Best known as a literary agent, Brockman’s career has spanned art, science, film, theater, and digital media. For more than 50 years, he has served as a steady intermediary between disciplines, working with everyone from Stewart Brand, creator of The Whole Earth Catalog, to curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. He specializes in science literature and represents a roster of authors—including Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker—who are more widely known than he is. But Brockman’s preference has always been for the perimeter. He founded edge.org, a foundation with the mission of connecting people “working at the edge” of a wide range of disciplines. In his own writing, he advocates for a “third culture,” a synthesis of science and the humanities, with no smaller a goal than “rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives and redefining who we are.”
I imagine the reluctance to publish Q&A interviews is one reason that we British readers find so few serious interviews with scientists in our newspapers—compared, say, to interviews with novelists or with retired politicians.
It need not be thus. John Brockman’s Edge publishes (almost) exclusively long verbatim conversations between scientists about science, and every one of them is riveting. Oscar Wilde said something to the effect that he never needed to go out in the evening when he could find such wit and wisdom in the books he had at home, and I feel something similar when I read interviews on Edge. Indeed, it may be as well that Edge limits itself to publishing one main interview per month, since if there were many more of them I would have time for nothing else.
Oscar Wilde said something to the effect that he never needed to go out in the evening when he could find such wit and wisdom in the books he had at home. I feel something similar when I read interviews on Edge.
THE NEW BOOK OF ANNA CURIR
The Emergence of the Third Culture and Lethal Mutation
In Italy there are two cultures, humanities and science: from the union of these two seemingly opposing visions of the world depends on the survival of our own society. Young researchers and scientists can make a difference.
…The emotion unites science and art, humanistic and scientific culture. Are the same poets, playwrights, directors, astronomers, scientists, explorers, architects, artisans and to become excited during the creative process, investigation, discovery, accompanying their work.
In short, the excitement can mend the breach between science and humanism that, at least in Italy, it seems not be solved by Benedetto Croce times. There is a third path to take, or we are faced with a dead end?
To reflect on the contrast between scientific and humanistic culture is Anna Curir, associated INAF Astrophysical Observatory of Turin, just in the bookstore with The Emergence of the Third Culture and Lethal Mutation, published by the Sirente.
This fascinating book contains the thoughts of the world's leading biologists, geneticists and evolutionary theorists. It's all about where we are, and where we're heading—from a comparison between genes and digital information to new findings on how parents individually influence the human genome.
The world of innovation, entrepreneurial and technological singularity is full of parallels with religion: there are prophets, pilgrimage centers (Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, Seoul, Shenzhen), tribes of believers, heretics and revealed truths. The commonalities could become a simple curiosity, a thesis topic of a humanistic career, if not because there is a group of technologists and experts on this agenda who believe this cogency of religious values acts as a bias that could lead to wrong projections. And the forecasts of vehicles without human drivers, lives of hundreds of years, end of employment, to travel by virtual reality and other phenomena that are as inexorable from the field of innovation could be saying more about our present, with its molded psychological and cultural patterns in thousands of years, about the future. . . .
In the movie 2001 Space Odyssey, filmed in 1969, Stanley Kubrick imagines a future of space travel, but all women of history are hostesses, assistants or secretaries: the director did not foresee the gender revolution of the 70s. Steven Pinker talks about this in his essay in the book This Will Change Everything, published by the director of the website Edge, John Brockman.
This approach leads to the conclusion that the existence of certain technology is a necessary and sufficient condition for a large-scale social change associated with that progress in a short time. . . .
Speculation comes to mind of a reigning "social mood" in recent days, with a local reality in gray tone that combined corruption scandals, economic recession and defeat in the Copa America, and that in turn matches no less daunting international context, between Brexit, the prospect of Donald Trump winning the election in the United States, terrorist attacks and turbulence in the markets. These were the dominant themes in the media and on social networks in recent days. ...
Six years ago, John Brockman, editor of Edge.org, published a book with 125 short essays written by several of the most influential thinkers in the world, who attempted to answer the question: "What is going to change everything?" The texts were authors like Richard Dawkins, Ian McEwan, Nassim Taleb, Steven Pinker, Freeman Dyson and Jared Diamond, among others.
Most responses came from the field of artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, physics and astronomy (the most repeated response will change what all was the discovery of intelligence beyond Earth).
This month’s Insights column was an attempt to use simple puzzles to highlight the consequences of the infinity assumption in the physical world. The idea was sparked by an article by the physicist Max Tegmark that was written for the book, "This Idea Must Die." Tegmark’s article is excerpted in a blog at Discover magazine under the title, "Infinity Is a Beautiful Concept — and It’s Ruining Physics."
In the past week I seized the opportunity to meet two foreign role models who visited the country.
One is the theoretical physicist Lisa Randall. The other is the artist Brian Eno.
Lisa Randall...spoke to Science & Cocktails in Christiania, which I blogged about here. And she is the person who to me has opened the magic of the laws of physics (and our limited senses to understand it) with books like 'Knocking on Heaven's Door' and her totally humble nature.
Then there's Brian Eno.
...[H]is cooperation with Stewart Brand and The Long Now Foundation and involvement in the anthology This Will Make You Smarter (published by Edge and which each year asks experts in their field an ambitious questions - and to the anthology this year was: "WHAT IS THE MOST INTERESTING RECENT SCIENTIFIC NEWS?"), I found out that Eno is actually deeply ambitious about the world's development while he is a great artist.
John Brockman is a colourful character, known to share photos of himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, or John Cage. That popular culture should include intelligent conversations about science is a given for him.
Edge.org, sometimes dubbed “the world’s smartest website”, was born out of an idea from Brockman’s late friend, performance artist James Lee Byars, who suggested that rather than trying to assimilate the information contained in the six million books housed in the Harvard library it might be more productive and instructive to assemble the hundred most brilliant minds and have them ask each other questions in order to achieve what Brockman has referred to as “a synthesis of all thought”.
Life is the fifth volume in The Best Of Edge series, and as with previous books, most of the featured content has already appeared on the Edge.org website....
...[T]here is an advantage to reading the essays featured in Life as opposed to gleaning information from random articles on the Internet.
On the net knowledge is dispersed, whereas this book has a structured sense of narrative, showing how research from different disciplines, and their disciples, can bolster and inform each other.
Ultimately, the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, perhaps an apt and fitting off-the-cuff metaphor for the subject matter – life.
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