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Sounds of the Skies

Hear the Spacetime Ringing

The effect of these gravitational waves is to squeeze and stretch space. If you were floating near these black holes, you would literally be squeezed and stretched. If you were close enough, you would feel the difference between the squeezing and stretching on your face or your feet. We’ve even conjectured that your eardrum could ring in response, like a resonant membrane, so that you would literally hear the wave, hear it even in the absence of a medium like air. Even though we think that empty space is silent, in these circumstances you would hear the black holes collide but you wouldn’t see them; it would happen in complete darkness. The two black holes would be completely dark, and your only evidence of their collision would be to hear the spacetime ringing.

JANNA LEVIN is a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University. She is the author of How the Universe Got Its Spots; A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines; and most recently, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer SpaceJanna Levin's Edge Bio Page 

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The Mattering Instinct


We can’t pursue our lives without thinking that our lives matter—though one has to be careful here to distinguish the relevant sense of “matter." Simply to take actions on the basis of desires is to act as if your life matters. It’s inconceivable to pursue a human life without these kinds of presumptions—that your own life matters to some extent. Clinical depression is when you are convinced that you don’t and will never matter. That’s a pathological attitude, and it highlights, by its pathology, the way in which the mattering instinct normally functions. To be a fully functioning, non-depressed person is to live and to act, to take it for granted that you can act on your own behalf, pursue your goals and projects. And that we have a right to be treated in accord with our own commitment to our lives mattering. We quite naturally flare up into outrage and indignation when others act in violation of the presumption grounding the pursuance of our lives. So this is what I mean by the mattering instinct, that commitment to one’s own life that is inseparable from pursuing a coherent human life.

REBECCA NEWBERGER GOLDSTEIN, awarded the 2014 National Humanities Medal by President Obama, is a philosopher, novelist, and professor of English and Philosophy at NYU. Rebecca Newberger Goldstein's Edge Bio Page

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Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century


It is going to be much more of a Wild West—what sorts of things get tried in education. The notion that we’re going to be all singing out of the same hymnal is just not going to be the case. And it may not be bad. The American federal system has been very effective in certain areas, but not in policies of higher education.

HOWARD GARDNER is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Gardner also directs the Good Project. Howard Gardner's Edge Bio Page


AI & The Future Of Civilization


The question is, what makes us different from all these things? What makes us different is the particulars of our history, which gives us our notions of purpose and goals. That's a long way of saying when we have the box on the desk that thinks as well as any brain does, the thing it doesn't have, intrinsically, is the goals and purposes that we have. Those are defined by our particulars—our particular biology, our particular psychology, our particular cultural history.

The thing we have to think about as we think about the future of these things is the goals. That's what humans contribute, that's what our civilization contributes—execution of those goals; that's what we can increasingly automate. We've been automating it for thousands of years. We will succeed in having very good automation of those goals. I've spent some significant part of my life building technology to essentially go from a human concept of a goal to something that gets done in the world.

There are many questions that come from this. For example, we've got these great AIs and they're able to execute goals, how do we tell them what to do?...

STEPHEN WOLFRAM, distinguished scientist, inventor, author, and business leader, is Founder & CEO, Wolfram Research; Creator, Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha & the Wolfram Language; Author, A New Kind of Science. Stephen Wolfram's Edge Bio Page

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How the Brain Is Computing the Mind


The history of science has shown us that you need the tools first. Then you get the data. Then you can make the theory. Then you can achieve understanding.

ED BOYDEN is a professor of biological engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the MIT Media Lab and the MIT McGovern Institute. He leads the Synthetic Neurobiology Group. Ed Boyden's Edge Bio Page 

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The Genomic Ancient DNA Revolution

A New Way to Investigate the Past

My experience collaborating with Svante since 2007, has been that the data we’ve looked at from the incredible samples they have has yielded surprise after surprise. Nobody had ever gotten to look at data like this before. First, there were the Neanderthals, and then there was this pinky bone from Southern Siberia. At the end of the Neanderthal project, Svante told me we have this amazing genome-wide data from another archaic human, from a little pinky bone of a little girl from a Southern Siberian cave, and asked if I'd like to get involved in analyzing it.

When we analyzed it, it was an incredible surprise: This individual was not a Neanderthal. They were in fact much more distantly related to a Neanderthal than any two humans are today from each other, and it was not a modern human. It was some very distant cousin of a Neanderthal that was living in Siberia in Central Asia at the time that this girl lived.

When we analyzed the genome of this little girl, we saw that she was related to people in New Guinea and Australia. A person related to her had contributed about 5 percent of the genomes to people in New Guinea and Australia and related people—an interbreeding event nobody had known about before. It was completely unexpected. It wasn’t in anybody’s philosophy or anybody’s prediction. It was a new event that was driven by the data and not by people’s presuppositions or previous ideas.

This is what ancient DNA does for us. When you look at the data, it doesn’t always just play into one person’s theory or the other; it doesn’t just play into the Indo-European steppe hypothesis or the Anatolian hypothesis. Sometimes it raises something completely new, like the Denisovan finger bone and the interbreeding of a gene flow from Denisovans into Australians and New Guineans. 

DAVID REICH is a geneticist and professor in the Department of Genetics at the Harvard Medical School. David Reich's Edge Bio Page

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The Crusade Against Multiple Regression Analysis


A huge range of science projects are done with these multiple regression things. The results are often somewhere between meaningless and quite damaging. ...                             

I hope that in the future, if I’m successful in communicating with people about this, that there’ll be a kind of upfront warning in New York Times articles: These data are based on multiple regression analysis. This would be a sign that you probably shouldn’t read the article because you’re quite likely to get non-information or misinformation.

RICHARD NISBETT is a professor of psychology and co-director of the Culture and Cognition Program at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking; and The Geography of Thought. Richard Nisbett's Edge Bio Page


What is Reputation?


That is basically what interests me—the double question of understanding our own biases, but also understanding the potential of using this indirect information and these indirect cues of quality of reputation in order to navigate this enormous amount of knowledge. What is interesting about Internet, and especially about the Web, is that Internet is not only an enormous reservoir of information, it is a reputational device. It means that it accumulates tons of evaluations of other people, so the information you get is pre-evaluated. This makes you go much faster. This is an evolutionary heuristic that we have, probably since the birth of the human mind.                                             

Follow the people who know how to treat information. Don't go yourself for the solution. Follow those who have the solution. This is a super strong drive—to learn faster. Children know very well this drive. And of course it can bring you to conformism and have very negative side effects, but also can make you know faster. We know faster, not because there is a lot of information around, but because the information that is around is evaluated, it has a reputational label on it. 

GLORIA ORIGGI is a researcher at the Centre Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and a journalist. She is a best-selling novelist in the Italian language, a respected philosopher in French, a cognitive scientist in English, and the person you want to sit next to at a dinner party. Her latest book, La Reputation, was recently published in France. Gloria Origgi's Edge Bio Page

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Choosing Empathy


If you believe that you can harness empathy and make choices about when to experience it versus when not to, it adds a layer of responsibility to how you engage with other people. If you feel like you're powerless to control your empathy, you might be satisfied with whatever biases and limits you have on it. You might be okay with not caring about someone just because they're different from you. I want people to not feel safe empathizing in the way that they always have. I want them to understand that they're doing something deliberate when they connect with someone, and I want them to own that responsibility.

JAMIL ZAKI is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab.  Jamil Zaki's Edge Bio Page

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Edge Master Class 2015: A Short Course in Superforecasting, Class V

Condensing it All Into Four Big Problems and a Killer App Solution

The beauty of forecasting tournaments is that they’re pure accuracy games that impose an unusual monastic discipline on how people go about making probability estimates of the possible consequences of policy options. It’s a way of reducing escape clauses for the debaters, as well as reducing motivated reasoning room for the audience.

Tournaments, if they’re given a real shot, have a potential to raise the quality of debates by incentivizing competition to be more accurate and reducing functionalist blurring that makes it so difficult to figure out who is closer to the truth. 

[29:26 minutes]

PHILIP E. TETLOCK is the Annenberg University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, with appointments in Wharton, psychology and political science. He is co-leader of the Good Judgment Project, a multi-year forecasting study, the author of Expert Political Judgment and (with Aaron Belkin) Counterfactual Thought Experiments in World Politics, and co-author (with Dan Gardner) of Superforecasting: The Art & Science of Prediction (forthcoming, September 2015). Philip Tetlock's Edge Bio Page.