About Edge.org

Edge.org was launched in 1996 as the online version of "The Reality Club" and as a living document on the Web to display the activities of "The Third Culture".  

THE REALITY CLUB

The Reality Club was an informal gathering of intellectuals who met from 1981 to 1996 in Chinese restaurants, artist lofts, investment banking firms, ballrooms, museums, living rooms and elsewhere. Reality Club members presented their work with the understanding that they will be challenged. The hallmark of The Reality club has been rigorous and sometimes impolite (but not ad hominem) discourse. The motto of the Club was inspired by the late artist-philosopher James Lee Byars: "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves." 

I met Byars in 1969 when he sought me out after the publication of my first book, By the Late John Brockman . We were both in the art world, we shared an interest in language, in the uses of the interrogative, in avoiding the anesthesiology of wisdom, and in "the Steins"—Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, and Frankenstein ("the shtick of the Steins"). In 1971, our dialogue ("Jimmie and Johnny"), informed the creation by James Lee of The World Question Center.


James Lee Byars (1932-1997), Founder of The World Question Center

I wrote the following about his project at the time of his death in Egypt in 1977:

James Lee inspired the idea that led to the Reality Club (and subsequently to Edge), and is responsible for the motto of the club. He believed that to arrive at an axiology of societal knowledge it was pure folly to go to a Widener Library and read 6 million volumes of books. (In this regard he kept only four books at a time in a box in his minimally furnished room, replacing books as he read them.) This led to his creation of the World Question Center in which he planned to gather the 100 most brilliant minds in the world together in a room, lock them behind closed doors, and have them ask each other the questions they were asking themselves.

The expected result, in theory, was to be a synthesis of all thought. But between idea and execution are many pitfalls. James Lee identified his 100 most brilliant minds (a few of them have graced the pages of this Site), called each of them, and asked what questions they were asking themselves. The result: 70 people hung up on him.

That was in 1971. New technologies = new perceptions. Email, the Web, mobile devices, social media, today allow for a serious implementation of Jimmy Lee's grand design. Though the venue is now online, the spirit of the Reality Club lives on in the lively back-and-forth discussions on the hot-button ideas driving the discussion today.


"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves." 


As James Lee said: "To accomplish the extraordinary, you must seek extraordinary people." At the centre of every Edge project are remarkable people and remarkable minds— scientists, artists, philosophers, technologists and entrepreneurs who are at the center of today's intellectual, technological, and scientific landscape. They are representative of The Third Culture I wrote about in "The Emerging Third Culture", a 1991 essay, and a book, The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution, published in 1995. 

THE THIRD CULTURE

The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are. 

It is a large enough umbrella to also include the "digerati," the doers, thinkers, and writers, connected in ways they may not even appreciate, who have tremendous influence on the emerging communication revolution surrounding the growth of the Internet and the Web.

Edge is a living document on the Web that displays "the third culture" in action. The "content" of Edge is the group of people who connect in this way.  Edge is a conversation.

The ideas presented on Edge are speculative; they represent the frontiers of knowledge in the areas of evolutionary biology, genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, and physics. Some of the fundamental questions posed are: Where did the universe come from? Where did life come from? Where did the mind come from? Emerging out of the third culture is a new natural philosophy, founded on the realization of the import of complexity, of evolution. Very complex systems,, whether organisms, brains, the biosphere, or the universe itself, were not constructed by design; all have evolved.

There is a new set of metaphors to describe ourselves, our minds, the universe, and all of the things we know in it, and it is the intellectuals with these new ideas and images, those scientists and others doing things and writing their own books, who drive our times.


The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are. 


Through the years, Edge has had a simple criterion for choosing contributors. We look for people whose creative work has expanded our notion of who and what we are. A few are bestselling authors or are famous in the mass culture. Most are not. Rather, we encourage work on the cutting edge of the culture, and the investigation of ideas that have not been generally exposed. We are interested in "thinking smart"; we are not interested in received "wisdom". In communications theory information is not defined as data or input but rather as "a difference that makes a difference.'' It is this level we hope our contributors will achieve.

Edge encourages people who can take the materials of the culture in the arts, literature, and science and put them together in their own way. We live in a mass-produced culture where many people, even many established cultural arbiters limit themselves to secondhand ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Edge consists of individuals who create their own reality and do not accept an ersatz, appropriated reality. The Edge community consists of people who are out there doing it rather than talking about and analyzing the people who are doing it.

Edge bears resemblance to the early seventeenth-century Invisible College, a precursor to the Royal Society. Its members consisted of scientists such as Robert Boyle, John Wallis, and Robert Hooke. The Society's common theme was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation. Another inspiration is The Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal club of the leading cultural figures of the new industrial age — James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley, and Benjamin Franklin. While different than the Algonquin Roundtable or Bloomsbury Group, Edge offers the same quality of intellectual adventure. 

In the words of the novelist Ian McEwan, edge.org is "open-minded, free-ranging, intellectually playful… an unadorned pleasure in curiosity, a collective expression of wonder at the living and inanimate world… an ongoing and thrilling colloquium." 

John Brockman
    Publisher & Editor, Edge.org

 

 

 

People Contributing to Edge.org