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Psychologist, University of Texas, Austin; Author, The Murderer Next Door

Female Sexual Psychology

I have never thought that female sexual psychology was simple.  But I've changed my mind about the magnitude of its complexity and consequently revamped the scope and orchestration of my entire research program.  I once focused my research on two primary sexual strategies — long-term and short-term.  Empirical work has revealed a deeper, richer repertoire: serial mating, friends with benefits, one-night stands, brief affairs, enduring affairs, polyamory, polyandry, sexual mate poaching, mate expulsion, mate switching, and various combinations of these throughout life.  Women implement their sexual strategies through an astonishing array of tactics.  Scientists have documented at least 34 distinct tactics for promoting short-term sexual encounters and nearly double that for attracting a long-term romantic partner. 

Researchers discovered 28 tactics women use to derogate sexual competitors, from pointing out that her rival's thighs are heavy to telling others that the rival has a sexually transmitted disease.  Women's sexual strategies include at least 19 tactics of mate retention, ranging from vigilance to violence, and 29 tactics of ridding themselves of unwanted mates, including having sex as a way to say good-bye.  Some women use sexual infidelity as a means of getting benefits from two or more men.  Others use it as a means of exiting one relationship in order to enter another.  When a woman wants a man who is already in a relationship, she can use at least 19 tactics of mate poaching to lure him away, from befriending both members of the couple in order to disarm her unsuspecting rival to insidiously sowing seeds of doubt about her rival's fidelity or level of desirability.

Ovulation and orgasm are yielding scientific insights into female sexuality unimagined five years ago.  The hidden rhythms of the ovulation cycle, for example, have profound effects on women's sexual desire. Women married to men lower in mate value experience an upsurge in sexual fantasies about other men, but mainly during the fertile phase of their cycle.  They are sexually attracted to men with masculine faces, but especially so in the five days leading up to ovulation.  Women's sense of smell spikes around ovulation.  Sexual scents, long thought unimportant in human sexuality, in fact convey information to women about a man's genetic quality.  The female orgasm, once thought by many scientists to be functionless, may turn out to have several distinct adaptive benefits.  And those don't even include the potential gains from faking orgasm.  Some women mislead about their sexual satisfaction in order to get a man to leave; others to deceive him about his paternity in "his" child. 

Female sexual psychology touches every facet of human affairs, from cooperative alliances through strategies of hierarchy negotiation.  Some women use sex to get along.  Some use sex to get ahead.  Sexual motives pervade murder.  Failure in sexual unions sometimes triggers suicidal ideation.  I thought the complexity of women's sexual psychology was finally starting to be captured when recent research revealed 237 reasons why women have sex, ranging from "to get rid of a headache" to "to get closer to God," from "to become emotionally connected with my partner" to "to break up a rival's relationship."  Within a month of that publication, however, researchers discovered another 44 reasons why women have sex ranging from "because life is short and we could die at any moment" to "to get my boyfriend to shut up," bringing the sexual motivation total to 281 and still counting (obviously, trying to pin down exact numbers is a bit of a joke, but scientists work through quantification).

Yet with all these scientific discoveries, I feel that we are still at the beginning of the exploration and humbled by how little we still know.  As a researcher focusing on female sexuality, I'm inherently limited by virtue of possessing a male brain.  Consequently, I've teamed up with brilliant female research scientists, recruited a team of talented female graduate students, and marshaled much of my research to explore the complexities of female sexual psychology.  They have led me to see things previously invisible to my male-blinkered brain.  Female sexual psychology is more complex than I previously thought by several orders of magnitude.  And still I may be underestimating.

Chairman of International Technologies

Life experience changed my mind

As a young graduate student in operations research I was avid believer in the power of scientific modelling. How wrong I was. Often, modelling is searching for a coin under the light of science, and not where it is.

First, all models have certain degree of approximation. Second, at least in operations research, human factors,errors, randomness, unexpected developments, social behaviors, human errors all are influencing the results, or are not accounted for in the modelling. In time I become more skeptical and doubtful.

It helps if you can maintain your sense of humor. In the end, it is not about the data or the changes in the data, but how you see it, and how much you believe in it.

Neuroscience Researcher; Author, Letter to a Christian Nation

Mother Nature is Not Our Friend

Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. I imagined that there were real boundaries between the natural and the artificial, between one species and another, and thought that, with the advent of genetic engineering, we would be tinkering with life at our peril. I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology.

Every 100 million years or so, an asteroid or comet the size of a mountain smashes into the earth, killing nearly everything that lives. If ever we needed proof of Nature's indifference to the welfare of complex organisms such as ourselves, there it is. The history of life on this planet has been one of merciless destruction and blind, lurching renewal.

The fossil record suggests that individual species survive, on average, between one and ten million years. The concept of a "species" is misleading, however, and it tempts us to think that we, as homo sapiens, have arrived at some well-defined position in the natural order. The term "species" merely designates a population of organisms that can interbreed and produce fertile offspring; it cannot be aptly applied to the boundaries between species (to what are often called "intermediate" or "transitional" forms). There was, for instance, no first member of the human species, and there are no canonical members now. Life is a continuous flux. Our nonhuman ancestors bred, generation after generation, and incrementally begat what we now deem to be the species homo sapiens — ourselves.  There is nothing about our ancestral line or about our current biology that dictates how we will evolve in the future. Nothing in the natural order demands that our descendants resemble us in any particular way. Very likely, they will not resemble us. We will almost certainly transform ourselves, likely beyond recognition, in the generations to come.

Will this be a good thing? The question presupposes that we have a viable alternative. But what is the alternative to our taking charge of our biological destiny? Might we be better off just leaving things to the wisdom of Nature? I once believed this. But we know that Nature has no concern for individuals or for species. Those that survive do so despite Her indifference. While the process of natural selection has sculpted our genome to its present state, it has not acted to maximize human happiness; nor has it necessarily conferred any advantage upon us beyond the capacity raise the next generation to child-bearing age.  In fact, there may be nothing about human life after the age of forty (the average lifespan until the 20th century) that has been selected by evolution at all. And with a few exceptions (e.g. the gene for lactose tolerance), we probably haven't adapted to our environment much since the Pleistocene.

But our environment and our needs — to say nothing of our desires — have changed radically in the meantime. We are in many respects ill-suited to the task of building a global civilization. This is not a surprise. From the point of view of evolution, much of human culture, along with its cognitive and emotional underpinnings, must be epiphenomenal. Nature cannot "see" most of what we are doing, or hope to do, and has done nothing to prepare us for many of the challenges we now face.

These concerns cannot be waved aside with adages like, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." There are innumerable perspectives from which our current state of functioning can be aptly described as "broke." Speaking personally, it seems to me that everything I do picks out some point on a spectrum of disability: I was always decent at math, for instance, but this is simply to say that I am like a great mathematician who has been gored in the head by a bull; my musical ability resembles that of a Mozart or a Bach, it is true, though after a near fatal incident on skis; if Tiger Woods awoke from surgery to find that he now possessed (or was possessed by) my golf-swing, rest assured that a crushing lawsuit for medical malpractice would be in the offing.

Considering humanity as a whole, there is nothing about natural selection that suggests our optimal design. We are probably not even optimized for the Paleolithic, much less for life in the 21st century. And yet, we are now acquiring the tools that will enable us to attempt our own optimization. Many people think this project is fraught with risk. But is it riskier than doing nothing? There may be current threats to civilization that we cannot even perceive, much less resolve, at our current level of intelligence. Could any rational strategy be more dangerous than following the whims of Nature? This is not to say that our growing capacity to meddle with the human genome couldn't present some moments of Faustian over-reach. But our fears on this front must be tempered by a sober understanding of how we got here. Mother Nature is not now, nor has she ever been, looking out for us.

Chemist, New York University; Author, Planetary Dreams

Smothering Science with Silence

I used to view the scientific literature as a collective human effort  to build an enduring and expanding structure of knowledge. Each new publication in a respected, refereed journal would be digested and debated with the thoroughness that religious groups devote to the Talmud, Bible or Koran. In science, of  course, new papers can challenge widely held beliefs, so publication does not mean acceptance. The alternative is criticism, which usually provokes a new round of experiments. As a result, the new idea might end up on the scrap heap, perhaps becoming a historical curiosity. Cold fusion seems to have followed this path, and in my own field, the suggestion that the two chains of DNA lay side-by-side, instead of being intertwined in a double helix.

But once it has passed scrutiny, a new contribution would be absorbed into the edifice of science, expanding and enhancing it, while providing a fragment of immortality to the authors.

My perception was wrong. New scientific ideas can be smothered with silence.

I was aware earlier of the case of Gregor Mendel.  His fundamental genetic experiments with peas were ignored for a third of a century. But he had published them in an obscure journal, in an age when meetings and libraries were fewer, and journals were circulated by land mail. When his ideas were rediscovered at the start of the twentieth century, Thomas Hunt Morgan set out to disprove them, and ended up performing experiments that greatly strengthened their case. A Nobel Prize was his reward. He wrote in a textbook: "The investigator must… cultivate also a skeptical state of mind toward all hypotheses — especially his own — and be ready to abandon them the moment the evidence pointed the other way."

Morgan's attitude still has a place in science but I no longer believe that it is standard practice. Another strategy has emerged by which some scientists deal with ideas that they dislike. They act as if the discussion or data had never been published, and proceed about their business without mentioning it.

One example involves the use of a technique called "prebiotic synthesis" to support the most prevalent idea about the origin of life.. This theory proposes that life began on this planet with the accidental formation of an elaborate self-copying molecule, RNA or a close relative.  The chemist Graham Cairns-Smith argued in a 1982 book that the technique was flawed and that life's origin by such an event was extremely improbable. He proposed an imaginative alternative. His alternative was debated, but the practice of prebiotic synthesis was continued without discussion.

As I felt that his case was sound, I took up this cause and extended the arguments against prebiotic synthesis. I published a book, and a series of papers in refereed journals, including one devoted entirely to the origin of life. I expected rebuttals, and hoped that new control experiments would be run that would resolve the issue. The rebuttals did not appear, and citations of my work in the field were sparse. When citations were made, they were usually accompanied by a comment that the RNA-first theory had some problems that were not yet resolved. The resolution would take place by further applications of prebiotic synthesis. A blanket of silence has remained in place in the scientific literature concerning the validity of this technique. Ironically, my ideas have been welcomed by creationists, who advocate a supernatural solution to the origin-of-life problem.

The smother-by-silence practice may be fairly common in science.  Professor Kendric Smith of Stanford University has noted a similar pattern in the field of DNA repair, where the contribution of recombination to the repair of damage by ultraviolet radiation has been ignored in key papers. For a moral judgment on this practice, I cannot improve upon Smith's closing quote in his letter to ASBMB Today:

"In religion one can often be forgiven for one's sins but no one should be forgiven for sins against science."

Curator, Serpentine Gallery, London

The question of objects

The 20th century has been obsessed with this idea of the objects and hopes of architectural and artistic permanence which nobody questionned more thouroughly than the late Cedric Price. The 21st century will increasingly question this fetishization of the object.

What are the architectural and artistic contributions which are going to endure they are not only the ones which have a built physical form. Its not only a question of objects but a questions of ideas and scores.

In a converation I had with her some months ago Doris Lessing questionned the future of museums. It's not that she's fundamentally opposed to these institutions, but she's worried that their prioritisation of material objects from the past may not be enough to convey functional meaning to tomorrow's generations. Her 1999 novel, Mara and Dann, is premised on the aftermath of an ice age thousands of years into the future that has eradicated the entirety of life in the northern hemisphere. Her protagonists, long since confined to the other side of the globe, embark upon a journey but they are at a loss with the cultural remnants; they have no grounding in its *artefacts and cities.

This is pure fiction, but she is nevertheless reticent that 'our entire culture is extremely fragile' In light of point, Lessing urges us to take pause and to reconsider the capacity of our language and cultural systems to proffer knowledge to those outside of our immediate public.

Artist; Composer; Recording Producer: U2, Talking Heads, Paul Simon; Recording Artist

From Revolutionary to Evolutionary

Experimental art and experimental politics have traditionally been convivial bedfellows, though usually, in my opinion, with very little benefit to each other. George Bernard Shaw and his circle fervently supported Stalin against the mounting tide of evidence; the Mitfords supported Hitler, and numerous gifted Italian poets and artists were persuaded by Fascism. Similarly, in the late sixties and early seventies the avant garde art scene in London was overwhelmed with admiration for Chairman Mao.

As a young artist I was part of that scene, and though never a hardcore Maoist, I was impressed by some of his ideas: that intellectuals shouldn't be separated off from workers, for example, and that art should somehow serve working class society. I was sick of 'Art for Art's sake' and the insularity of the English art-world. I liked too the idea that professors should spend a month each year farming, or that designers should find out how it feels to work in a steel foundry. It sounded so benign from a distance. I felt, like many people felt at the time, that my society was by comparison stagnant, class-bound, stuck in history, and I admired Mao and the Chinese for their courage in reinventing themselves so dramatically.

Of course, the Americans were saying how dreadful it all was, but I thought "Well they would, wouldn't they?" In fact their criticism increased its credibility, for I believed America had gone fundamentally wrong, and her enemies must therefore be my friends. I assumed the US sensed the winds of change issuing from China, and was digging her heels in, resisting the future with all her might.

And then, bit by bit, I started to find out what had actually happened, what Maoism meant. I resisted for a while, but I had to admit it: I'd been willingly propagandised, just like Shaw and Mitford and d'Annunzio and countless others. I'd allowed my prejudices to dominate my reason. Those professors working in the countryside were being bludgeoned and humiliated. Those designers were put in the steel-foundries as 'class enemies' — for the workers to vent their frustrations upon.  I started to realise what a monstrosity Maoism had been, and that it had failed in every sense.

Thus began for me a long process of re-evaluation. I had to accept that I was susceptible to propaganda, and that propaganda comes from all sides — not just the one I happen to dislike. I realised that I was not by any means a neutral observer, that I came with my own set of prejudices which could be easily tweaked.

I realised too that I had to learn to evaluate opinions separately from those who were giving them: the truth might sometimes come out of a mouth I disliked, but that didn't automatically mean it wasn't the truth.

Maoism, or my disappointment with it, also changed my feelings about how politics should be done. I went from revolutionary to evolutionary. I no longer wanted to see radical change dictated from the top — even if that top claimed to be the bottom, the 'voice of the people'. I lost faith in the idea that there were quick solutions, that everyone would simultaneously see the light and things would suddenly flip over into a wonderful new reality. I started to believe it was always going to be slow, messy, compromised, unglamorous, bureaucratic, endlessly negotiated — or else extremely dangerous, chaotic and capricious. In fact I've lost faith in the idea of ideological politics altogether: I want instead to see politics as the articulation and management of a changing society in a changing world, trying to do a half-decent job for as many people as possible, trying to set things up a little better for the future.

Perhaps this is why I've increasingly come to regard the determinedly non-ideological, ecumenical EU as the signal political experiment of our time…

Research Fellow, Institute of Zoology, London

Reassessing Relatedness

I have been a true disciple of kin-selection theory ever since I discovered the wonders of social evolution as a young graduate student. Kin selection theory emphasizes the importance of relatedness (i.e. kin) in the evolution of social behavior. The essence of social living lies in sharing tasks amongst group members; for example some individuals may end up monopolizing reproduction (dominants or queens), whilst others defend or forage for the group (helpers or altruists). The key to understanding how sociality evolves rests on finding a watertight explanation for altruism. Why should any individual sacrifice their reproductive rights in order to help another individual reproduce?

When groups consist of families, there is an intuitive basis for the evolution of altruism. Helping relatives, with whom I share many of my genes, is potentially a lucrative strategy for passing my genes on to future generations. This reasoning led W.D. Hamilton to his theory of inclusive fitness, or kin selection, in 1964: a social action evolves if the benefit (b) weighted by the relatedness (r) between group members exceeds the costs (c) of that action (i.e. br>c). Evolution is satisfyingly parsimonious, so it is only natural that an apparently complicated thing like sociality can be explained in such simple terms.

I am certain I speak for many students of sociality in being eternally grateful to Hamilton in providing such an elegant theory with such clear predictions to test. Off we go, armed with Hamilton’s Rule to settle our quest for understanding what makes an animal social. There are three things to measure: relatedness between group members (or actors and recipients), costs (to the actor in being altruistic) and benefits (to the recipient in receiving help). Happily, the molecular revolution has brought gene-level analytical tools to behavioral ecologists, allowing relatedness to be quantified accurately. Costs and benefits are more problematic to quantify, as they might vary over an individual’s life-time. Relatedness, therefore could be a fast-track route to securing the secrets of sociality in a kin-selected context.

The social Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) are an excellent group for studying sociality because they live in large groups and have a peculiar genetic sex-determination system (haplodiploidy), engendering high levels of relatedness. If relatedness predisposes any animal to be social, it will be the Hymenoptera. As an altruist in a social insect colony there are several ways by which you could favor your most closely related group members. You could selectively feed sibling brood that share the same parents as you. Or, you could eat the eggs laid by your siblings in preference to those laid by your mother (the queen). On planning an elopement from the homestead to start a new colony, you might choose full-sisters as your companions rather than a random relative. The predictions are elegant, simple and depend on the kin structure of a specific colony.

With insect cadavers mounting up in university freezers all over the world, we raced to test these predictions. The results were disheartening: worker wasps headed by multiply mated mother queens were not maximizing their indirect fitness by laying heaps of parthenogenetic male eggs; worker ants were unable to optimally manipulate the brood sex ratios (and hence their inclusive fitness) in relation to how many times their mother had mated; social wasps were feeding larvae in regard to their need rather than relatedness; swarming wasps were indiscriminate in who they founded new colonies with.

On the back of robust experiments like these, I have changed my mind about relatedness being the primary dictator of social evolution. Insects are unable to discriminate relatedness on an individual level. Instead, relatedness may act at the colony/population level, or simply in distinguishing kin from non-kin. This make sense. An individual-level kin discrimination mechanism is vulnerable to invasion by an occasional nepotist, who would favor its closest relatives over others. As the gene for nepotism spreads, the variation on which the kin-discrimination is based (e.g. chemical or visual cues) will disappear and individuals will no longer be able to tell kin from non-kin, let alone full siblings from half siblings: sociality breaks down. We knew this long before many of the kin-discrimination experiments were done, but optimism perseveres until enough evidence pervades.

Does this mean kin selection theory is wrong? Absolutely not! The reason for this is that relatedness is only one (albeit important) component of kin selection theory. The key is likely to be the interaction of a high (and variable) benefit to cost ratio from helping, and a positive relatedness between actors and recipients: relatedness does not have to be high for altruism to evolve, it just needs to be greater than the population average. I still believe you cannot hope to understand sociality unless you put relatedness at the top of your list. But, we need to complement the huge amount of data generated by the molecular hamster wheel with some serious estimates of the costs and benefits of social actions.

Professor of Biology, Amherst College; Author, Evolution of Infectious Disease

Trusting Experts

At the end of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn suggested that it is reasonable to trust the general consensus of experts instead of a revolutionary idea, even when the revolutionary idea is consistent with a finding that could not be explained by  the general consensus.  He reasoned that the general consensus was reached by drawing together countless bits of evidence, and even though it could not explain everything, it had passed a gauntlet to which the revolutionary idea had not yet been subjected. 

Kuhn's idea seemed sufficiently plausible to lead me to generally trust the consensus of experts in disciplines outside my area of expertise.  I still think that it is wise to trust the experts when their profession has a good understanding of the processes under consideration.   This situation applies to experts on car maintenance, for example, because cars were made by people who shared their knowledge about the function of car parts, and top notch car mechanics learn this information.  It also applies generally to the main principles of mechanical and electrical engineering, biology, physics, and chemistry, because these principles are tested directly or indirectly by the countless studies. 

I am becoming convinced, however, that the opposite view is often true when the expert opinion pertains to the unknown: the longer and more widespread the accepted wisdom has been accepted, the more hesitant we should be to trust it, especially if the experts  have been studying the question intensively during this period of acceptance and contradictory findings or logic have been presented.  The reason is simple.  If an explanation has been widely and broadly accepted and convincing evidence still cannot be mustered, then it is quite reasonable to expect that the experts are barking up the wrong, albeit cherished, trees.  That is, its acceptance has more to do with the limitations of intellectual ingenuity than with evidence. 

This argument provides a clear guideline for allocating trust to experts: distrust expert opinion in accordance with what is not known about the subject.  This guideline is, of course, difficult to apply because one has to first ascertain whether a discipline actually has valid answers for a given area of inquiry.  Consider something as simple as a sprained ankle.  Evolutionary considerations suggest that the inflammation and pain associated with sprained ankles are adaptive responses to promote healing, and that suppressing them would be detrimental to long-term functionality of the joint.   I have searched the literature to find out whether any evidence indicates that treatment of sprained ankles with ice, compression, anti-inflammatories, and analgesics promotes or hinders healing and long-term functionality of the joint. In particular, I have been looking for comparisons of treated individuals with untreated controls.  I have not found any and am coming to the conclusion that this widely advocated expert opinion is a detrimental holdover from ancient Greek medicine, which often confused the return of the body to a more healthy appearance with the return of the body to a state of health.  

More generally, I am coming to the disquieting realization that much of scientific opinion and even more of medical opinion falls into the murky area circumscribed by a lack of adequate knowledge about the processes at hand.  This means that I must invoke broadly the guideline to distrust expert opinion in proportion to the lack of knowledge in the area. Although this has made me more objectionable, it has also been of great value intellectually and practically, as when, for example, I sprain my ankle.  

Psychologist, London School of Economics; Author, Seeing Red

The hardness of the problem of consciousness is the key to its solution

The economist, John Maynard Keynes, when criticised for shifting his position on monetary policy, retorted: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" Point taken. Yet, despite the way the Edge 2008 Question has been framed,  in science it is not always true  that it requires new facts to change people's minds.  Instead, as Thomas Kuhn recognised,  at major turning points in the history of science, theorists who have previously found themselves struggling  to make sense of "known facts", sometimes undergo a radical change in perspective, such that they see these same  facts in a quite different light. Where people earlier saw  the rabbit, they  now see the duck.

In my own research on consciousness, I have changed my mind more than once. I expect it will happen again.  But it has not — at least so far  — been because I learned  any new facts. Contrary to the hopes of neuroscientists on one side, quantum physicists on the other, I'm pretty sure all the facts that we need to solve the hard problem are already familiar to us  —   if only we could  see them for what they are. No magic bullet is going to emerge from the lab, from brain imaging or particle accelerators. Instead, what we are waiting for is  merely (!)  a revolutionary new way of thinking about things that we all, as conscious creatures, already know —   perhaps a way of making those same facts unfamiliar. 

What is the hard problem? The problem is to explain the mysterious out-of-this-world qualities of conscious experience —   the felt redness of red, the felt sharpness of pain.  I once believed that  the answer lay in introspection: "thoughts about thoughts", I reckoned, could yield the requisite  magical properties as an emergent property. But I later realised on logical (not factual) grounds that this idea was empty. Magic doesn't simply emerge, it has to be constructed. So, since then, I've been working on a constructivist theory of consciousness. And my most promising line yet (as I see it) has been  to turn the problem round and to imagine that  the hardness of the problem may actually be the key to its solution. 

Just suppose that  the "Cartesian theatre of consciousness", about which modern philosophers are generally so sceptical, is in fact a biological reality. Suppose indeed , that Nature has designed our brains to contain a mental theatre, designed for the very purpose of staging the qualia-rich spectacle on which we set such store. Suppose, in short,  that consciousness exists primarily for our entertainment and amazement. 

I may tell you that, with this changed mind-set, I already see the facts quite differently. I hope it does the same for you, sir.

Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Seed

Technology is Not So Bad

When I started Seed, I had a fairly strong aversion to technology. Somehow, sometime, science and technology had become science-and-technology. Two worlds, dissimilar in many respects, likely linked in speech for the practical goal of raising funding and attention for basic research by showing the direct, immediate correlation with usable things. I felt then that the 'and' made science more perfunctory and less romantic. And that this was a bad thing on multiple counts.

In the last year, I've come to see the relationship between science and technology very differently. We have reached the point in physics and cosmology, neuroscience, and genetics at least where technology is quintessential to advancement. Technology is not merely making the practice of science faster, less mundane or, as with microscopes, helping us see the otherwise unseeable; it is a distinct yet complementary landscape from which we can advance our knowledge of the natural world.

A physicist at CERN said to me recently that they likely wouldn't have built a new $8 billion collider if there was a better way of moving the field forward. The Blue Brain Project is using supercomputers to construct a mind because the neuroscientists involved believe it is the best way of attaining an overall understanding of the brain. Robots, I now appreciate, are not simply novelty items or tools of automation, but can be a way of gaining unique insight into humans. From simulation to supercomputing, technology is now (or at least I now see) one of science's very best friends (I could say the same for the arts). And the design, magnitude, and complexity of these technological feats satisfy my (and our) need for romance in our pursuit of truth.

The sum total of all information produced in 2008 will likely exceed the amount of information generated by humans over the past 40,000 years. Science is getting literally bigger, but as these and other major experiments churn out pentabytes of data, how do we ensure that we are actually learning more? Visualization, and more generally a strong relationship between science and design, will be essential to deriving knowledge from all this information.

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