sur la science : le but est d'accélérer le progrès de nos connaissances.
Le débat scientifique peut en effet donner lieu à des situations de blocage, comme celle décrite par Max Planck, un des pères de la mécanique quantique. Il expliquait qu'il avait été incapable de persuader le chimiste germano-balte Wilhelm Ostwald que la deuxième loi de la thermodynamique (augmentation de l'entropie) ne pouvait pas être déduite de la première (la conservation de l'énergie). "Cette expérience me donnait aussi l'occasion d'apprendre un fait remarquable : une nouvelle vérité scientifique ne triomphe pas en convainquant ses opposants et en leur faisant voir la lumière, mais plutôt parce que ses opposants finissent par mourir, et arrive une nouvelle génération qui est familière avec la nouvelle idée."
Responding to the "question of the Year" from the portal Edge.org physics absentia argument, one of them it is time to pension.
Reservations Edge.org annually sets a pressing question to answer in that short essay form invites the world's leading scientists, philosophers, writers and other public intellectuals. Issue last year was "what we should be afraid of?" And almost exactly a year ago, we published an overview of the responses to it.
It's time a new issue, and it's "What scientific idea or concept it is time to scrap?" . Nearly two hundred public intellectuals sent their essays that expressed the often very bold ideas, for example, to abandon such concepts as culture, race, common sense and economic growth. Special attention is given correspondence discussion between physicists, which are widespread among survey respondents. This implicit argument could not take place, if not physics community was divided into two camps: the romantics and visionaries on the one hand and the pragmatists and advocates strict falsifiable in the sense of science Karl Popper - c the other side.
As an amateur, I like science. I see myself as a pilgrim on a mountain path, striving toward the summit of enlightenment. The most reliable process for finding out about the world is essential for citizenship and good for the soul (or it would be if science hadn’t failed to demonstrate the existence of a soul). “Most reliable” doesn’t mean 100% reliable, however, only the best compared to flawed intuitions and preconceptions. One of the virtues of science, ideally, is that it is self-correcting and therefore infinitely improvable. Infinity is a lot of room for improvement, though, so the problem is where to begin.
The first thing to fix, according to some scientists, is the assumption that science is infinitely improvable. That was one of the common themes among answers to the annual question from The Edge: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” Taken together, the suggestions from all 177 contributors are about as long as a book, but I skimmed over them to discover eleven areas of overlap and seven areas of disagreement. This involves lumping concepts that, to experts, might have fine-grained differences, but it does show where Edge’s big thinkers harmonize with each other. For instance, Obrist, Rees, Regis, and Saffo independently nominated for retirement the idea of unlimited progress. Judging by the ideas cluttering the scientific enterprise, the summit of ultimate knowledge does indeed seem unreachable.
Events and reading matter at the intersection of science and culture.
“What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night” by John Brockman.
Last year,the literary agent John Brockman asked scientists about their concerns for the future, and this book, which collects their responses, reads like an atlas of fear. Health is an issue: The genomicist Craig Venter worries that “the unvaccinated ... could take humanity back to the pre-antibiotic era.” But the most common concerns are about the Internet. Some lament a near-future where “everyone is only pretending to pay attention” while they check email on Google Glass, while others, like the philosopher Daniel Dennett, worry that if the Internet were to go down, by error or terror, we wouldn’t have much of a backup plan. After hundreds of pages of worst-case scenarios, the psychologist Gary Klein admits to some anxiety fatigue, blaming the “science/media complex” for overplaying mild threats. The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker seems to agree, writing that while it is natural to worry about “physical stuff like weaponry and resources” the real threats are “psychological stuff like ideologies and norms.” But the shortest and calmest of the responses is from the filmmaker Terry Gilliam, who writes: “I’ve given up worrying. I merely float on a tsunami of acceptance... and marvel stupidly.”
Are we moral by nature or as a result of learning and culture? Are men and women "hard-wired" to think differently? Do our genes or our schools make us intelligent? These all seem like important questions, but maybe they have no good scientific answer...
...As the anthropologist Pascal Boyer points out in his answer, it's tempting to talk about "the culture" of a group as if this is some mysterious force outside the biological individual or independent of evolution. But culture is a biological phenomenon. It's a set of abilities and practices that allow members of one generation to learn and change and to pass the results of that learning on to the next generation. Culture is our nature, and the ability to learn and change is our most important and fundamental instinct.
These scientific ideas will drive you crazy
Much has been made of this year's question at John Brockman's Edge, generally described as an online salon. Brockman asked for recommendations about which scientific ideas should be retired, and some 170 salonists replied. Dennis Overbye plucked up a few proposed discards for consideration at Out There, concluding, "No matter who you are, you are bound to find something that will drive you crazy."
The 2014 Edge Annual Question (EAQ) is out. This year, the question posed to the contributors is: What scientific idea is ready for retirement?
As usual with the EAQ, it provokes thought and promotes discussion. I have only read through a fraction of the responses so far, but I think it is important to highlight a few Edge contributors who answered with a common, and in my opinion a very important and timely, theme. The responses that initially caught my attention came from Laurence Smith (UCLA), Gavin Schmidt (NASA), Guilio Boccaletti (The Nature Conservancy) and Danny Hillis (Applied Minds). If I were to have been asked this question, my contribution for idea retirement would likely align most closely with these four responses: Smith and Boccaletti want to see same idea disappear — stationarity; Schmidt’s response focused on the abolition of simple answers; and Hillis wants to do away with cause-and-effect.