The Way We Live Our Lives in Stories

A Conversation with Jonathan Gottschall [7.28.14]

We think of stories as a wildly creative art form but within that creativity and that diversity there is a lot of conformity. Stories are very predictable. No matter where you go in the world, no matter how different people seem, no matter how hard their lives are, people tell stories, universally, and universally the stories are more or less like ours: the same basic human obsessions, and the same basic structure. The structure comes down to: stories have a character, the character has a predicament or a problem—they're always problem-focused—and the character tries to solve the problem. In its most basic terms, that's what a story is—a problem solution narrative. 

(31:38 minutes)

JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL is a Distinguished Research Fellow in the English Department at Washington & Jefferson College. He is the author or editor of six books, including The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (a New York Times Editor’s Choice Selection and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize). 

Jonathan Gottschall's Edge Bio Page


There's a big question about what it is that makes people people. What is it that most sets our species apart from every other species? That's the debate that I've been involved in lately.

When we call the species homo sapiens that's an argument in the debate. It's an argument that it is our sapience, our wisdom, our intelligence, or our big brains that most sets our species apart. Other scientists, other philosophers have pointed out that, no, a lot of the time we're really not behaving all that rationally and reasonably. It's our upright posture that sets us apart, or it's our opposable thumb that allows us to do this incredible tool use, or it's our cultural sophistication, or it's the sophistication of language, and so on and so forth. I'm not arguing against any of those things, I’m just arguing that one thing of equal stature has typically been left off of this list, and that’s the way that people live their lives inside stories.



In July, 2013, Edge invited a group of social scientists to participate in an Edge Seminar at Eastover Farm focusing on the state of the art of what the social sciences have to tell us about human nature. The ten speakers were Sendhil Mullainathan, June Gruber Fiery Cushman Rob KurzbanNicholas ChristakisJoshua GreeneLaurie SantosJoshua KnobeDavid PizarroDaniel C. DennettAlso participating were Daniel KahnemanAnne TreismanJennifer Jacquet.


We asked the participants to consider the following questions: 

"What's new in your field of social science in the last year or two, and why should we care?" "Why do we want or need to know about it?" "How does it change our view of human nature?"

And in so doing we also asked them to focus broadly and address the major developments in their field (including but not limited to their own research agenda). The goal: to get new, fresh, and original up-to-date field reports on different areas of social science.

What Big Data Means For Social Science (Sendhil Mullainathan) | The Scientific Study of Positive Emotion (June Gruber) | The Paradox of Automatic Planning (Fiery Cushman) | P-Hacking and the Replication Crisis (Rob Kurzban) | The Science of Social Connections (Nicholas Christakis) | The Role of Brain Imaging in Social Science (Joshua Greene) | What Makes Humans Unique (Laurie Santos) | Experimental Philosophy and the Notion of the Self  (Joshua Knobe) | The Failure of Social and Moral Intuitions (David Pizarro) | The De-Darwinizing of Cultural Change (Daniel C. Dennett)

HeadCon '13: WHAT'S NEW IN SOCIAL SCIENCE was also an experiment in online video designed to capture the dynamic of an Edge seminar, focusing on the interaction of ideas, and of people. The documentary film-maker Jason Wishnow, the pioneer of "TED Talks" during his tenure as director of film and video at TED (2006-2012), helped us develop this new iteration of Edge Video, filming the ten sessions in split-screen with five cameras, presenting each speaker and the surrounding participants from multiple simultaneous camera perspectives.  

We are now pleased to present the program in its entirety, nearly six hours of Edge Video and a downloadable PDF of the 58,000-word transcript.

The great biologist Ernst Mayr (the "Darwin of the 20th Century") once said to me: "Edge is a conversation." And like any conversation, it is evolving. And what a conversation it is! 

(6 hours of video; 58,000 words) 

John BrockmanEditor
Russell WeinbergerAssociate Publisher

Download PDF of Manuscript
 | Continue to Video and Online Text 


Expanded Curation

A Conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist [7.2.14]
Introduction by

One of the things that Julia Peyton-Jones and I try to do with the Serpentine Gallery Marathons, on which we've collaborated with Edge many times, is to provide a format that isn't like a normal conference: it takes place over 24 or 48 hours. And it happens in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, so this creates a connection between art and architecture. And then one connects to all the other disciplines through the invited speakers. It's a kind of knowledge festival. The marathon is a hybrid. It's a group show, because artists are doing performances, but they're given time and not space. But it's also a conference because there are lectures and presentations. This year's Marathon, which takes place at The Serpentine Gallery the weekend of October 18-20, will be about "Extinction". 

(37:55 minutes)

John Brockman

Hans Ulrich Obrist is Co-director of the Serpentine Galleries, and the initiator of numerous international art projects and exhibitions. One example is the current Serpentine event  (through August 14th), a new durational performance by Marina Abramović entitled "Nothing" in which the artist is in residence for 512 hours.

It is for this kind of signature event that, in 2009, HUO was ranked #1 in Art Review's annual "Art Review Power 100" list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures, and #2, #2, #5, in 3 out of the past 4 years. It is a measure of his unique stature, that in today's contemporary art world, one that often seems dominated by money, HUO, who, in the 25 years I've known him, has never mentioned money, prices, or the art market, is arguably the contemporary art world's most influential figure.

"I don't talk about the art market", he explains, "as I don't know much about it. It's not part of my work. I have always worked on public exhibitions towards the end of making the best work accessible for everyone. As Gilbert and George say, 'art for all'."

What interests him is the exhibition as ritual. "A crowd of people is not a crowd but rather a number of individuals gathered in a space who are, contra the experience of an opera or a theatrical performance, not subject to a collective control of attention....Attention is neither monopolized nor homogenized. The exhibition is a very democratic and liberal ritual where the viewer decides the duration of his or her stay. "

I recently visited HUO at his office at the Serpentine Gallery to talk about the forthcoming "Marathon" on "Extinctions," an event that bridges the humanities and the sciences alike. "The spectre of extinction looms over the ways in which we understand our being in the world today," he says. "In response, artists and writers embed these concerns into the products of their creative endeavours. Environmental degradation, genocide, atomic weapons, threats to small, isolated communities, threats to languages, global warming economics and extinction, catastrophes in nature, life wiped out by disease and hunger—the constellation of topics around extinction is ever-expansive and as urgent now as ever before".

Some of the questions on the agenda for the participants to explore include "What is extinction and what are we losing? How do we understand loss and endings? How can an individual understand themselves in relation to a collective responsibility? What is the artist’s role in responding to mass extinction? What happens after the end has come and gone? How can artists, scientists and thinkers imagine new visions of the future? How has the spectre of extinction come to inform artistic and literary practice?" Edge once again plans to be there, collaborating with HUO as in previous marathon events: Maps For The 20th CenturyInformation GardensFormulae For The 21st CenturyTable-Top Experiments Marathon. 


The Third Culture: The Frontline of Global Thinking

A Conversation with Hong-Shu Teng [7.1.14]

After years of fermentation, the third culture finally yielded superior results in the 1990s. In 1996, John Brockman, American author and founder of the famous knowledge platform, published The Third Culture, a compilation of top scientists’ reflections on and explanations of the mysteries of life, formally declaring the arrival of the third culture...These emerging new scientists, combining scientific acuteness with literary sensitivity, intervene in those areas traditionally guarded by the humanities scholars. In the age of the third culture, scientists also want to explore the meaning of life and its ultimate secret. More and more scientists write for the general public. Their works embody literary science writing, distinctly exemplifying the spirits of the third-culture: the exploration of the eternal mysteries of life through scientific probing.

HONG-SHU TENG is Assistant Professor in the Department of English, National Taitung University, Taiwan. 

Hong-Shu Teng's Edge Bio Page

Following the trend of literary science writing, more and more scientists in the frontline of new thinking write for the general public. Their works embody the spirits of the third culture: probing the eternal mysteries of life through science.


In his new book The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses published on June 12, Harvard history/literature scholar Kevin Birmingham points out that it was syphilis that caused the modernist maestro’s decaying eyesight and paralysis. When Joyce’s fans celebrate Bloomsday on June 16 in memory of Ulysses, Birmingham’s work offers them an uneasy glimpse into the novelist’s dark life.

That Joyce probably had syphilis was nothing new, because it had been rumoured since the writer’s lifetime. Mainstream critics and biographers largely ignore it perhaps because it suggests celebrity gossip.

Birmingham found from Joyce’s 1928 letters that the novelist received unusual injections made of arsenic and phosphorus compound. He further found that, at the time, there was only one little-known medication called Galyl that went with the description—a prescription specifically for syphilis patients.

Medical knowledge leads this history/literature scholar to present irrefutable proof to solve a mystery whose key lies beyond the reach of literature scholars. The case is arguably closed.


Touched By The Tremendum (March 27, 1990)

From the Reality Club Archives Terence McKenna [6.24.14]

"This is our birthright. It is profoundly our birthright in the same way that our sexuality is our birthright. The notion that a person would call themselves intelligent and aware and present in the world and that they would go from the cradle to the grave without ever having a psychedelic experience is nothing short of obscene; it's absurd. It makes my flesh crawl in the same way that celibacy and virginity make my flesh crawl. What a horrible, horrible waste of a human life."

TERENCE MCKENNA (1946—2000) was one of the leading authorities on the ontological foundations of shamanism and a fixture of popular counterculture. An innovative theoretician and spellbinding orator, he traveled extensively in Asia and the New World Tropics and specialized in shamanism and ethnomedicine in the Amazon Basin and emerged as a powerful voice for the psychedelic movement and the emergent societal tendency he called The Archaic Revival. He is the author of: Psilocybin: Magic Mushroom Grower's Guide; The Archaic RevivalFood of the GodsTrue Hallucinations; and coauthor, with his brother Dennis McKenna, of The Invisible Landscape.

Terence McKenna's Edge Bio page


First of all, I am delighted to be here. The great thing about being here in New York is you don’t have to worry if you’re the smartest person in the room. What impels me to talk to groups like this is the conviction that a major aspect of what it means to be a human being has received short shrift in our civilization for at least a couple of millennia. And that, to some degree, the solution to the mega-crisis that is bearing down on Western institutions is to be found in a revivifying of the archaic. And this takes many different kinds of forms. It's nothing to do with what is popularly presented as the new age. It's, to my mind, a much larger and deeper and persistent phenomenon than that. In fact, the entire intellectual tone of the 20th century can be seen as a groping toward a recapturing of this archaic mentality.

This is what psychoanalysis was about. This is what cubism, surrealism, and—in the political zone—negative phenomena, such as national socialism. All of these various intellectual concerns, to my mind, can be traced back to a kind of unconscious nostalgia for the archaic.


Writing In The 21st Century

A Conversation with Steven Pinker [6.9.14]
Introduction by

What are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues, but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself. 

(37 minutes)


Psychologist Steven Pinker's 1994 book The Language Instinct discussed all aspects of language in a unified, Darwinian framework, and in his next book, How The Mind Works he did the same for the rest of the mind, explaining "what the mind is, how it evolved, and how it allows us to see, think, feel, laugh, interact, enjoy the arts, and ponder the mysteries of life".

He has written four more consequential books: Words and Rules (1999), The Blank Slate (2002), The Stuff of Thought (2007), and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011)The evolution in his thinking, and the expansion of his range, the depth of his vision, are evident in his contributions on many important issues on these pages over the years: "A Biological Understanding of Human Nature", "The Science of Gender and Science", "A Preface to Dangerous Ideas", "Language and Human Nature""A History of Violence", "The False Allure of Group Selection", "Napoleon Chagnon: Blood Is Their Argument", and "Science Is Not Your Enemy". In addition to his many honors, he is the Edge Question Laureate, having suggested three of Edge's Annual Questions: "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?"; What Is Your Favorite Deep, Elegant, Or Beautiful Explanation?"; and "What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?". He is a consummate third culture intellectual.

In the conversation below, Pinker begins by stating his belief that "science can inform all aspects of life, particularly psychology, my own favorite science. Psychology looks in one direction to biology, to neuroscience, to genetics, to evolution. And it looks in another direction to the rest of intellectual and cultural life—because what are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself."...

John Brockman

STEVEN PINKER is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style (September). Steven Pinker's Edge Bio page


I believe that science can inform all aspects of life, particularly psychology, my own favorite science. Psychology looks in one direction to biology, to neuroscience, to genetics, to evolution. And it looks in another direction to the rest of intellectual and cultural life—because what are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself. 

I'm a psychologist who studies language—a psycholinguist—and I'm also someone who uses language in my books and articles to convey ideas about, among other things, the science of language itself. But also, ideas about war and peace and emotion and cognition and human nature. The question I'm currently asking myself is how our scientific understanding of language can be put into practice to improve the way that we communicate anything, including science?

In particular, can you use linguistics, cognitive science, and psycholinguistics to come up with a better style manual—a 21st century alternative to the classic guides like Strunk and White's The Elements of Style?

Writing is inherently a topic in psychology. It's a way that one mind can cause ideas to happen in another mind. The medium by which we share complex ideas, namely language, has been studied intensively for more than half a century. And so if all that work is of any use it ought to be of use in crafting more stylish and transparent prose. 


Frank Schirrmacher 1959-2014

Frank Schirrmacher [6.18.14]

[Photo: Copyright © Julia Zimmerman]

We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on. There is one comment on Edge which I love, which is in Daniel Dennett's response to the 2007 annual question, in which he said that we have a population explosion of ideas, but not enough brains to cover them.

—Frank Schirrmacher, 2009

Frank Schirrmacher died on June 12th of a heart attack. He was the influential German journalist, essayist, best-selling author, and since 1994 co-publisher of one of the leading national German newspapers, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), where he was Editor of the Feuilleton, cultural and science pages of the paper. FAZ is a non-profit company based on a foundation mode. He was one of five "Herausgeber", literally translated "publisher," but in reality he was a mix of head of Feuilleton, co-editor in chief and CEO. 

Schirrmacher's death is a loss that will be felt not just in Germany but throughout the world. He is irreplaceable. It's fair to say that he has no equivalent here in the United States. He was a beacon of light, a visionary thinker who initiated international conversations on the emerging questions that mattered, including the human genome, the third culture, the role of technology in a society. He will be greatly missed.

We were introduced in early 2000 by German media mogul and digital pioneer Hubert Burda, and began a conversation which lasted until the week of his death. In May of 2000, based on our several long telephone calls, Schirrmacher wrote a manifesto,  a call-to arms, entitled "Wake-Up Call for Europe Tech", published in FAZ, which called for Europe to adopt the ideas of the third culture. His agenda: to change the culture of the newspaper and to begin a process of change in Germany and Europe. In the final paragraph he wrote:

"Over the next few months, to ensure we are informed slightly in advance, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will be running a series of articles by the theoreticians of what John Brockman has dubbed the 'third culture'. Europe should be more than just a source for the software of ego crisis, loss of identity, despair, and Western melancholy. We should be helping write the code for tomorrow."

The manifesto, and Schirrmacher's publishing program, was a departure for FAZ which at that time had a somewhat conservative profile. It was widely covered in the German press and made waves in intellectual circles.

Within weeks following publication of his manifesto, Schirrmacher began publishing articles by notable third culture thinkers, began to provide extensive FAZ coverage of Edge features and events, and became an Edge contributor himself.  On many occasions we published pieces simultaneously on Edge and in FAZ. In 2009, I interviewed him in his Frankfurt office, the result being the publication of "The Age of the Informavore: A Talk with Frank Schirrmacher". "The term informavore", Schirrmacher noted, "characterizes an organism that consumes information. It is meant to be a description of human behavior in modern information society, in comparison to omnivore, as a description of humans consuming food". Among the Edgies commenting on the piece in the ensuing Reality Club conversation were  Daniel Kahneman, George Dyson, Jaron Lanier, Nick Bilton, Nicholas Carr, Douglas Rushkoff, Gerd Gigerenzer, John Perry Barlow, Steven Pinker, John Bargh, George Dyson, John Brockman, David Gelernter, and Evgeny Morozov.

Writing a few months later in Stuttgarter ZeitungGabor Paal took note of the effect of FAZ's sustained coverage of the third culture on German intellectual life. Researchers such as evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, anthropologist Gregory Bateson, mathematician Roger Penrose, biologist Lynn Margulis, geographer Jared Diamond, psychologist Steven Pinker ..."come from the 'exact' sciences, take care of basic questions of human existence. And they write about their work in thick books in which they—like 'real' humanists—take hundreds of pages to present their own thesis. Inspired by Brockman's thesis beginning in the late 1990s, the FAZ Feuilleton began to deal with developments in the natural sciences. At about the same time, Der Spiegel regularly began publishing "third culture" topics on the front page, and entices its readers with article on the origin of language, the end of the universe, or about Neurotheology". 

It's now been fourteen years since publication of his manifesto, and the national conversation he began in Germany continues in the pages of FAZ, and has also been joined in a robust way by the Feuilleton of Süddeutsche Zeitung, the other of the two national newspapers in Germany.

As a tribute, Edge turns over its front page to remember Schirrmacher by presenting "Maybe He Was The Only True Futurist-Humanist", a piece organized by Schirrmacher's long-time colleague Jordan Mejias, FAZ's U.S. Cultural editor; an excerpt from the Süddeutsche Zeitung obituary "Man of The Future", co-authored by  Andrian Kreye, editor of the SZ Feuilleton and Edge contributor; impressions in the German press regarding his involvement with third culture ideas in "FAZ Co-Editor Is Dead: Frank Schirrmacher Set The Central Issues Of Our Time", a piece by Peter von Becker, in Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten; a re-publication of Schirrmacher's Edge feature "The Age of the Informavore"; Hubert Burda's obituary in his Focus Magazine, "Farewell to my friend Frank Schirrmacher"and finally, the 2010 EDGE @ DLD panel, "Informavore", featuring a video of Schirrmacher, Andrian Kreye, David Gelernter, and myself.

Frank Schirrmacher & John Brockman, Munich, January 2010

At some point I plan to write more about Schirrmacher, the man, his agenda, and the intellectual inspiration he provided in the quest for a second enlightenment, one which would be built on the ideas of the third culture. But now is not that time. Now is a time for remembering.

John Brockman

Frank Schirrmacher's Edge Bio Page


Literary agent John Brockman, Internet pioneer Jaron Lanier, science and technology historian George Dyson and computer scientist and artist David Gelernter remember Frank Schirrmacher. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (June 13, 2014) [MORE...]

by Hubert Burda

The editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Frank Schirrmacher, died at 54 years. Germany has lost a great thinker. Focus Magazine (June 17, 2014) [MORE...]


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. Süddeutsche Zeitung (June 12, 2014) [MORE...]

Frank Schirrmacher Set The Central Issues Of Our Time by Peter von Becker

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. Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten (June 13, 2014) [MORE...]

A Talk With Frank Schirrmacher 

We are apparently now in a situation where modern technology is changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember. And you encounter this not only in a theoretical way, but when you meet people, when suddenly people start forgetting things, when suddenly people depend on their gadgets, and other stuff, to remember certain things. This is the beginning, its just an experience. But if you think about it and you think about your own behavior, you suddenly realize that something fundamental is going on. Edge (October 25, 2009) [MORE...]


In 2010, Edge was in Munich for DLD 2010 and an Edge & DLD event. The event, entitled "Informavore", is a discussion featuring Frank Schirrmacher, Editor of the Feuilleton and Co-Publisher of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Andrian Kreye, Feuilleton Editor of Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Munich; and Yale computer science visionary David Gelernter, who, in his 1991 book Mirror Worlds presented what's now called "cloud computing." [MORE...]


Intellectual Enzyme

Hans Ulrich Obrist [6.9.14]


[ED. NOTE: The legendary curator Hans Ulrich Obrist (known a "HUO"), Co-Director of Exhibitions and Programmes at London's Serpentine Gallery. Since 2009, he has been ranked  #1 #2 #2, #10, and #5 in Art Review's "Power 100", a ranked list of the contemporary artword's most powerful figures. A long-time Edge collaborator, we have been interviewing each other for fifteen years. Below, he talks to me in Munich. In the next Edge edition, I bring my camera to The Serpentine Gallery in London and return the favor. —JB]


Teamwork, from left: John Brockman, Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan in 1966 in the New York Factory (Photo: Nat Finkelstein) Click to expand.

The idea of the autonomy of art has led to the fact that even today it amounts to a breach of taboo if one wants to bring art and artists into dialogue with other disciplines such as technology, science or politics. One person who never had any time for such a separation is John Brockman. He is a writer, literary agent, curator, worked in business, and for the White House in Washington. He sees it as his main role to bring experts from the most different disciplines down from their ivory towers so that they can converse not only with their peers but also with the wider public and with the luminaries of other subjects.

Stewart Brand, author of the legendary Whole Earth Catalog and the forerunner of the ecological movement, has called Brockman “an intellectual enzyme”, bringing the thoughts, visions and knowledge of the most different people together and catalysing them. Prototypical of this idea are his Edge Foundation and its website,, a platform for the exchange of ideas among the intellectual elite. Prototypical of this, too, was the collaboration between artists such as Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol or Robert Rauschenberg in 1965 in New York that led to an invitation by MIT whereby biophysicists, cyberneticists, musicians, painters and theatre directors held an interdisciplinary symposium.

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 Yorker 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.

A new edition of By The Late John Brockman, 37 and Afterwords will be published this September byHarper Collins Publishers in the US and UK under the title By The Late John Brockman, and in Germany by S. Fischer under the title Nachworte: Gedanken des Wegbereiters der Dritten Kultur.

HANS ULRICH OBRIST is curator and co-director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. His most recent book is Ways of Curating.



Larry PageGoogle and Katinka Matson, Edge, at The Edge Dinner 2014 in Vancouver

A new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet. Most of these artists would be amateurs, but they would be in close touch with science, like the poets of the earlier Age of Wonder. The new Age of Wonder might bring together wealthy entrepreneurs ... and a worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders, working together to make the planet beautiful as well as fertile, hospitable to hummingbirds as well as to humans. —Freeman Dyson

In his 2009 talk at the Bristol Festival of Ideas, Freeman Dyson pointed out that we are entering a new Age of Wonder, which is dominated by computational biology. In articulating his vision for the future he noted that Edge is the nexus of this intellectual activity.

Click on any image below for slideshow

This "worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders" has been getting together for an annual dinner since 1998. The dinner has had many names: "The Millionaires Dinner", "The Digerati Dinner", "The Billionaires' Dinner", "The Edge Science Dinner", "The Age of Wonder Dinner". 

The industrial age had the nineteenth century Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal dinner club and learned society of leading cultural figures, natural philosophers, and industrialists, whose members included engineer James Watt, manufacturer, and his business partner Matthew Boulton (Boulton & Watt steam engines), physician and natural philosopher Erasmus Darwin, author and abolitionist Thomas Day,  arms manufacturer Samuel Galton, Jr., chemist Joseph Priestly (discoverer of oxygen), potter Josiah Wedgewood, clergyman, natural philosopher, clock-maker John Whitehurst, botanist and geologist William Withering, and Benjamin Franklin. (Erasmus Darwin and Wedgewood were the grandfathers of Charles Darwin). The Society met each month near the full moon in each other's homes, and in venues such as  Soho House, and Great Barr Hall. They referred to themselves as "lunarticks".  

Edge, through its Master Classes, seminars, online activities, dinners, gathers together the third culture intellectuals and technology pioneers of the post-industrial, digital age. This year's dinner, held in Vancouver at the Blue Water Cafe, was no exception. The group, including founders of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the father of the iPod, the inventor of the WYSIWYG word processor, people in art, photography, music, distinguished journalists and thinkers, was a remarkable gathering of outstanding minds. These are the people that are rewriting our global culture. 

Some of the topics of conversation at the dinner included analog computation; neuromorphic computing; Nick Metropolis; when bad people are smart (speculating about Flight 370); the psychological pleasure of touching a historical artifact; gene expression patterns in the mouse brain; neuroscience-based understanding of human cognition; digitizing the human brain; space travel; Afonso Cuaron's movie Gravity; the outdated ISS space station; recovery of the Apollo 11 engines; the Superbowl; the Crimean crisis; brain waves and water; love in a warm place; art and danger; the nature of intuition; the inner workings of newspapers; animal interfaces for accessing internet; the role of luck in success; the design of interior configurations of private jets; the history and features of lighter-than-air ships; business models for broadcasting; love in a workplace; digital controls and state secrecy; research showing what produces happiness; how big a role luck plays in forming our destinies; the plasticity of the brain; how to develop your abs by surfing big waves; the marriage of youth and experience; and all generously lubricated by expensive wine and cheap gossip.

John Brockman 
    Vancouver, March 17, 2014

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