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.
Svante Pääbo has decoded the genome of the Neanderthal. In the interview, the researchers about the fatal stagnation of prehistoric humans, similar genes - and rather strange fantasies talks.
Q. In your book, you combine sober portrayals with very private insights: "We ran naked along the pristine beaches, snorkelled with fish." Can science literature with such intimate sprinkling sell?
A. (laughs) It was the New York agent, John Brockman, who persuaded me to write the book. I said, OK, I'll do it. "But it should be a book that not only interested geneticists, but also my children, will find of interest." An example was the American biochemist Jim Watson and his book THE DOUBLE HELIX in which he describes the operation of science and and also how scientists work with each other in a personal way.
We all have worries. But as trained observers, scientists learn things that can affect us all. So what troubles them, should also trouble us. From viral pandemics to the limits of empirical knowledge, find out what science scenarios give researchers insomnia.
But also, we discover which scary scenarios that preoccupy the public don’t worry the scientists at all. Despite the rumors, you needn’t fear that the Large Hadron Collider will produce black holes that could swallow the Earth.
It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!
- David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
- Sandra Faber – Astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz
- Paul Saffo – Technology forecaster based in the Silicon Valley
- Seth Shostak – Senior astronomer, SETI Institute, host,Big Picture Science
- Elisa Quintana – Research scientist, SETI Institute
- Lawrence Krauss – Theoretical physicist, Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University
Inspiration for this episode comes from the book, What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night edited by John Brockman.
This Will Change Everything
...provides more than 100 specialists in various fields to answer the question" What will change everything?"... Sometimes frightening, but very scenic professors, books, authors, public figures, insights and predictions reflect the innovative new ways of thinking and perception of the surrounding environment options. Intellectuals considerations, covering areas from genetics to computer science, points to the inevitable changes that will determine both the public and the rebuilding of the universe. Any thoughts expressed declares a new idea that appears small, but important piece of the future map.
Not a perfect mechanism, but fear remains a useful sense: without such a system, our life would have been a complete disaster. Where does this mania to underestimate the fear, prudence or caution if they have their positive side?
Fear is no longer fashionable. Self-help books are populated with tips so that we finish with our fears and go out of the comfort zone. The feeling that is promoted in today's society is that of the omnipresence of the internal control: the location should not matter to us, the crucial point is the attitude. And therefore it is that nothing and no one believes us apprehension. It seems that trying to feel secure and avoiding events that we assume vulnerable was a bad psychological strategy. But is it true that the caution is a tactic that we cancel? . . .
. . .Amid this discrediting of prudence and caution, the question that the stimulating publication Edge recently launched the brightest minds on the planet is striking. Every year, this digital magazine poses the question that respond dozens of influential intellectuals. The 2013 question was: "What should we be worried about?" ("Why should we be concerned?"). Most striking was not the demand for scientists and communicators identified social concerns, but the fact that you asked for them with that resounding "must". Because none of the respondents answered "no worry about nothing", so we can assume that, for these brilliant minds, harboring fears it is not nonsense.
In fact, a review by answers shows us, updated, the entire spectrum of disappointments that have proven many humans Adaptive throughout history. It is, of course, the apprehension that makes us the loneliness: the psychologist David M. Buss, for example, causes the alarm that the shortage of desirable couples increased in the future human brutality. There is also who points out the fear by the loss of vital sense. Dave Winer, the pioneer in the world of blogs, worried that we no longer have desire to survive and the anthropologist Christine Finn that we finish to completely lose touch with the physical world. …
A popular Washington Post article by my colleague Michael S. Rosenwald said that researchers were finding that the habit of scanning and skinning material online was changing the human brain and hindering people’s” ability to read long, complex and dense material. Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, a professor at the University of Virginia, is highly skeptical. ...
… "The truth is, probably, that the brain is simply not adaptable enough for such a radical change. Yes, the brain changes as a consequence of experience, but there are likely limits to this change, a point made by both Steve Pinker and Roger Schank when commenting on this issue. If our ability to deploy attention or to comprehend language processes were to undergo substantial change, the consequences would cascade through the entire cognitive system, and so the brain is probably too conservative for large-scale change."
Pinker and Schank were among a group of people who responded in 2010 to Edge.org’s question: How is the Internet changing the way you think? Pinker, a renowned experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist at Harvard University, gave this answer: Not at all. He wrote in part: …
In 1997, the Reality Club, which was formed in 1981 to explore themes of the post-Industrial Age, went on-line and was rebranded as "Edge." Those involved with Edge brainstorm to ask an annual question and challenge brilliant people to answer it. The 2012 question, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" which sought to gather people’s opinions about their favorite scientific theory or explanation, led to more than 200 answers. This book includes edited forms of 148 of those answers it its 411 pages, making the average chapter less than 3 pages long. A common theme in the published answers is the proposal of "a simple and nonobvious idea … as the explanation for a diverse and complicated set of phenomena." ...
...I enjoyed reading this book immensely and spent more time on it, per page, than on any other book. Each of the 148 bite-size chapters is a delight, and trying to summarize the content would lead to a book-length review.
"What Should We Be Worried About?" is the title of a new 2014 book edited by John Brockman, in which 153 scientists, professors and leading thinkers write two- and three-page essays in response to the book title.
One essay highlights an issue that will worry governments increasingly in the future. The issue is the current unsustainable expectation of infinite economic growth.
The essay title is a question: "A World Without Growth?" by financial risk expert Satyajit Das. To paraphrase, all modern societies, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, depend on continuing economic growth as a universal solution for all political, social and economic problems, which includes improving living standards and reducing poverty.
Also, growth is now expected to solve the problems over overindebted individuals, businesses and nations.
Over the past 30 years, globalization and debt-driven consumption across the planet became the tool of generating economic growth. That planetwide growth is destroying the Earth's environment and using up finite resources, especially water.
Those factors, plus unsustainable debt levels rising in all nations, threatens to end an unprecedented 200 years of growth and expansion. ...
Why a different kind of scholar—and idea—hits big today
...In describing the shift of the limelight away from the humanities, many people invoke the decline of theory—specifically the abstruse poststructuralist thought espoused by Jacques Derrida and his acolytes—which once seemed set to take over not just the humanities but all of academe. "There is a particular kind of theory-head who thinks that they can explain everything to everyone," says Stephen Burt, a professor of English at Harvard University. "That’s gone. The people who think they can explain everything are in the sciences—or in one case linguistics, Steven Pinker. But I don’t think there’s an explanation for everything, so I don’t miss it." Burt, the rare English professor who has given a TED talk (on poetry and mortality, among other things), says his experience was "unequivocally positive."
People such as John Brockman, literary agent to star scientists and editor of Edge.org, argue that wooly humanists have simply given way to harder-headed thinkers who address intellectual topics, including the humanities, through a scientific lens. ...
Bring together two hundred of the most powerful minds in one place and let them inspire each other, confront and learn—it's a great recipe to accelerate scientific progress in the world and a quite interesting way to spend time. But how to do it? Even 30 years ago, such a project would not have a chance. The Internet radically changed this situation. In 1996, a New York literary agent John Brockman established the website Edge.org. It's an extraordinary cul-de-sac in the global network, which sooner or later gets everyone fascinated by the most advanced content on science, technology and society.
For website Edge.org publishes the writings and record videos of absolutely exquisite people, primarily leading American and British scientists, including Nobel Prize winners, as Frank Wilczek, Eric Kandel, Daniel Kahneman and George Smoot. A significant contribution by the science popularizors: writers, journalists and the golden children of Silicon Valley, who introduce the rest of the world to new technologies.
All this, the incredible group and its works, are managed by John Brockman—the man whose biography complies with the idea of the American dream. . . .
They say a fool and his money are never as much time together in this blog are very concerned about your money going to help make it ready and so the little money they have always be with you.
Editors of Edge.org asked some of the most influential thinkers of the world, including neuroscientists, physicists and mathematicians, what they considered the most important scientific concepts of the modern age. The result is the book This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts To Improve Your Thinking...a collection of 200 essays exploring all kinds of concepts. ...
Insomniacs will have plenty of fodder to fuel their sleeplessness after reading What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night.
...Fifty years ago, nuclear annihilation might have topped the list. War is a bit player here, with a cheery nod from Steven Pinker, who basically tells us there’s not much to worry about (but offers prescient speculation about an aging Putin bent on regaining a former Soviet republic or two).
No, what we should be worrying about is superstition, fundamentalism, anti-scientific bias, the dumbing-down of just about everything–including ourselves–and the pervasive, addictive presence of the Internet.
But I found comfort in the 21-word, haiku-like entry from screenwriter and former Monty Python troupe member Terry Gilliam: "I’ve given up worrying. I merely float on a tsunami of acceptance of anything life throws at me...and marvel stupidly." And probably sleeps at night.
Seven years after it opened, and many millions of pounds later, the Wellcome Trust has put a new plank in its ambitious Wellcome Collection building in central London – with a new development that includes space for a controversial kind of research.
The trust coined the term "sciart" in 1996, and is now taking things to another level with backing for interdisciplinary research into science, humanities and the arts. A bespoke space for this research, called The Hub, will open its doors in October this year as part of a £17.5 million development of the Wellcome Collection building (see artist's impression, above). It will host a multidisciplinary team headed by social scientist Felicity Callard from Durham University.
There have been many attempts to bridge the gaps between arts and science; gaps made famous by C. P. Snow in his famous "Two Cultures" Rede lecture in 1959. Often these attempts involve the kind of intellectual bravura exemplified by John Brockman's Third Culture, or take the form of residencies for artists in scientific establishments, such as the [email protected] project. ...
Any political ideology involves some idea of the state of fiscal spending and tax scheme. And the practical tools of public policy (whether laws, regulations, taxes, or government subsidy programs) are directly influenced by the ideology of officials who create the advisers they hire, and the voters who elected to the first.
....And since we have an ideology formed, it acts as a "filter" that we use to make sense of the reality around us. As explained Gerald Smallberg...(see "Bias is the Nose for the Story" on "This Will Make You Smarter", 2012), humans do not appreciate the objective reality to filter the incredible amount of data they receive... Bias says Smallberg "is an intuition-a sensitivity, receptivity, which acts as a lens or filter our perceptions [...] These biases mediate between our intellect and our emotions to create, from perceptions, opinions, judgments, categories, metaphors, analogies, theories and ideologies through which we frame the way we see the world." This notion...is related to the argument of Daniel Kahneman (a psychologist and Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, see "Thinking, Fast and Slow", 2011) in the sense that our brain cohabiting two systems, one operating biases..."automatically and quickly, with little or no effort, and without feeling voluntary control" and another that "directs attention to activities that require mental effort, including complex calculations [...] and are associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice and concentration".
Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction
Edited by John Brockman
Before mass media came up in the mid-twentieth century there was the public lecture, at which some person of eminence or accomplishment would address a hall full of curious citizens. The Internet equivalent is supplied by nonprofit foundations like Edge.org and TED.com, which spread interesting ideas by inviting thinkers to give online talks.
Thinking is a spin-off from the Edge.org website and the various conferences it sponsors. It consists of twenty-two "unedited transcriptions of scientific talks and conversations" by scholars who investigate minds and brains. From their bylines I tallied twelve psychologists (minds), six cognitive scientists (brains), two philosophers, one researcher in linguistics, and one statistician.
There is a pivotal scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins is lost and alone deep under the Misty Mountains, and by happenstance finds the infamous One Ring and puts it in his pocket. Soon after, he encounters the creature Gollum, and is forced to play a riddle game to determine whether Gollum will show him the way out, or eat him instead. Bilbo wins the contest, but Gollum realizes that Bilbo has his ring, which confers invisibility upon the wearer. As Gollum moves to attack him, Bilbo puts on the ring, evades Gollum, and escapes.
But there’s an important caveat here: Bilbo wins by breaking the rules of a game that in Middle-Earth is considered to be “sacred and of immense antiquity.” Bilbo was at a loss to come up with another riddle, and as he fidgeted and fumbled in his pocket he said aloud to himself, “What have I got in my pocket?” Gollum assumed this was a riddle, but of course there was no way he was going to be able to answer it correctly. Yet Bilbo’s question wasn’t a “genuine riddle according to the ancient laws,” as the narrator tells us.
“Sacred and of immense antiquity.” Sounds a lot like human morality, doesn’t it? In a recent essay collection, Thinking, John Brockman observes that “everyone seems to be studying morality these days.” But why are so many devoting so much time to it? Perhaps because moral norms pervade every aspect of our lives, from the most mundane to the most profound. The peculiar thing about morality, however, is that we expect the truly moral person to submit to its demands regardless of her own interests or desires. She should do what morality commands because it is her duty to do so. We want to know why that is.
Ball State University (BSU) is in full spin mode trying to defend the use of a book, What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, as the sole textbook in one of its courses, "Dangerous Ideas." The book is cited in an article in the Muncie Star Press, "Lawmakers probe religion vs. science at BSU." BSU spokesman Tony Proudfoot tries to defend the course on the grounds that the book includes religion-friendly chapters, and therefore isn't a polemic against religion. In fact, BSU has badly misrepresented the hard-to-miss anti-religious goals of the book, as well as the three supposedly religion-friendly chapters it cites. I'll elaborate more below, but of the three chapters BSU cites as being religion-friendly, one has nothing to do with religion and the other two are explicitly anti-religious.
First, some background. What Is Your Dangerous Idea? is framed, billed, and marketed as a book of ideas by leading new atheist-types. The intended readership seems to be intellectual atheists, as its cover advertises the fact that the introduction is by new atheist (and evolutionary psychologist) Steven Pinker, and the afterword is by leading new atheist Richard Dawkins.
Indeed, the man behind What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, who served as its editor, is John Brockman, has been called one of "the 25 most influential living atheists." He was the literary agent and main promoter of Dawkins's 2006 book The God Delusion (and other books by Dawkins). In the acknowledgments of The God Delusion, Dawkins thanks Brockman for his "help in the preparation of this book" and states that Brockman's "whole-hearted and enthusiastic belief in the book was very encouraging." ....
The Ball State University case receives treatment today in Indiana's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star. Trying, perhaps to a fault, to be fair to BSU president Jo Ann Gora, columnist and editor Russ Pulliam casts Dr. Gora as seeking to balance competing legitimate interests even as four Indiana legislators ask questions about her policy on teaching about intelligent design in science classrooms. ...
...Meanwhile, Gora allowed a course, "Dangerous Ideas," that also in its way tries to illuminate ultimate questions. But it does so by hammering away at the theme, as one essay in the course's text puts it, that "Science Must Destroy Religion." No, not every page or every essay in the book sounds that theme, but an intelligent reader will not be surprised to learn its editor, John Brockman, is an "influential atheist." Gora's spokesman, Tony Proudfoot, has grossly misrepresented the contents of that text. Neither Coyne nor anyone at Ball State has admitted this. ...
...inflation has always been more a product of imagination than empirical evidence. There has never been more than circumstantial, hand-wavy support for its core mechanism, the reversal of gravity. Worse, the theory came in many different forms. My favorite was the eternally self-reproducing chaotic inflationary multiverse model proposed by Andrei Linde, who along with Alan Guth and Paul Steinhardt is credited with inventing inflation. ...
...Just two months ago, inflation pioneer Paul Steinhardt wrote on the website Edge.org: "I think a priority for theorists today is to determine if inflation and string theory can be saved from devolving into a Theory of Anything and, if not, seek new ideas to replace them. Because an unfalsifiable Theory of Anything creates unfair competition for real scientific theories, leaders in the field can play an important role by speaking out—making it clear that Anything is not acceptable—to encourage talented young scientists to rise up and meet the challenge."
Why scientists need to stop worrying about whether or not everything in biology serves a purpose.
John Brockman, the publisher and science impresario who runs the online science and culture salon Edge.org, has asked his provocative, annual Edge question: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? "Few truly new ideas are developed without abandoning old ones first," Brockman writes. "What established scientific idea is ready to be moved aside so that science can advance?"
Here’s my candidate for forced retirement: The idea that we need to distinguish between things in biology that are there for a purpose and those that aren’t.