"I am both thrilled and frightened." 
John C. Mather, Nobel Laureate, Physics

"Ranunculus 2016" by Katinka Matson |  Click to Expand | katinkamatson.com

Scientific topics receiving prominent play in newspapers and magazines over the past several years include molecular biology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, the inflationary universe, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, cyberspace, and teraflop machines. ... Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.

You might think that the above list of topics is a preamble for the Edge Question 2016, but you would be wrong. It was a central point in my essay, "The Third Culture," published 25 years ago in The Los Angeles Times, 1991 (see below). The essay, a manifesto, was a collaborative effort, with input from Stephen Jay Gould, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Jared Diamond, Stuart Kauffman, Nicholas Humphrey, among other distinguished scientists and thinkers. It proclaimed:

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.

"The wide appeal of the third-culture thinkers," I wrote, "is not due solely to their writing ability; what traditionally has been called 'science' has today become 'public culture.' Stewart Brand writes that 'Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly.' We now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change." Science has thus become a big story, if not the big story: news that will stay news.

This is evident by the continued relevance today of the scientific topics in the 1991 essay that were all in play before the Web, social media, mobile communications, deep learning, big data. Time for an update. …


WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE MOST INTERESTING RECENT [SCIENTIFIC] NEWS? WHAT MAKES IT IMPORTANT?

"Stellar read! Best of the year already. Truly impressed again by the intellectual firepower of Edge."  —Süddeutsche Zeitung

"I’ve just treated myself to the first third, roughly, of this year’s Edge answers. Addictive, fascinating, exciting—even on topics that I already knew quite a lot about. Very high quality."   —Daniel C. Dennett

"What is the most interesting scientific news? Very, VERY smart people respond." BoingBoing

"The Question pushed divergence, and that’s where the wealth of the Edge network is." —Stewart Brand 


 

John Brockman, Publisher & Editor
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher
Nina Stegeman, Associate Editor
Katinka Matson, Co-founder & Resident Artist


 [ click for full media coverage of the 2016 Edge Question ] 


The News of Science Have Consequences
By Luca De Biase

n. 510 | Domenica 10 gennaio 2016

Nova magazine features contributions from Peter GabrielKevin Kelly, and Bill Joy



Nineteen reasons why marriages succeed

From Gene-knives and autistic neurons: The Scholars Association "Edge Foundation" asked well-known researchers, what is revolutionizing the sciences.The result is a fascinating kaleidoscope of new knowledge and methods.

By Manuela Lenzen
January 21, 2016

The big bang may not have been such a huge thud, as we imagine. Drones revolutionize not only the war, but also the research on wild animals. Two-thirds of all cancers are due to random mutations. And three principles are sufficient to define rationality. All answers to the question placed before the scientists of the "Third Culture" of American literary agent John Brockman: "What is the most interesting scientific news? And what makes them so important?"

For almost twenty years Brockman puts on his online forum edge.org regularly such a question: "What do you think is right, even if you can not prove it?" (2005), "What do you ask yourself?" (1998), "What is the scientific idea is ready for retirement?" (2014). For "Third Culture" is one of Brockman researchers from natural sciences and humanities, discuss their findings in a larger, multi-disciplinary and social context.

In his this year's question Brockman got 198 very different answers. They range from knowledge about the importance of microbes in the digestive tract of new, resource-saving battery technologies and 3D printers in the medical technology to intelligently networked "green cities". The crisis of psychology, triggered by too many non-reproducible results, just missing a little like a study for vaccination against Ebola and one of the testing, "autistic neurons" to grow in the petri dish. [Continue...]

Read highlighted contributions from: Randolph NesseAndy ClarkThalia WheatleyThomas MetzingerGary KleinJared Diamond.


EDGE week in Germany - "the Feuilleton Section of SZ is publishing one unabridged text every day this week."

Caption: For musician Peter Gabriel it might not take long until we open our thoughts as easily as a can.

Day 5: Open Water—The Internet of Visible Thought
Nr 12, Samstag/Sonntag, 16./17. Januar 2016

Brain scanners are getting better and cheaper. What could this mean for us? A vision. By Peter Gabriel

English, Edge.org | German Translation ]

Day 4: Our Collective Blind Spot
Nr 10, Donnerstag, 14. Januar 2016

Scientists and the media are establishing new ways of looking at who is responsible for anthropogenic climate change. This expanded view of responsibility is some of the most important news of our time because who we see as causing the problem informs who we see as obligated to help fix it. By Jennifer Jacquet

English, Edge.org | German Translation ]


Day 3: The Drama Of The Gifted Woman
Nr 9, Mittwoch, 13. Januar 2016

A new study shows that men still hold the power in fields of science and art where supposedly only born geniuses succeed. By Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

English, Edge.org | German Translation ]


Day 2: Fear And Terror In Politics
Nr 8, Dienstag, 12. Januar 2016

 

Prejudice because of race or religion are no longer the biggest threat to Democracy. In America, nothing divides people so much as the party affiliation. By Jonathan Haidt

English, Edge.org | German Translation ]


Day 1: View Of A Better World
Nr 7, Montag, 11. Januar 2016

An answer to the "Edge" question of the year: "What Do You Consider the Most Important News?": It has never been as good for humanity as it is today. But progress can only continue if one understands it. By Steven Pinker

English, Edge.org | German Translation ]


Introduction: The Club of Edgy Thinkers
By Andrian Kreye, Feuilleton Editor, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Edge.org’s question of the year. What has existed on the website for the past twenty years, presented under the banner of the "Third Culture," is ultimately a classical salon in the digital space. In its initial form Edge was already a club of “edgy” thinkers. 

Between 1981 and 1996, the "Reality Club" met in New York in pubs, clubs and apartments. Forerunner of Reality Clubs were notable developments. First, a series of dinners in 1965 organized in the kitchen of a New York townhouse where composer John Cage cooked mushrooms for a group of young New York avant-garde artists, holding forth on the ideas of Norbert Wiener (cybernetics), Marshall McLuhan (communication theory), Buckminster Fuller (systems theory), and Norman O. Brown (social philosophy), among others.

During that same time period, Brockman was invited to co-organize a seminar on cybernetics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology between a group of New York artists and those scientists (colleagues of Wiener, who had died the year before) who were pioneers in the field of cybernetics. The aim of such events was to consider ideas scientific ideas and also to have the artists and scientists ask each other the questions they were asking themselves.

When asked, Brockman takes the tradition much further back. One of the first of such circles is the "Lunar Society of Birmingham” at the end of the 18th century. The scientists, industrialists and philosophers who gathered for dinner included Charles Darwin's grandfather Erasmus. Another member was Benjamin Franklin, a scientist and later a founding father of the United States.

Last year we published excerpts from the answers to the 2015 Edge Question "What do you think of machines that think?". The Question this year was: "What Do You Consider the Most Interesting Recent [Scientific] News? What Makes It Important?” Because the open formulation of this year’s question brought so many differing and detailed answers, the Feuilleton Section of SZ is publishing one unabridged text every day this week. The first is written by the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker. This is followed by the social scientist Jonathan Haidt, the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, the environmental researcher Jennifer Jacquet, the rock singer Peter Gabriel, the psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer and the behaviorist Michael McCullough. All 197 answers are available on Edge.org in the original English



A Look At The Case For Paid Family Leave


By Tania Lombrozo

January 11, 2016

What do the United States, Suriname, Papua New Guinea and Tonga have in common?

These countries are among the few worldwide that don't offer paid maternity leave at the federal level for new mothers. ...

In a lovely short essay at Edge.org, psychology professor Linda Wilbrecht, a colleague at UC Berkeley, highlights what we do — and don't — yet know about the impacts of early life experiences on later development. High-quality childcare — whether it comes from mom or other caregivers — and a rich, stable environment could have important downstream consequences for individuals and for society.

Wilbrecht's essay is worth a read...



The 10 edgiest innovation ideas of 2016

By Dominic Basulto
January 6, 2016

At the end of every year, Edge reaches out to the smartest people on the planet and asks them a single question in an attempt to find the ideas and concepts that are changing the world of science. This year’s two-part question was: “What do you consider the most interesting recent [scientific] news? What makes it important?”

Not surprisingly, this year’s set of 197 responses converged around a few key themes – the human brain, the human genome, space exploration and artificial intelligence. Based on these responses, here are 10 of the edgiest innovation buzzwords that have the greatest potential to change the trajectory of innovation in 2016. [Continue...]

Read highlighted contributions from: Max TegmarkGeorge DysonMelanie SwanChristian KeysersAbigail MarshKevin KellyW. Tecumseh FitchStewart BrandThomas Metzinger, and Mark Pagel



Science Is Stepping Up the Pace of Innovation
Big advances in astronomy and genetics

By Alison Gopnik
January 1, 2016

Every year on the website Edge, scientists and other thinkers reply to one question. This year it’s “What do you consider the most interesting recent news” in science? The answers are fascinating. We’re used to thinking of news as the events that happen in a city or country within a few weeks or months. But scientists expand our thinking to the unimaginably large and the infinitesimally small.

Despite this extraordinary range, the answers of the Edge contributors have an underlying theme. The biggest news of all is that a handful of large-brained primates on an insignificant planet have created machines that let them understand the world, at every scale, and let them change it too, for good or ill. [Continue...]



Scientific breakthroughs in 2015 that could change the world
Advances in biology and cosmology have dominated the science year

By Steve Connor
December 31, 2015

Growing a “brain in a dish”, the prospect of creating designer babies, and the possibility of detecting the first signs of extra-terrestrial intelligence – these are just some of the most important scientific news stories of 2015, according to some of the world’s leading scholars celebrating the year’s achievements.

The question posed to the top thinkers was this: what do you consider the most interesting recent scientific news and what makes it important? Back came a smorgasbord of essay-length answers from more than 100 contributors to Edge.org, the online salon for scientists, philosophers and followers of the “third culture” merging science and the humanities. [Continue...]

Read highlighted contributions from: Mark PagelGeorge ChurchSimon Baron-CohenAlison GopnikMario LivioMartin Rees.



What is the most interesting scientific news? Very, VERY smart people respond.

By David Pescovitz
January 4, 2016

It is time once again for the Edge Annual Question, a mind-bending and boundary-busting online convening of scientists, technologists, and other big thinkers all responding to a single question at the intersection of science and culture. From physicists to artists, cognitive psychologists to journalists, evolutionary biologists to maverick anthropologists, these are people who Edge founder, famed literary agent, and BB pal John Brockman describes as the "third culture (consisting) 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."

This year, John asked: What do you consider the most interesting (scientific) news? What makes it important?" Nearly two hundred really smart people responded, including Steven PinkerNina JablonskiFreeman DysonStewart BrandMarti HearstPhilip TetlockKevin KellyLisa Feldman BarrettDouglas RushkoffLisa RandallAlan AldaJared DiamondPamela McCorduck, and on and on. [Continue...]



Gene-Editing, Aliens, and More: Experts Identify the Most Exciting Science of 2016

By George Dvorksy
January 8, 2016

Each year, Edge.org editor John Brockman poses a provocative question to a select group of thinkers. For this year’s installment, nearly 200 brainy contributors were asked: “What do you consider the most recent scientific news?” Here’s what they had to say.

As Brockman notes, “We now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change.” Science, therefore, has “become a big story, if not the big story: news that will stay news.” But given the insane amount of science-related news that makes the rounds on a daily basis, it’s not immediately clear which sciency tidbits are the ones we should be focused on. 

To help him parse through this staggering amount of science—and to provide a 50-foot perspective on where we are right now—Brockman recruited some of the biggest names in science, technology, art, and philosophy. Contributors included Martin ReesSteven PinkerGloria OriggiFreeman DysonMax TegmarkJudith Rich HarrisPeter GabrielNina JablonskiBill JoyMichael ShermerKevin KellyGregory BenfordSean CarrollFrank TiplerSteve Omohundro, and many, many others. [Continue...]



Nearly 200 thinkers, scientists are most concerned about things: aliens, the decline of cancer, what is the source of addiction...

By Anita Chow
January 8, 2016

Online Thinkers forum frontier (Edge.org) since 1998, has put forward thought-provoking topics every year, such as '98: What questions are you asking yourself?; '99: What is the most important invention in the past 2,000 years?; 2006: What is your dangerous idea?; Last year: What do you think about machines that think? This year, editor John Brockman, got nearly 200 thinkers: What do consider the most interesting recent [science] news? What makes it so important?

As a result, 198 experts from physics, astronomy, psychology, archeology, biology, history, computer science, etc. each wrote an essay, including Steven PinkerPeter GabrielNina JablonskiBill JoyMichael ShermerKevin KellyGregory BenfordGeorge Church. ... Several hot topics ran as expected, including research cancer and other diseases, pollution, genetic research, artificial intelligence, quantum physics and gravity research, to find Earth 2.0 and extraterrestrial life. [Continue...]


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THE THIRD CULTURE
by John Brockman [9.19.91]

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.

In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 1990s. Indeed, the traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.

In 1959 C.P. Snow published a book titled The Two Cultures. On the one hand, there were the literary intellectuals; on the other, the scientists. He noted with incredulity that during the 1930s the literary intellectuals, while no one was looking, took to referring to themselves as "the intellectuals," as though there were no others. This new definition by the "men of letters" excluded scientists such as the astronomer Edwin Hubble, the mathematician John von Neumann, the cyberneticist Norbert Wiener, and the physicists Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg.

How did the literary intellectuals get away with it? First, people in the sciences did not make an effective case for the implications of their work. Second, while many eminent scientists, notably Arthur Eddington and James Jeans, also wrote books for a general audience, their works were ignored by the self-proclaimed intellectuals, and the value and importance of the ideas presented remained invisible as an intellectual activity, because science was not a subject for the reigning journals and magazines.

In a second edition of The Two Cultures, published in 1963, Snow added a new essay, "The Two Cultures: A Second Look," in which he optimistically suggested that a new culture, a "third culture," would emerge and close the communications gap between the literary intellectuals and the scientists. In Snow's third culture, the literary intellectuals would be on speaking terms with the scientists. Although I borrow Snow's phrase, it does not describe the third culture he predicted. Literary intellectuals are not communicating with scientists. Scientists are communicating directly with the general public. Traditional intellectual media played a vertical game: journalists wrote up and professors wrote down. Today, third-culture thinkers tend to avoid the middleman and endeavor to express their deepest thoughts in a manner accessible to the intelligent reading public.

The recent publishing successes of serious science books have surprised only the old-style intellectuals. Their view is that these books are anomalies--that they are bought but not read. I disagree. The emergence of this third-culture activity is evidence that many people have a great intellectual hunger for new and important ideas and are willing to make the effort to educate themselves.

The wide appeal of the third-culture thinkers is not due solely to their writing ability; what traditionally has been called "science" has today become "public culture." Stewart Brand writes that "Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly." We now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change. Science has thus become a big story.

Scientific topics receiving prominent play in newspapers and magazines over the past several years include molecular biology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, the inflationary universe, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, cyberspace, and teraflop machines. Among others. There is no canon or accredited list of acceptable ideas. The strength of the third culture is precisely that it can tolerate disagreements about which ideas are to be taken seriously. Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.

The role of the intellectual includes communicating. Intellectuals are not just people who know things but people who shape the thoughts of their generation. An intellectual is a synthesizer, a publicist, a communicator. In his 1987 book The Last Intellectuals, the cultural historian Russell Jacoby bemoaned the passing of a generation of public thinkers and their replacement by bloodless academicians. He was right, but also wrong. The third-culture thinkers are the new public intellectuals.

America now is the intellectual seedbed for Europe and Asia. This trend started with the prewar emigration of Albert Einstein and other European scientists and was further fueled by the post- Sputnik boom in scientific education in our universities. The emergence of the third culture introduces new modes of intellectual discourse and reaffirms the preeminence of America in the realm of important ideas. Throughout history, intellectual life has been marked by the fact that only a small number of people have done the serious thinking for everybody else. What we are witnessing is a passing of the torch from one group of thinkers, the traditional literary intellectuals, to a new group, the intellectuals of the emerging third culture.

John Brockman
1991