"Substantial and engrossing. . .Brockman and the Edge contributors offer fresh and invaluable perspectives on crucial aspects of our lives.'
REVIEW OF THE DAY
What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night.
Each year, Edge founder Brockman and "Edgestalwarts" mark the anniversary of the speculative online science salon by posing a far-reaching question as the catalyst for a multidisciplinary essay collection. Brockman introduces this year's substantial and engrossing anthology, What Should We Be Worried About?, by noting, "Nothing can stop us from worrying, but science can teach us how to worry better, and when to stop worrying." The array of subjects 150 leading thinkers and scientists identify as worrisome is vast and varied, while the outlooks expressed in their pithy thought-pieces are provocative and enlightening.
Psychologist Steven Pinker identifies hidden threats to peace. Cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees shares his concern about climate change. Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett and science historian George Dyson ponder the risky vulnerability of the Internet. Biologist Seiran Sumner shudders over the dangers of synthetic biology. Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore considers "how our rapidly changing world is shaping the developing teenage brain." Theoretical physicist Lisa Randall is one of many who fret that there won't be future funding for major long-term research projects. Water resources, viruses, low science literacy, and our failure to achieve global cooperation are all addressed with striking clarity. By taking this bold approach to significant quandaries, Brockman and the Edge contributors offer fresh and invaluable perspectives on crucial aspects of our lives.
Each year the website Edge.org, considered by many one of the publications of higher intellectual quality in the world, brings together hundreds of artists, scientists and the most renowned thinkers in the world and asks them a question, creating a kind of itinerant think thank that seeks dialogue and anticipates major issues facing humanity, or sometimes simply celebrates knowledge. This year the question was: "What Should We Be Worried About?", under the argument that "we are concerned because we are able to anticipate the future. Nothing can be done that we no longer worry about, but science can teach us how better care, and when stop worrying."
Some of the answers compiled by Edge.org, are remarkable essays on the most pressing problems of the modern civilization modern; others are simply ironic (of course, predominantly about rational thought and science oriented). Worth taking a tour of this panorma today.
The enticing collections roll in with impressive frequency, bearing such titles as This Will Change Everything(2009), Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? (2011), This Will Make You Smarter (2012), Thinking (2013), and the latest (review adjacent), What Should We Be Worried About? Each anthology features stellar contributors from diverse fields, and all are edited by John Brockman, the founder and CEO of Brockman Inc., a literary agency for science writers, and founder of a nonprofit foundation that supports Edge.org, a world-renowned online science salon with the credo: "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves." ...
...Brockman, who is also an author, finds that books are still the best place for scientists to present their work. "Increasing complexity is leading to an entirely new way of doing science, one in which all kinds of disciplines come together in various endeavors, and scientists have to be able to talk each other's language. Their trade books reflect this; they have to write in a way that's understandable to their intelligent colleagues. That's the hallmark of these new books. They are not popular science. This is science being presented by the scientist for people outside his or her field but still within the scientific community." Just the same, any curious reader can benefit from and be enthralled by Brockman's stimulating, jargon-free Edge books.
Jonathan Derbyshire on the collapse of the distinction between public and private
In Henry James's 1893 short story "The Private Life", the narrator makes alarming discoveries about two members of his holiday party while holed up in a village in the Swiss Alps. After an evening spent listening to the table-talk of the London playwright Clarence "Clare" Vawdrey, he steals up to Vawdrey's room where he sees, "bent over the table in the attitude of writing", the man he thought he'd left downstairs in the company of his friends. Vawdrey, it seems, is double: there is his public self, which according to the narrator is burdened by "neither moods nor sensibilities", and his private, writing self, which remains hidden.
The effortlessly suave raconteur Lord Mellifont, meanwhile, suffers from the "opposite complaint". He is "all public", the narrator says, he has "no corresponding private life". There's nothing behind the pristine mask of his public self: Mellifont is all performance.
Josh Cohen discusses this story in his elegant and suggestive book. For him, James's tale can be read as a premonitory parable of the modern culture of celebrity, at the centre of which is the public's apparently insatiable demand for celebrities to be "no more or less than they appear" – that, like Lord Mellifont, they show us everything. Celebrities themselves collude in this demand and go to considerable lengths, as Cohen puts it, to "disappear seamlessly" into their public persona. They persuade their acolytes that there's nothing left over, no private remainder that, Vawdrey-like, they keep locked away from prying eyes. ...
There's a moral to be drawn from this about what Cohen calls the "modern malaise". It's not just about entertainment; it's also about our changing attitudes to our inner lives. What is it that connects the neuroscientists at Berkeley who want to map the neural activity of a dreaming person and put it on YouTube with the compulsive tweeter or the obsessive "lifelogger" who records and broadcasts her life, minute by minute?
What is at work is a powerful vision of a world without inwardness, one in which the external record of a life is the same as our experience of it. He quotes something the science writer John Brockman said about the "collective externalised mind" promised by the internet. For Brockman, that's not dystopia, it's utopia. Yet, as Cohen points out, there's another name for it: "totalitarianism" – the slogan of the Khmer Rouge, for example, was "Destroy the garden of the individual”. ...
Jonathan Derbyshire on the collapse of the distinction between public and private
What is at work is a powerful vision of a world without inwardness, one in which the external record of a life is the same as our experience of it. He quotes something the science writer John Brockman said about the "collective externalised mind" promised by the internet. For Brockman, that's not dystopia, it's utopia. Yet, as Cohen points out, there's another name for it: "totalitarianism"–the slogan of the Khmer Rouge, for example, was "Destroy the garden of the individual".
Cohen suggests that cognitive behavioural therapy, which has grown dramatically in popularity in recent years, nourishes a similar fantasy of total liberation from the burden of the inner life. What many people find so threatening about psychoanalysis, by contrast, is its insistence that the self is never whole. It tells us that our best hope, as Cohen writes at the end of this unsettling book, lies in accepting that part of us will forever remain in the dark.
[ED. NOTE: The phrase "collective externalised mind"(above) is from the Introduction to DIgerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite, 1996.]
Earlier this month, Noah Pred released his latest LP, the Exclaim!-approved Third Culture. ... The resulting 13-track album was named Third Culture, a reference to a 1995 John Brockman book, The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution...
Speaking of the book's influence, Pred says, "It's a collection of essays and articles... about the future of human culture based on a synthesis of science and art. I find it really interesting that electronic music is an art form that couldn't exist without science."
The world's smartest website is which? You might say that this issue is too funny, clever is not wise site also divided. Yes, it really has a web site is known as the world's smartest website. It is the Edge, Wuyishan teacher be translated as "cutting-edge network." Edge is positioned as "a true thinker forum" occasional interview it the world's most renowned scientists, philosophers, writers, artists, etc., so that they express humanity's most important issues facing the thinking.
From 1998 onwards, Edge editor John Brockman the end of each year will raise a question, a leader invited to express their views and, of course, including many Edge 's author. Edge of concern are: human beings have had a lot of knowledge, and are often able to finally find a solution to many problems, so for ideological and science, it is important not now the questions and answers, but whether they can raise new questions , or forward-looking and futuristic; most insightful if we can bring together ideas and causes more discussion makes sense. ...
NOTE: "Currently, Web of Science magazine subscribers nearly thirty million people, mainly from domestic universities and research institutes, as well as nearly 50,000 overseas Chinese scientists."
If you're not hip to Edge.org, it's legendary book agent John Brockman's hub for really smart scientists and other big thinkers to share ideas with each other and the public. At the site, you'll find hundreds of conversations and essays from the likes of Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Daniel Kahneman, Rebecca Saxe, Douglas Rushkoff, Ryan Phelan, and many other very, verybright people. Recently, Edge hosted a small conference, HeadCon '13: What's New In Social Science, and they're now rolling out a series of videos documenting the provocative talks from the event. With this series, they took a rather nontraditional approach to the videos.
Novelist Ian McEwan and theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed met at the Science Museum in London to mark the opening of the Large Hadron Collider exhibition. This is an edited extract of their conversation.
DO THE TWO CULTURES STILL EXIST?
IAN McEWAN: That old, two-culture matter is still with us, ever since [CP] Snow promulgated it back in the 50s. It still is possible to be a flourishing, public intellectual with absolutely no reference to science but it's happening less and less. And I think it's less a change of any decision in the culture at large, just a social reality pressing in on us. And it's true that climate change forces us to at least get a smattering of some idea of what it is to predict systems that have more than two or three variables and whether this is even possible. The internet has created sites like John Brockman's wonderful edge.org, where it's possible for laymen to sit in on conversations between scientists. And when scientists have to address each other out of their specialisms they have to speak plain English, they have to abandon their jargons, and we're the beneficiaries of that.
NIMA ARKANI-HAMED: It's an asymmetry that doesn't really need to exist. Certainly many scientists are very appreciative of the arts. The essential gulf is one of language and especially in theoretical physics, the basic difficulty is that most people don't understand our language of mathematics which we use to describe everything we know about the universe. And so while I'm capable of listening to and intensely enjoying a Beethoven sonata or an Ian McEwan novel it can be more difficult for people in the arts to have some appreciation for what we do. But at a deeper level there's a commonality between certain parts of the arts and certain parts of the sciences. ... MORE
Nima Arkani-Hamed, Martha Kearney and Ian McEwan at London's Science Museum Photograph: Jennie Hills/Science Museum
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Related reading on Edge: "The Third Culture", 1991]
Novelist Ian McEwan in a lively conversation with theoretical physicist Nima Arkani-Hamed in an exploration of the similarities, differences and connections between art and science. This discussion is part of the opening of the Large Hadron Collider exhibition at the Science Museum in London. Arkani-Hamed is a winner of the Fundamental Physics Prize.
[IAN MCEWAN:] ...That old two culture matter is still with us. Ever since Snow promulgated it back in the '50s, it still is possible to be a flourishing public intellectual with absolutely no reference to science. It still can go on but it's happening less and less and I think it's less a change of any decision in the culture at large, just a social reality pressing in on us.
It was touched on just briefly earlier this evening that bioethics is now a critical matter. We all carry around with us miraculous tiny machines that involve at least some passing admiration for the engineering that created them. It's true also that climate change forces those of us who have no interest in science to at least get a smattering of some idea of what it is to predict systems that have more than two or three variables and whether this is even possible. So, I think it's been borne in on us.
For example, the Internet has created in sites like John Brockman's wonderful site, edge.org, where it's possible for laymen to sit in on conversations between scientists and when scientists have to address each other out of their specialisms they have to speak a lingua franca of plain English. They have to abandon their jargons. And we're the beneficiaries of that. ...
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Related reading on Edge: "The Third Culture", 1991]
Every year, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman summons some of our greatest thinkers and unleashes them on one provocative question, whether its the single most elegant theory of how the world works or the best way to enhance our cognitive toolkit. This year, he sets out on the most ambitious quest yet, a meta-exploration of thought itself: Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction (public library) collects short essays and lecture adaptations from such celebrated and wide-ranging (though not in gender) minds as Daniel Dennett, Jonathan Haidt, Dan Gilbert, and Timothy Wilson, covering subjects as diverse as morality, essentialism, and the adolescent brain.
Thinking is excellent and mind-expanding in its entirety. Complement it with Brockman's This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, one of the best psychology books of 2012.
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
In the excellent collection This Explains Everything, edited by John Brockman, two of the contributors provide an explanation for why this is easier said than done. David M Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, writes of "overlapping solutions", where the brain is not made up of separate parts that deal with different activities – ie. one area for language, another for face recognition etc. Instead, he says: "The deep and beautiful trick of the brain is more interesting. It provides multiple, overlapping ways of dealing with the world."
This is echoed by the psychology researcher Judith Rich Harris, who explains that this is the root reason for a good deal of the drama in our lives and our literature, movies, plays and soap operas. It is what leads one part of us to do something that another part of us knows is wrong.
What ideas have changes in the Netherlands, or will in the future? Around 100 thinkers give their views in the recently published 'The Netherlands in Ideas'. Sprout presents a few contributions.
Netherlands in ideas http://www.mavenpublishing.nl/boeken/nederland-in-ideeen/ is the first book of a series that Maven Publishing will publish each year with around 100 leading Dutch thinkers asking for short and sweet answer to one central question about the interface between science and society. The compilers, virologist Mark G and geneticist Tim van Opijnen, have copied a bit of the art of Edge.org http://www.edge.org , because it was high time for a Dutch counterpart. The question for the first edition: 'What idea, insight or innovation in the Netherlands has changed-or will so in the future?
The question has been answered by scientists, politicians, writers, journalists, and entrepreneurs.
THE THIRD CULTURE
...Science and science fiction work on different principles. You could not have the science to say Hey, I found this an important thing about the functioning of neurons in the brain that made me really sad! That would defeat the validity of the findings. Science is objective and devoid of emotion, and art relies on emotion. I respect science and scientists, as well as scientific discourse, and I could hardly say that the same person who writes a short story about landing on the moon also can build a machine that can really do that. But doesn't fiction sometime provide you with an idea that science later follows, such as in the case of a landing on the moon, first described in the novels of Jules Verne?
---Yes, it happens sometimes. Some things actually enter into the public discourse, even the scientific conversation, such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which today has become a common noun and is used in all areas of life. There is also the other side, like a web page on the Third Culture (Third Culture), led by John Brockman, where scientists put their findings into a social context, represent them through their writings, talk about the possible positive and negative impacts, the moral implications. ...
...university President Jo Ann Gora explored the FFRF’s complaint and determined that intelligent design should not be taught in sciences classes, as it is not embraced by the scientific community as holding valid theoretical value.
The author of "The God Delusion" and "An Appetite for Wonder" doesn't care for "Pride and Prejudice": "I can't get excited about who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are."
What's the best book you've read so far this year?
I've been reading autobiographies to get me in the mood for writing my own and show me how it's done: Tolstoy (at one time my own memoir was to have been called, at my wife's suggestion, "Childhood, Boyhood, Truth"); Mark Twain; Bertrand Russell; that engaging maverick Herb Silverman; Edward O. Wilson, elder statesman of my subject. But the best new book I have read is Daniel Dennett's "Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking." A philosopher of Dennett's caliber has nothing to fear from clarity and openness. He is out to enlighten and explain, and therefore has no need or desire to language it up like those obscurantist philosophers, often of "Continental" tradition, for whom obscurity is valued as a protective screen, or even admired for its own sake. I once heard of a philosopher who gushed an "Oh, thank you!" when a woman at a party said she found his book hard to understand. Dennett is the opposite. He works hard at being understood, and makes brilliant use of intuition pumps (his own coining) to that end. The book includes a helpful roundup of several of his earlier themes, and is as good as its intriguing title promises.
Who are your favorite contemporary writers and thinkers?
I've already mentioned Dan Dennett. I'll add Steven Pinker, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Kahneman, Jared Diamond, Matt Ridley, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Rees, Jerry Coyne — indeed quite a few of the luminaries that grace the Edge online salon conducted by John Brockman (the Man with the Golden Address Book). All share the same honest commitment to real-world truth, and the belief that discovering it is the business of scientists — and philosophers who take the trouble to learn science. Many of these "Third Culture" thinkers write very well. (Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never a scientist? Why should we prefer our literature to be about things that didn't happen? Wouldn't, say, Steven Pinker be a good candidate for the literature prize?)
An organization promoting intelligent design is asking that Ball State review four professors teaching honors science courses.
...I could not agree more regarding the perverse effects that postmodernism has had on the humanities: tons of crappy theories, bad arguments, superficial historical recollections, paranoid political interpretations of major novels, untenable positions on basic biological facts, etc., all of which have been produced over the past 25 years or so in the name of a dubious ideological agenda of "debunking" the deeply concealed motivations of the 'truth-producers', whose shameful aim is to serve the interests of powerful groups.
But the humanities are not just that. It is difficult to define exactly what a scholar in the humanities – or an "intellectual" (at least in the French and Italian sense) – is in contrast to a scientist, but it is clearly a different job. Let us try to identify some of the differences, a bit like in those 'spot the difference' puzzles, where kids have to find a number of variations between two images that initially seem exactly the same. ...