Edge in the News

itbusiness.ca [1.1.07]

It doesn’t matter whether you’re making a resolution for the new year or a new day. The point is to change who you are. It’s not always a case of completely transforming yourself: you just want to be recognized as something other than one of David Berreby’s zombies.

An online forum conducted by Edge.org recently asked a slew of scientists and intellectuals what they are optimistic about. Berreby, the author Us and Them: Understanding Your Tribal Mind, said he was hopeful that the idea of a “zombie identity is coming to an end, or at least being put into greater context. I’ll let Berreby explain the notion of a zombie identity himself.

“(It’s) the intuition that people do things because of their membership in a collective identity or affiliation,” he writes. “It's a fundamental confusion that starts with a perhaps statistically valid idea (if you define your terms well, you can speak of ‘American behaviour’ or ‘Muslim behaviour’ or ‘Italian behaviour’)—and then makes the absurd assumption that all Americans or Muslims or Italians are bound to behave as you expect, by virtue of their membership in the category (a category that, often, you created).”

Berreby is primarily concerned with zombie identities in their socio-political context, and with good reason. It’s not hard to see how a fixation on zombie identities could lead to racial profiling, religious bigotry or worse. In the business world, zombie identities are often used as a lazy form of market research, as companies try to aim their products at demographic stereotypes. Advertising based on these identities, in turn, reinforces the way we perceive co-workers in the enterprise, especially in IT.

A zombie identity is more than just a stereotype. It is, if I am interpreting Berreby correctly, the emphasis of a given set of characteristics to the exclusion of others, whereas a stereotype is shorthand for describing a group of individuals. It’s not that stereotypes don’t exist, but we have to examine more than one. “It’s clear that all of us have many overlapping identities (American, middle-aged person, Episcopalian, Republican, soccer mom can be attached to one person in a single morning),” Berreby goes on. “It’s what we're doing, and who we're doing it with, that seems to determine which of these identities comes to the fore at a given time.”

We all know the zombie identities ascribed to IT department personnel. We also know that those same digitally literate, problem-solving technocrats differ wildly in terms of their family background, religious affiliations and range of education. Over the last five years, IT employees have been drilled on soft skills, but the zombie identities have been hard to shake. Maybe another way to transcend them is to pinpoint the zombie identities of their enterprise counterparts in HR, finance, marketing or administration, which are similarly well-known.

Identity management is a term we use to explain how individual users interact in a variety of online transactions and processes. Perhaps it’s time to expand that definition to take in the complex task of reverse-engineering the traits of co-workers that often get buried under a set of preconceptions. This form of identity management could lead to much deeper, more fulfilling relationships among enterprise teams, who would work more cohesively on shared goals.

Zombies tend to walk mindlessly onward no matter what gets in their way. From a distance, that might look like progress. Get a little bit closer and you see why someone among them should show a little leadership.

CORDIS NEWS [1.1.07]

Even in the face of such threats as climate change and avian flu, scientists remain optimistic about the future, as illustrated by responses to the question 'What are you optimistic about?

Every year the discussion website Edge.org asks some of the world's best scientists to answer a single question. This year's question has revealed a high degree of optimism in areas ranging from power by sunlight and transparency to hearing aid functionality, the coalescence of scientific disciplines and the alleviation of poverty. Some 160 scientists have contributed to the discussion.

Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the Mediterranean University in Marseilles, France, believes that 'the divide between rational scientific thinking and the rest of our culture is decreasing'. 'In the small world of the academia, the senseless divide between science and the humanities is slowly evaporating. Intellectuals on both sides realize that the complexity of contemporary knowledge cannot be seen unless we look at it all,' he writes.

According to Chris Dibona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc, 'Widely available, constantly renewing, high resolution images of the Earth will end conflict and ecological devastation as we know it.'

Ernst Pöppel, a neuroscientist at Munich University, is optimistic about fighting 'monocausalitis', the tendency to search for one single explanation for a phenomenon or event. 'Biological phenomena can better be understood, if multicausality is accepted as a guiding principle,' he writes.

An eagerly-awaited collider carries Maria Spiropulu's hopes for 2007. Dr Spiropulu is a physicist at CERN. 'Being built under the Jura on the border of Switzerland and France the Large Hadron Collider is a serious reason of optimism for experimental science. It is the first time that the human exploration and technology will offer reproducible 'hand-made' 14 TeV collisions of protons with protons. The physics of such interactions, the analysis of the data from the debris of these collisions [the highest energy such] are to be seen in the coming year,' she writes.

Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive of the UK's Medical Research Council and Professor of Physiology at the University of Oxford finds cause for optimism in two of the 'big' science issues of 2006: climate change and stem cells.

'For climate change, the obstacles are short-sighted commercial interests and short-term political interests,' writes Professor Blakemore. He believes that the 'tipping point' will come in 2007, when the realities of climate change become even more evident, and can no longer be ignored. 'Political sceptics will become passionate converts, eager to claim the historical credit for recognising the inevitable. The burners will become preservers,' he believes.

For stem cells, the barriers to progress are moral rather than economic. 'Although the balance of arguments seems quite different from that for climate change, interestingly, the crux of the problem is again the power of intuition over the cold rationality of science,' writes Professor Blakemore.

His reason for optimism is the following: 'Yesterday's moral outrage has a way of becoming today's necessary evil and tomorrow's common good. Just as with climate change, what will cause a swing of attitude is the turning point of a mathematical function; in this case the ratio of perceived benefit to theoretical cost.'

Cordis News [1.1.07]

... Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the Mediterranean University in Marseilles, France, believes that 'the divide between rational scientific thinking and the rest of our culture is decreasing'. 'In the small world of the academia, the senseless divide between science and the humanities is slowly evaporating. Intellectuals on both sides realize that the complexity of contemporary knowledge cannot be seen unless we look at it all,' he writes.

According to Chris DiBona, Open Source Programs Manager, Google Inc, 'Widely available, constantly renewing, high resolution images of the Earth will end conflict and ecological devastation as we know it.'

Ernst Pöppel, a neuroscientist at Munich University, is optimistic about fighting 'monocausalitis', the tendency to search for one single explanation for a phenomenon or event. 'Biological phenomena can better be understood, if multicausality is accepted as a guiding principle,' he writes.

An eagerly-awaited collider carries Maria Spiropulu's hopes for 2007. Dr Spiropulu is a physicist at CERN. 'Being built under the Jura on the border of Switzerland and France the Large Hadron Collider is a serious reason of optimism for experimental science. It is the first time that the human exploration and technology will offer reproducible 'hand-made' 14 TeV collisions of protons with protons. The physics of such interactions, the analysis of the data from the debris of these collisions [the highest energy such] are to be seen in the coming year,' she writes.

THE TIMES [12.31.06]

Scientists often find themselves accused of pessimism. From the gravity of their public warnings about the dangers of climate change or bird flu, they have earned a reputation as Jeremiahs with a bleak view of human nature and humanity’s future.

It is a charge most researchers contest vigorously: science, they say, is a profoundly optimistic pursuit. The idea that the world can be understood by gathering evidence, to the ultimate benefit of its citizens, lies at its heart. It is not just about problems, but about finding the solutions.

The breadth of this optimism is revealed today by the discussion website Edge.org — often likened to an online scientific “salon” — which marks every new year by inviting dozens of the world’s best scientific minds to answer a single question. For 2007, it is: “What are you optimistic about?” The answers show that even in the face of such threats as global warming and religious fundamentalism, scientists remain positive about the future.

Steven Pinker

Psychologist, Harvard University, author of The Blank Slate

In 16th-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat hoisted on a stage was slowly lowered into a fire.

As horrific as present-day events are, such sadism would be unthinkable today in most of the world. This is just one example of the most important and under appreciated trend in the history of our species: the decline of violence.

My optimism lies in the hope that the decline of force over the centuries is a real phenomenon, that it is the product of systematic forces that will continue to operate, and that we can identify those forces and perhaps concentrate and bottle them.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Director of the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge

I remain optimistic that for a good proportion of them [people with autism], it has never been a better time to have autism. Why? Because there is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age.For this new generation of children with autism, I anticipate that many of them will find ways to blossom, using their skills with digital technology to find employment, to find friends, and in some cases to innovate.

Daniel Dennett

Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University, author of Breaking the Spell

I expect to live to see the evaporation of the powerful mystique of religion. I think that in about 25 years almost all religions will have evolved into very different phenomena . . . With the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the internet, but cell phones and portable radios and television), it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts (and, yes, of course, misinformation and junk of every genre) that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance. The religious fervour of today is a last, desperate attempt by our generation to block the eyes and ears of the coming generations, and it isn’t working.

Jared Diamond

Biologist and geographer, UCLA, and author of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse

I am cautiously optimistic about the state of the world, because: 1. Big businesses sometimes conclude that what is good for the long-term future of humanity is also good for their bottom line (cf Wal-Mart’s recent decision to shift their seafood purchases entirely to certified sustainable fisheries within the next three to five years). 2. Voters in democracy sometimes make good choices and avoid bad choices (cf some recent elections in a major First World country).

Piet Hut, Charleston [12.31.06]

The World Question Center at www.edge.org every year asks scientists, doctors, philosophers and educators a question.

The question for 2006 was "What is your dangerous idea?"

Princeton University professor of astrophysics Piet Hut posted this idea:

"In everyday experience, time flows, and we flow with it. In classical physics, time is frozen as part of a frozen spacetime picture. And there is, as yet, no agreed-upon interpretation of time in quantum mechanics.

"What if a future scientific understanding of time would show all previous pictures to be wrong, and demonstrate that past and future and even the present do not exist? That stories woven around our individual personal history and future are all just wrong? Now that would be a dangerous idea."

We hope we've reassured you, dear reader, that those crow's feet do not really exist. They are just an illusion.

Still, here on Earth, we like to celebrate the passage of time. Like we did last night. That's why our head hurts this morning and we don't have much of an appetite.

charleston.net [12.31.06]

The World Question Center at www.edge.org every year asks scientists, doctors, philosophers and educators a question.

The question for 2006 was "What is your dangerous idea?"

Princeton University professor of astrophysics Piet Hut posted this idea:"In everyday experience, time flows, and we flow with it. In classical physics, time is frozen as part of a frozen spacetime picture. And there is, as yet, no agreed-upon interpretation of time in quantum mechanics."

What if a future scientific understanding of time would show all previous pictures to be wrong, and demonstrate that past and future and even the present do not exist? That stories woven around our individual personal history and future are all just wrong? Now that would be a dangerous idea.

"We hope we've reassured you, dear reader, that those crow's feet do not really exist. They are just an illusion.

Still, here on Earth, we like to celebrate the passage of time. Like we did last night. That's why our head hurts this morning and we don't have much of an appetite.

Is religion a destructive force? The debate over Fundamentalism and the new Atheists overshadows the scientific research on faith.
Süddeutsche Zeitung [12.31.06]

Natural scientists are now and are daring to study one of the last fields to have eluded them for so long: faith itself. This, of course, threatens faith and philosophy’s hold on the definition of man and his place in the world. This is a main reason why Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett are debated so fervently.

The Third Culture in Süddeutsche Zeitung

WHEN ONLY THE ENLIGHTENED SPEAK OUT, REASON IS BOUND TO LOSE

Is religion a destructive force? The debate over Fundamentalism and the new Atheists overshadows the scientific research on faith.

By Andrian Kreye, Editor, the Feuilleton, Süddeutsche Zeitung

ANDRIAN KREYE, from 1987 to 2006, was the US cultural correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung (currently the largest German-language daily). At the end of 2006, he moved from New York to Germany, where he took over the Feuilleton section of the newspaper (part Arts & Ideas, part Op-Ed section). He is also an Edge contributor.

Read the full article →

What are you optimistic about?
ARTS & LETTERS DAILY [12.31.06]

Intellectual impresario John Brockman puts his annual Edge question to leading thinkers... more»

Read the full article →

Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing [12.31.06]

Each year, John Brockman's EDGE asks a single question for the new year, and publishes the responses online. For 2007: ...

Respondents include many whose work has appeared on Boing Boing before, including: J. Craig Venter, Sherry Turkle, Danny Hillis, Jaron Lanier, Rodney Brooks, David Gelernter, Kevin Kelly, Freeman Dyson, George Dyson, Rudy Rucker, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Clay Shirky, Ray Kurzweil, and Clifford Pickover.

Link to index.

Several of us from BoingBoing participated: here's Cory's response ("Copying Is What Bits Are For"), here's Pesco's ("We're Recognizing That the World Is a Wunderkammer"), here's mine (" Truth Prevails. Sometimes, Technology Helps.").

slashdot [12.31.06]

from the explain-yourself dept.

Slashdot [12.31.06]

Posted by Hemos on Monday January 01, @08:43AM
from the explain-yourself dept.

Seed [12.31.06]

 

WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE
John Brockman, ed (Harper Perennial)

Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, Craig Venter, Leon Lederman, Ray Kurzweil, Sam Harris, Alison Gopnik, and dozens of others let us in on what their gut is telling them. An unprecedented roster of brilliant minds, the sum of which is nothing short of an oracle—a book ro be dog-eared and debated.

Seed [12.31.06]

Five issues, insights, and observations shaping our perspective, from the editors of Seed.

1 The Edge Annual Question — 2007
What are you optimistic about? Why? Tons of brilliabnt thinkers respond. Check out our own editor-in-chief's answer here.

SEED'S [12.31.06]

Five issues, insights, and observations shaping our perspective, from the editors of Seed. 1 The Edge Annual Question — 2007 What are you optimistic about? Why? Tons of brilliabnt thinkers respond. Check out our own editor-in-chief's answer here.

Alok Jha, The Guardian [12.31.06]

People's fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.

The web magazine Edge (www.edge.org) asked more than 150 scientists and intellectuals: "What are you optimistic about?" Answers included hope for an extended human life span, a bright future for autistic children, and an end to violent conflicts around the world.

Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instil today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will "gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance".

Biologist Richard Dawkins said that physicists would give religion another problem: a theory of everything that would complete Albert Einstein's dream of unifying the fundamental laws of physics. "This final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."

THE TIMES [12.31.06]

If we could eradicate disgust, would global warfare disappear? That is the intriguing thesis of Marc Hauser, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and contributor to Edge (www.edge.org), a discussion forum for some of the world’s leading scientists.

Every year, Edge contributors are asked to consider an open-ended question. In his response to this year’s poser — What are you optimistic about, and why? — Hauser suggests that science may be able to rid the world of prejudices such as racism and sexism. These "isms" are fuelled not only by the perception of difference, but by the systematic denigration of others.

Pivotal to this process is disgust. Some aspects of this emotion are common to all cultures (an aversion to faeces and urine) but others are culture-specific. The agreeability of consuming sheeps’ eyeballs or chicken’s feet, for example, varies between countries.

Hauser calls disgust a "mischievous emotion", stretching beyond the purpose for which it originally evolved (most probably to keep us away from disease-carrying substances) and leaking into other arenas, such as the construction of social hierarchies. Look at the Indian caste system — the Dalits, or untouchables, perform the dirtiest work (such as handling dead animals or human excrement), live apart from polite society and, in some rural regions, are still banned from temples. ...

Mark Henderson, The Times [12.31.06]

• 'Jeremiahs' list their great hopes for 2007
• More romance, better old age and better death

Scientists often find themselves accused of pessimism. From the gravity of their public warnings about the dangers of climate change or bird flu, they have earned a reputation as Jeremiahs with a bleak view of human nature and humanity’s future.

It is a charge most researchers contest vigorously: science, they say, is a profoundly optimistic pursuit. The idea that the world can be understood by gathering evidence, to the ultimate benefit of its citizens, lies at its heart. It is not just about problems, but about finding the solutions.

The breadth of this optimism is revealed today by the discussion website Edge.org — often likened to an online scientific “salon” — which marks every new year by inviting dozens of the world’s best scientific minds to answer a single question. For 2007, it is: “What are you optimistic about?” The answers show that even in the face of such threats as global warming and religious fundamentalism, scientists remain positive about the future.

THE GUARDIAN [12.31.06]

People's fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.

The web magazine Edge (www.edge.org) asked more than 150 scientists and intellectuals: "What are you optimistic about?" Answers included hope for an extended human life span, a bright future for autistic children, and an end to violent conflicts around the world.

Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instil today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will "gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance".

Biologist Richard Dawkins said that physicists would give religion another problem: a theory of everything that would complete Albert Einstein's dream of unifying the fundamental laws of physics. "This final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."

Part of that final theory will be formulated by scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator at Cern in Geneva, which is to be switched on this year. It will smash protons together to help scientists understand what makes up the most fundamental bits of the universe.

Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University, highlighted the decline of violence: "Most people, sickened by the bloody history of the 20th century, find this claim incredible. Yet, as far as I know, every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia (and, for that matter, the past 50 years), particularly in the west, has shown the overall trend is downward."

John Horgan, of the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, was optimistic "that one day war - large-scale, organised group violence - will end once and for all".

This will also be the year that we get to grips with our genomes. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, believes we will learn "so much more about ourselves and how we interact with our environment and fellow humans".

Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychologist at Cambridge University, focused on autistic children, saying their outlook had never been better. "There is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age," he said. "Many develop an intuitive understanding of computers, in the same way other children develop an intuitive understanding of people."

Leo Chalupa, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Davis, predicted that, by the middle of this century, it would not be uncommon for people to lead active lives well beyond the age of 100. He added: "We will be able to regenerate parts of the brain that have been worn out. So better start thinking what you'll be doing with all those extra years."

BOING BOING [12.31.06]


Each year, John Brockman's
EDGE asks a single question for the new year, and publishes the responses online. For 2007:

What are you optimistic about? Why?

While conventional wisdom tells us that things are bad and getting worse, scientists and the science-minded among us see good news in the coming years. That's the bottom line of an outburst of high-powered optimism gathered from the world-class scientists and thinkers by EDGE, the influential online salon that features an ongoing conversation among third culture thinkers (i.e., those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.)

The 2007 EDGE Question marks the 10th anniversary of EDGE, which began in December, 1996 as an email to about fifty people. In 2006, EDGE had more than five million user sessions.

The responses to this year's EDGE Question span topics such as string theory, intelligence, population growth, cancer, climate and much much more. Among the 150 world-class thinkers contributing their optimistic visions are Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, Howard Gardner, Marc D. Hauser, W. Daniel Hillis, Ray Kurzweil, Steven Pinker, Lisa Randall, and J, Craig Venter.

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