The Universe, by John Brockman
Now that Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson is on break, I'm turning to John Brockman to get my fix of easy-to-understand-but-totally-mindblowing science facts. In his latest book, The Universe, Brockman brings together the world's top physicists and science writers to explain the universe in all its wondrous splendor, providing insights on gravity, dark matter, the energy of empty space, and the possibility of a unified theory.
"The idea is to help readers discern something you know they'd be able to see, if only they were looking in the right place."
What's the secret to writing well? As I've said previously here, an awful lot of people seem to think they know, yet their "rules for writers" are almost always (pardon the technical linguistics jargon) bullshit. For example, "Show, don't tell" is frequently bad advice. In the right context, the passive voice is fine. Elmore Leonard's most famous rule, "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue", is sheer silliness. Even the sainted Orwell's rules are a bit rubbish: the final one is, "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous", which means his advice is really just "Don't write barbarically". So it doesn't bode well that the psychologist Steven Pinker is to publish his own advice book, The Sense Of Style, later this year. Judging by a recent interview at edge.org, however, this one might be different. Writing, Pinker points out, is inherently a psychological phenomenon, "a way that one mind can cause ideas to happen in another mind". So one place to begin is with actual psychology.
The key thing to realise, Pinker argues, is that writing is "cognitively unnatural". For almost all human existence, nobody wrote anything; even after that, for millennia, only a tiny elite did so. And it remains an odd way to communicate. You can't see your readers' facial expressions. They can't ask for clarification. Often, you don't know who they are, or how much they know. How to make up for all this? ... (@oliverburkeman)
Recently, the much-debated concept of the global level "third culture" (third culture).
In Germany and America many articles written on this subject in the university environment have been seriously debated. With complete peace of mind I can recommend a site —"www.edge.org" where I also read an extremely interesting article I read about it on Tuesday.
"Third culture", in fact, is an answer to the question: "Globalism, how can be truly global in this century?"
Subject to the risk of simplification, I will try to describe the third culture. ....
As adults we don't have the advantage of benevolent, parental overlords engineering our environments, but we still have some options. For example, psychologist Laurie Santos and philosopher Tamar Gendler, in a short essay at Edge.org rejecting the idea that "knowing is half the battle," write:
"The lesson of much contemporary research in judgment and decision-making is that knowledge — at least in the form of our consciously accessible representation of a situation — is rarely the central factor controlling our behavior. The real power of online behavioral control comes not from knowledge, but from things like situation selection, habit formation, and emotion regulation. This is a lesson that therapy has taken to heart, but one that 'pure science' continues to neglect."
In other words, we can try to change our own environments to trigger and reinforce the right behaviors, work on making those behaviors routine, and change the way we construe situations — if not the situations themselves — to change the way we feel and the way we act. For instance, construing a toddler's misbehavior as deliberate provocation will likely elicit a different emotional response (and different parental behavior) from construing the same misdeed as the little tyke's exploration of her social world — an experiment in figuring out how you work.
How pocket supercomputers warp our perception of time.
I'm kind of a worrier, so naturally I picked up this book called What Should We Be Worried About? Editor John Brockman, the curator of Edge.org, asked a bunch of really smart people—scientists, writers, journalists, tech gurus, folks like that—to write essays about what keeps them up at night. It's that simple.
My wife commented that perhaps this wasn't the sort of book I should be reading, but as a curmudgeon, I had to disagree. It's actually sort of validating to read about all these other people's worries. Plus, the writers keep 'em short—too short, in the case of Terry Gilliam—and the breadth of the worriers clues you in to a wide range of worries you never even knew you needed to worry about. How awesome is that?
THE PATIENCE DEFICIT
By Nicholas G. Carr
I'm concerned about time—the way we're warping it and it's warping us. Human beings, like other animals, seem to have remarkably accurate internal clocks. Take away our wristwatches and our cell phones and we can still make pretty good estimates about time intervals. But that faculty can also be easily distorted. Our perception of time is subjective; it changes with our circumstances and our experiences. When things are happening quickly all around us, delays that would otherwise seem brief begin to seem interminable. Seconds stretch out. Minutes go on forever. "Our sense of time," observed William James in his 1890 masterworkThe Principles of Psychology, "seems subject to the law of contrast." ...
... It's not clear whether a technology-induced loss of patience persists even when we're not using the technology. But I would hypothesize (based on what I see in myself and others) that our sense of time is indeed changing in a lasting way. Digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts—and perhaps more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli. Because our experience of time is so important to our experience of life, it strikes me that these kinds of technology-induced changes in our perceptions can have broad consequences.
Stephen Kosslyn once put forward the intriguing notion that God exists but is not supernatural
I recently came across an interesting book called What Is Your Dangerous Idea? (2006), edited by John Brockman. The book is a collection of "dangerous" ideas proposed by 108 of today’s leading thinkers (including physicists Freeman Dyson, Lee Smolin, Paul Davies, Frank Tipler, philosopher Daniel Dennett and biochemist Craig Venter), with a preface by Steven Pinker and an afterword by Richard Dawkins. Today I present you with one fascinating idea from this book, proposed by Stephen M Kosslyn, a professor of psychology at Harvard University. I am neither advocating nor criticising Kosslyn’s proposal – I merely present it as an intriguing idea.
Kosslyn’s dangerous idea is: God exists but is not supernatural; God is part of the natural order. When looked at in this manner, the God concept can be approached scientifically. On the other hand, the orthodox approach, to which I generally subscribe, is to view science and religion as inhabiting two largely “non-overlapping magisteria” (in the words of Stephen Jay Gould). Kosslyn’s idea will please neither the atheist nor the religious.
Kosslyn’s concept of God is of a supreme being that transcends time and space, permeates our world but also stands outside of it, and can intervene in our daily lives, partly in response to prayer.
A scientific approach to this concept rests on three principles. Firstly, emergent properties: this is a well-known phenomenon whereby new properties emerge from aggregates, properties that cannot be fully predicted from the properties of individual aggregate elements. Thus, life emerges from aggregates of biochemicals of particular types in large numbers, mind emerges from neurons in large numbers, and economic and social systems emerge from minds in large numbers. Secondly, downward causality: events at higher levels (where emergent properties arise) can affect events at lower levels, for example an economic depression affects individuals living in society. Thirdly, the ultimate superset: the set of all living things. This superset has emergent properties that feed back to affect the living things that make up the superset.
The world is hitting its stride in technological advances and futurists have been making wild-sounding bets on what we'll accomplish in the not-so-distant future. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, for example, believes that by 2040 artificial intelligence will be so good, humans will be fully-immersed in virtual reality and that something called The Singularity, when technology becomes so advanced that it actually changes the human race irreversibly, will occur.
Kevin Kelly, who helped launched Wired in 1993, sat down for an hour-long videointerview with John Brockman at The Edge. Kelly believes that the next 20 years in technology will be radical. So much so, that he believes our technological advances will make the previous 20 years "pale" in comparison.
"If we were sent back with a time machine, even 20 years, and reported to people what we have right now and describe what we were going to get in this device in our pocket-we'd have this free encyclopedia, and we'd have street maps to most of the cities of the world, and we'd have box scores in real time and stock quotes and weather reports, PDFs for every manual in the world...You would simply be declared insane," Kelly said.
An Obituary by Gustav Seibt, Franziska Augstein and Andrian Kreye
. . . Not a traditional man of culture
Schirrmacher had a large double talent: he could create new topics and get them out early. He knew—months before others knew it—what would be the language in the Federal Republic. And he was great in terms of the agreement with important people. He wrote his articles rather quickly. In addition, however, he wanted to get involved, to have his fingers everywhere. He succeeded in both.
Frank Schirrmacher was not just a traditional man of culture, although he had followed in the footsteps of two pillars of post-war cultural life in Germany, namely historian Joachim C. Fest and literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki. He was not only a fierce social critic of the conservative mold, He was not only a great journalist, having launched one of the last newspaper projects to be both successfull and profitable, which is FAZ's weeked edition FAS. He was one of the first "digerati", i.e. one of those 21st century intellectuals on the cusp between the humanities and natural sciences who detect a technology-driven future that opens up new worlds. But because he came from the European tradition of critical thinking, he was largely immune to the seductive euphoria that was blowing from the American shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
Sure, there seemed to be no limits to be the enthusiasm with which he threw himself into the new themes. Unforgettable was the Features section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungof 27 June 2000, in which the only thing to read on the first six pages were abstract letters of the human genome which were first completely deciphered by the biochemist Craig Venter. The headline read: "Craig Venter's last words."
The persistence with which Schirrmacher presented his themes not only continued, but the illumination from all sides, from all involved and uninvolved, was unique. Just the recent debates about the dangers of digital culture due to the monopolistic tendencies of the Silicon Valley companies, and the global spying programs of the NSA alone, showed the intellectual verve he brought to debates, illuminating the ups and downs which had been kept hidden behind impenetrable techno-jargon and a blind faith in the future. There aren't that many great critical minds in this field so far.
Schirrmacher not only recognized kindred spirits early, he gave them his full support: David Gelernter, Evgeny Morozov, Constanze Kurz, George Dyson, or this year's recipient of the German book seller's association's prestigious peace prize Jaron Lanier. In the pages of FAZ's Feuilleton he gave them the type of space and the continuous presence normally known only from academic journals. Still he edited them with the journalistic instincts that enabled him and his authors again and again to aquaint Central Europe's educated public life with California thinking.
This side made Frank Schirrmacher also part of the debate on the other side of the Atlantic. You could even encounter him in America much more often than he actually travelled there. You could for example be high above Central Park on the terrace of New York literary agent John Brockman, who is something of a global Weltgeist of science, which Schirrmacher perceived in the very Hegelian way. It happened quite a few tines on occasions like this, that Brockman's cellphone would be ringing, followed by Brockman greeting the caller with a delighted "Frank!", followed by a lengthy phone conversation about the latest in evolutionary biology, behavioural economics or genetic engineering. If Schirrmacher was in hot pursuit of a topic it could happen that the cell would be ringing five, ten times a day, each call greeted by an excited "Frank!" That's when you knew that in this instance the future would arrive in Europe much faster than usual.
It was not only his insatiable curiousity and his almost childlike excitability that helped him in his search for ever new topics. He also had very powerful gift to win people over. When he met the visionary Yale computer scientist David Gelernter during prep for a panel discussion at the DLD conference in Munich in January of 2010, he immediately recognized one of those kindred spirits him.
That's why he didn't leave it at the panel. For two days he more or less didn't leave the American scientist's side. He circled Gelernter's complex thinking first with probing questions, he discovered common thoughts and passions. A bit later he sifted through his enormous body of readily available European knowledge and was able to bring intellectual nuggets to to the table himself. The encounter lead to a transatlantic friendship that enriched the pages of his Feuilleton for years to come. ...
...Protagonist of future debates
Soon it was Frank Schirrmacher not just a participant but the protagonist of debates about the future. In 2009 he published his book "Payback", which became a bestseller, then The Methuselah Conspiracy, his warning of the coming generation gap of an aging society, and his book Minimum. Payback was the first intellectual engagement with the digital culture that appeared in Germany.
The subtext of his agenda: Why are we forced in the information age to do what we do not want to do, and how do we regain control over our thinking. It was one of the first great intellectual struggles with the dangers of digital technologies that did not come from the digital circles themselves, and thinking not from the strongholds of the computer scientists, but from the tradition of European humanities. It was a sharp reckoning with the zeitgeist that looked something like a promise of salvation in the digital media. And he made himself so at first not only popular.
"It is very important to emphasize that we are not talking about cultural pessimism," Schirmacher said in an interview with John Brockman, published on edge.org in autumn of 2009. "We're talking about a new technology, which is de facto a brain technology that has to do with intelligence, thus with thinking, and this new technology collides in a very material way with the history of ideas of European thinking.” However, it was not holy for him. But he saw the danger that arises when one breaks with the gesture of revolution with the story. When idealism becomes ideology.
When John Brockman first learned of Frank Schirrmacher's death, he was not just sad and shocked like many others. Immediately he exclaimed: "This is a loss that will be felt not only in Germany, but all over the world. He is irreplaceable. He managed to make intellectual life in Germany trump that of America because he dared to put issues on the table that no one in America wanted on the agenda".
After Payback, his next book was Ego: The Game of Life, in which he which analyzed the effects of a Internet-based world economy driven by greed. At the same time presented an ever-sharper critique of capitalism in the once very conservative Feuilleton of the FAZ. On Thursday Frank Schirrmacher died in Frankfurt of a heart attack. . He leaves his wife, an adult son and a small daughter. Not only the man will be missed, but also his many unwritten books, his unguided debates. He was 54 years old.
• Edge.org, TIFF Bucureşti, Istorie în culori
Site edge.org a place where the best minds of our times gather. Some conversations last uploaded on the website: psychologist Steven Pinker about "the act of writing in the 21st century", the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist about the "intellectual enzyme" physicists Alan Guth and Andrei Linde about "what's new in the universe."
For me, this book functions best as an eye-opener on subjects that we might not have previously thought about.
For example, British academic Dylan Evans worries that the spread and embrace of democracy, which has its own flaws, is preventing us from evolving a better political system.
And computer scientist and physicist W. Daniel Hillis is concerned about the assumptions behind the type of information Internet search engines provide us. With Google incorporating semantics alongside the traditional keyword search, this means that the search engine is now assigning meaning to the words we are searching for. And in a world where one person’s freedom fighter might be another’s terrorist, the worry is that computer programs may now be deciding what words mean for us and providing us information according to that judgement.
In fact, my personal favourite is a two-sentence gem from Monty Python troupe member and British director and screenwriter Terry Gilliam: “I’ve given up on worrying. I merely float on a tsunami of acceptance of anything life throws at me ... and marvel stupidly.”
Recommended for those who want an accessible, intellectual read on a wide range of science-related topics, both popular and more esoteric.
Also, good material for those who might want to impress others in social settings with their “smartness”.
What is happening today in the Internet or in the biotech laboratories, raises pressing legal and moral questions. Frank Schirrmacher had the intellectual antenna and the fire of passionate journalist.
A great cultural journalist has died. The response to the sudden death of the FAZ Co-editor Frank Schirrmacher certainly shows an echo from all social, political spheres, and also far beyond the world of classical arts page. And indicative, in that what culture, what connects the arts, philosophy, the sciences and also economy and politics beyond technical borders. What is the essence of a newspaper: enlightenment.
In every work of art, it is essentially about a self-image of man, even if this explodes and the man may occur only as a shadow and fragment or dissolves in the abstraction.
To describe this analytically, is the task and stimulus of criticism. But the view of the waking columnists looks beyond the individual work and its aesthetic criteria, in the interaction of specific review and more general reflection.
Frank Schirrmacher and the ideal of enlightened people
Here the "expanded concept of culture" comes into play, which was also the passion of Frank Schirrmacher, who was originally a literary critic. Culture shapes the identity of the man who understands himself about his vegetative nature also in thought, action, dreams, hope as cultural beings. But the ideal of enlightened, competent self-reflection as to the overall reflection of the people of the world has been broken for more than a hundred years. "Universal Man", universally educated, as once were Leonardo da Vinci or even Goethe and Humboldt, able to think with the essential knowledge of the natural sciences as well as the world of humanities , of philosophy, politics, economics and the arts, is long gone, since the revolutions of technology, physics, modern medicine at the beginning of the 20th century.
One speaks of a division of the world into two cultures, in which there are the humanities and the natural sciences. However, there is also the idea of a "Third Culture". From his office on New York's Central Park, literary agent John Brockman invented the idea of a new "third culture" 20 years ago out of an earlier previously existent, but not really virulent version. And Frank Schirrmacher was one of his seismographic adepts.
Schirrmacher was a representative of a Second Enlightenment
The idea of building a new bridge to close the gap, for example, between biotechnology or nano-physicists on the one hand, and anthropologists, sociologists, lawyers or cultural philosophers, is seductive. In fact, the "third culture" is not about blurring the differences between artificial and artistic intelligence. But rather, it speaks to an extended concept of culture: a broader concept of humanity. This involves mutual knowledge and understanding.
If we not only want to know, but also want to determine how we live in the future, there must be a dialogue between cultures. Because what is happening in the Internet or in the biotech laboratories, goes beyond questions of what is technically feasible to questions that are increasingly legal, moral and social. After the impact, after blessing or curse, there are always cultural questions. It is the project of a second enlightenment, to have the intellectual antennas and the courage of the amateur (in French: the lover) and for cross-border speculation, part of the fire of passionate journalists. Schirrmacher was a candle burning from both sides.
Michael John Gorman is intrigued by a survey of art informed and invigorated by science.
Colliding Worlds: How Cutting-Edge Science is Redefining Contemporary Art
Arthur I. Miller W. W. Norton: 2014.
After months of injections with horse immunoglobulin in 2011, artist Marion Laval-Jeantet had a transfusion of horse blood in a Ljubljana art gallery. She walked around the donor animal on prosthetic hooves; then samples of her hybrid blood were freeze-dried and placed in engraved aluminium cases. In 2005, a New York gallery showed a starburst of glass orbs and aluminium rods depicting the explosion of space after the Big Bang, by sculptor Josiah McElheny and cosmologist David Weinberg.
Such are the collaborations chronicled by historian Arthur I. Miller in Colliding Worlds. Miller argues that we are seeing the emergence of a “third culture” — a term coined by writer John Brockman — in which boundaries between art and science dissolve.
The past decade has seen a proliferation of galleries, labs and residency programmes devoted to mingling art and science. Miller surveys these, from London's Wellcome Collection to the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria; the Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin (of which I was founding director); Le Laboratoire in Paris; and the Collide@CERN artist-residency programme at Europe's particle-physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland. He provides engaging pen portraits of many of the artists involved, such as Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand, who experiment with sonoluminescence.
Stuttgart - Hardly an interview with Jaron Lanier, hardly an article about him does not the legend of his transformation by Paul to Saul, by the Prophet to the heretics. Lanier was born in May 1960 in New York City, and even before the turn of the Millennium he had enrolled immediately in several chapters of the history of the digital. With him, a thought leader in the digital world for the first time receives the peace prize, which is endowed with 25,000 euros, precisely because he had the risks digitization for the free lifestyle of each person, as reported by the Board of Trustees of the prize. ...
The dangerous logic of collectivism
But Jaron Lanier disappointed expectations, and that is one of his favorite activities according to his own statement. Instead, he got a hearing as a critic of progressive mechanisation. In the year 2000 "One Half of a Manifesto", in which he opposed the idea of humans as biological computer appeared his essay edge.org debate portal. 2010 followed by an another "Manifesto" called "you are not a gadget" on German "Gadget - why the future us still needs", sought to establish that the individual as a counterpart to the technology and hold didn't even before online shrines such as the Wikipedia Encyclopedia. Again he coined a term, namely the of "digital Maoism": the dangerous logic of collectivism that hides more bad than in concepts of swarm intelligence, of crowd sourcing, and the "social networks" is meant."Every penny Google earns, proves that the many - failed and Google deserves a whole lot of pennies", it says "Gadget".
[ 2nd part of the reflection on the scientific and the "third culture". Click here for Part I. December 12, 2013.]
My previous post, The third culture or CP Snow Revisited, addressed the rift between science and the humanities, and I ended by saying that he had not only build bridges between the two, but propose a new cultural map.
As worth exploring, I mentioned the "third culture" of John Brockman, which defines the term based on the text The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution of CP Snow: "The" third culture "refers to scientists and other thinkers empirical world who, through their work and writings take the place traditionally occupied by intellectuals, and put forward the deep meaning of your lives, redefining who and what we are "[translation by the author].
Brockman therefore refers to these scientists, intellectuals, from the vast body of empirical knowledge developed in the 20th century, not only the rethinking howthe world but play leapfrog over disciplinary fences.Consider, for example, Jared Diamond and historical geography, or the sociologist Nicholas Christakis and its reflection on the science of social connections. But you could also attach the Michel Serres, Joel De Rosnay, Ilya Prigogine, Henri Atlan, etc....
...John Brockman, pioneer of knowledge online with his Edge.org, is an expert in "life of the mind": each year he encourages the community of scientists, intellectuals and thinkers that animate the site with questions and challenges of an epistemological and ethical nature (the Question for 2014 is: "What scientific theories are ready to be retired?"). For Brockman, to embrace Scruton's ["high culture"] thesis is tantamount to accepting the aphorism of conceptual artist James Lee Byars: "Meditate the putrifying corpse." "Many people don't know and don't know that they don't know. Why spend a life looking through a rear-view mirror", he explained to La Lettura by email.
Brockman rejects the label of a niche site: "the point is that there is no more mass audience. Individuals know what they love and the Internet allows them to follow their own interests. Edge is not for everybody. It is helpful for our readers to understand who the contributors are, and how their ideas play out in the cultural landscape. In a sense, it is an elite, but elitism is a good and necessary when the group is transparent and open to new people, and ideas are considered on a meritocratic basis".
The author sensed the cultural change, in the early days of the Internet, when, in 1980, he created the Reality Club (which turned into the Edge Foundation) to bring together artists, scientists, politicians and businessmen to create a new kind of knowledge. "The site, established at the end of 1996, has no interest in 'democratizing' science. Rather it's an expansive conversation between minds."
Watch/Read "This Thing For Which we Have No Name: A Conversation with Rory Sutherland" on Edge.
[Teamwork, from left: John Brockman, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan in 1967 in the New York Factory]
...Finally Brockman has also proved his own talent for synthesis as a writer. In his first book By The Late John Brockman, he considers the world through the lens of information theory, in 37 through Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and in Afterwords as a verbal construct. Above all, his first work was a magnificent combination, not just in content but also in form, of philosophy and experimental literature, which he presented in 1968 in a six-part reading of the book in the New York Poetry Center. Each page of the book contained only one paragraph, composed of citations from the likes of Ludwig Wittgenstein or Samuel Beckett. The very? process of reading is supposed to create a performance, freely after Marcel Duchamp’s dictum that an artist makes the material available but that it is up to the observer or reader to make an artwork out of it.
Jennifer Jacquet, Clinical Assistant Professor in Environmental Studies at NYU (and Edge's Roving Editor), in a videotaped talk at the New England Aquarium.
Jacquet talks about different initiatives for consumers that have (and have not) had an impact on overfishing and sea life, including sea food wallet cards listing the various endangered species of fish. She also mentions her own struggles against big organizations who have environmentally harmful fishing processes and how people can help fight back. [Watch 58 minutes video.]
Mind...opens the minds of readers across brings many questions. Edge yield of a series of the book, was published by the same name in Turkish: Mind (Alpha Science). Edge scientists, philosophers, artists and technology experts...together reached the limits of our knowledge and horizons that exposes some discussions, talks and conferences organizer, who publishes an intellectual platform. www.edge.org events some videos and documents produced in the framework can be accessed.
John Brockman editor of the Mind book, biology, neurology, neurobiology, cognitive science, linguistics, psychology, evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics total of 16 scientists, their expertise in the context of mind that questions and theses have been passing. ...
I was fascinated by this book from the moment I picked it up at Barnes & Noble. I had heard of a few of the writers Brockman tapped for this volume, but I was unfamiliar with most of the names listed in the table of contents. Moreover, I could not find any rhyme or reason to the authors selected to present their various perspectives on what should, in fact, be on our radar screens when it comes to what we should be distressing about. Although everyone arguably has some connection to science, I found it impossible to identify a common thread characterizing all of the contributors.
Most of the selections run only two to three pages, which made the book particularly easy to digest in a series of short sittings. Over the week it took me to get through all of the vignettes, I probably spent no more than an hour reading the book at any one time. Still, many of the ideas resonated with me on several levels. I found myself thinking about what I had read as I was involved in other activities throughout the day. For example, I spent my entire run one afternoon reflecting on the chapter by Martin Rees, “We are in denial about catastrophic risks.” Rees is an emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge.