2005 : WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?

"I can answer the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?
— James Lee Byars, founder, The World Question Center

"Fantastically stimulating...It's like the crack cocaine of the thinking world.... Once you start, you can't stop thinking about that question." — BBC Radio 4

"WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS TRUE EVEN THOUGH YOU CANNOT PROVE IT?"

Great minds can sometimes guess the truth before they have either the evidence or arguments for it (Diderot called it having the "esprit de divination"). What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?

The 2005 Edge Question has generated many eye-opening responsesfrom a "who's who" of third culture scientists and science-minded thinkers. The 120 contributions comprise a document of 60,000 words.

The New York Times ("Science Times") and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ("Feuilliton") published excepts in their print and online editions simultaneously with Edge publication. Other international papers followed (below).

In a front-page article, Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy's largest financial daily, announced the "Edge Question Forum" in "Domenica", the weekend Arts & Culture section. The Forum, an ongoing project designed to bring third culture thinking to Italy, features excerpts from the Edgeresponses in addition to articles solicited rom Italian humanist intellectuals and scientists.

In the responses to this year's question, there's a focus on consciousness, on knowing, on ideas of truth and proof. If pushed to generalize, I would say it is a commentary on how we are dealing with the idea of certainty.

We are in the age of "searchculture", in which Google and other search engines are leading us into a future rich with an abundance of correct answers along with an accompanying naïve sense of certainty. In the future, we will be able to answer the question, but will we be bright enough to ask it?

This is an alternative path. It may be that it's okay not to be certain, but to have a hunch, and to perceive on that basis. There is also evidence here that the scientists are thinking beyond their individual fields. Yes, they are engaged in the science of their own areas of research, but more importantly they are also thinking deeply about creating new understandings about the limits of science, of seeing science not just as a question of knowing things, but as a means of tuning into the deeper questions of who we are and how we know.

It may sound as if I am referring to a group of intellectuals, and not scientists. In fact, I refer to both. In 1991, I suggested the idea of a third culture, which "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. "

I believe that the scientists of the third culture are the pre-eminent intellectuals of our time. But I can't prove it.

Happy New Year!

Publisher & Editor
John Brockman?

This year's Edge Question was suggested by Nicholas Humphrey.

CONTRIBUTOR INDEX COMPLETE TEXT OF RESPONSES

 
April 2005
I call it "Broks's paradox": the condition of believing that the mind is separate from the body, even though you know this belief to be untrue

Paul Broks

I've been browsing the "World Question Centre" at edge.org, the website for thinking folk with time on their hands. The 2005 Edge question is a good one: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

...Ian McEwan" makes a telling point. "What I believe but cannot prove," he says, "is that no part of my consciousness will survive my death." His enlightened fellow Edge contributors will take this as a given, but they may not appreciate its significance, which is that belief in an afterlife "divides the world crucially, and much damage has been done to thought as well as to persons by those who are certain that there is a life, a better, more important life, elsewhere." The natural gift of consciousness should be treasured all the more for its transience.



Society
LO QUE CREEN LOS CIENTIFICOS
Domingo 20 of February of 2005

JAVIER SAMPEDRO, Madrid

John Brockman, writer, publisher and events manager for the science elite, has asked a hundred researchers the question, What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it? The answers are posted at his e-magazine Edge (www.edge.org), and they exert an unquestionable morbid fascination—those are the very ideas that scientists cannot confess in their technical papers.

Since the Big Bang, matter has been busy organizing itself on particles, atoms, stars, planets, organic compounds and (on Earth at least) bacteria, animals and conscious brains. That is what scientists think proved. But their unproven beliefs tell another story, or thousand others.

“I doubt that the Big Bang is the beginning of time, I strongly suspect that our history extends backwards before that”, writes in Edge Lee Smolin, theoretical physicist. He cannot prove it, but he believes it. As his colleague Lawrence Krauss believes, without proofs too, that “there are likely to be a large, and possibly infinite number of other universes out there, some of which may be experiencing Big Bangs at the current moment”.

God does not play dices, said Einstein, but Alexander Vilenkin thinks he played dices too much…

Spanish original...



January 16 Domenica
EDGE QUESTION FORUM
Curated by Armando Massarenti

In a front-page article, Il Sole 24 Ore, Italy's largest financial daily, announced the "Edge Question Forum" in "Domenica", the weekend Arts & Culture section. The Forum, an ongoing project designed to bring third culture thinking to Italy, features excerpts from the Edge responses in addition to articles solicited rom Italian humanist intellectuals and scientists. [Click here]



Bangladesh
SATURDAY FEATURE
Where reasoning loses its power

by Syed Fattahul Alim
Saturday, January 15

A wide cross-section of people from among the intelligentsia responded to this fundamental paradox of life. The cynic and the optimist, the agnostic and the believer, the rationalist and the obscurantist, the scientist and the speculative philosopher, the realist and the idealist-all converge on a critical point in their thought process where reasoning loses its power. Love, existence of God, primacy of the entity called consciousness or life were the issues that came within the purview of the deliberation.



Moralists merely wail, but science gives us answers
By Minnette Minette Marrin
Comment — Sunday, January 9

Scientists, increasingly, have become our public intellectuals, to whom we look for explanations and solutions. These may be partial and imperfect, but they are more satisfactory than the alternatives.

So here is what I believe, without being able to prove it. If there are any answers to life's greatest questions, or if there are other questions that we should be asking instead, it is science that will provide them.



Broadcasting House
Sunday, January 9. 0900-1000

"Fantastically stimulating...Once you start, you can't stop thinking about that question." — Broadcasting House, BBC Radio 4

What do you believe to be true but cannot prove?   And what kind of problem does that pose to Scientists?  Professor Richard Dawkins joins us for that and we invite your thoughts on the subject. [click here for full transcript]

[Fi Glover, Broadcasting House, BBC Radio 4:] "We'd like you to stretch your brain this morning. 'What do you believe to be true but cannot prove?' This enormous query has been posed by the big thinkers website edge.org...And so far 100s of big thinkers have been answering this question."...

"It is a fantastically stimulating question isn't it? Although we might believe that science acts as a bastion of provable theories in a world that contains many mysteries, as you've just said this is not always the case. Scientists start out with theories and seek to build the proof around them. And that's the excitement of science often."

[Professor Richard Dawkins:] "Very much so. It would be entirely wrong to suggest that science is something that knows everything already. Science proceeds by having hunches, by making guesses, by having hypotheses, sometimes inspired by poetic thoughts, by aesthetic thoughts even, and then science goes about trying to demonstrate it experimentally or observationally. And that's the beauty of science that it has this imaginative stage but then it goes on to the proving stage, the demonstrating stage."

[BBC Radio 4:] Once you start, you can’t stop thinking about that question. It’s like the crack cocaine of the thinking world.



Scientists dream too - imagine that
Opinion —2005-01-08

by Julia Baird

We all have hunches, beliefs we can barely explain, or even simply hopes or dreams that some might think of as crazy, or scoff at as irrational, or unproven. But that's just the point of hunches, isn't it? Sometimes we're even right. Diderot called the gift of those who guess the truth before being able to prove it the 'esprit de divination'.
hich is why the latest "grand question" posed by the publisher of the scientific website edge.org, John Brockman, to 120 scientists and thinkers, is so wonderful: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

The answers, which spill to 60,000 words and were published this week, provide a fascinating insight into conjecture - and the power of imagination. Even the empirically driven, it seems, have their own leaps of faith.

Many scientists and researchers believe in the unseen and the unknown - in true love, the power of a child's mind, in the existence of aliens.



The Guardian Friday G2Inside Story
FAITH V FACT

07.01.05 — pp 6-7

To celebrate the new year, online magazine Edge asked some leading thinkers a simple question: What do you believe but cannot prove? Here is a selection of their responses...



January 6, 2003 SOCIETA ' E CULTURA; Pg. 23
Singolare inchiesta in usa di un sito internet. Ha chiesto ai signori della ricerca di svelare i loro "atti di fede". Sono arrivate le risposte piu' imprevedibili i fantasmi dello scienziato: non ho prove ma ci credo.

By Sindici Fabio

E' il caso del cosmologo Martin Rees di Cambridge. E' convinto che la vita intelligente esista solo sulla Terra, ma che, in un futuro indeterminato, si espandera' in tutta la galassia. La mancanza della prova fa spuntare teorie originalissime, come quella della matematica Verena Huber-Dyson, che sostiene il ""potere creativo della noia"". Judith Rich Harris, psicologa dello sviluppo, e' persuasa che sono tre, e non due, i processi di selezione relativi all'evoluzione umana. I primi due sono noti: la selezione naturale, che si basa sulla capacita' di adattamento; e la selezione sessuale, sulla capacita' di riprodursi. Harris aggiunge un fattore inaspettato: la bellezza. Che aiuterebbe la sopravvivenza, specie nei primi giorni di esistenza di un bambino.



SCIENCE'S SCOURGE OF BELIEVERS DECLARES HIS FAITH IN DARWIN
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
(Filed: 05/01/2005) [free registration required]

Prof Richard Dawkins, the scourge of those who maintain their belief in a god, has declared that he, too, holds a belief that cannot yet be proved.

In a recent letter to a national newspaper, Prof Dawkins said believers might now be disillusioned with an omnipotent being who had just drowned tens of thousands of innocent people in Asia. "My naive guess was that believers might be feeling more inclined to curse their god than pray to him."

Now the Oxford University evolutionary biologist is among the 117 scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers who have responded to the question: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" posed by John Brockman, a New York-based literary agent and publisher of Edge, a website devoted to science.


What Do You Believe Even If You Can't Prove It?

Posted by timothy on Wednesday January 05, @12:57PMfrom the that-she-is-out-there dept.
An anonymous reader writes "That's what online magazine The Edge - the World Question Center asked over 120 scientists, futurists, and other interesting minds. Their answers are sometimes short and to the point (Bruce Sterling: 'We're in for climatic mayhem'), often long and involved; they cover everything from the existence of God to the nature of black holes. What do you believe, even though you can't prove it?  


ARTICLES OF NOTE
What do you believe to be true, even though you can’t prove it? John Brockman asked over a hundred scientists and intellectuals... more» ... Edge



SPACE WITHOUT TIME, TIME WITHOUT REST
John Brockman's Question for the Republic of Wisdom

(Woran glauben Sie, ohne es beweisen zu können?)
By Christian Schwägerl,
January 4, 2005

It can be more thrilling to start the New Year with a good question than with a good intention. That's what John Brockman is doing for the eight time in a row. The New York based literary agent and pionieer of the "Third culture", in which the natural sciences and the humanities are meant to fuse, has posed a question to researchers and other scientific literati in 1998 for the first time. Then the question was: "Which questions do you ask youself?". In the meantime, Brockman has set up a World Question Center" at the internet site of his intellectual foundation Edge (www.edge.org). It is no accident that this years question refers to believes after a year in which America has shown its strong believing side. But what is it the reason-driven members of the Third Culture believe in? We supply a small selection of answers to this year's question."



GOD (OR NOT), PHYSICS AND, OF COURSE, LOVE: SCIENTISTS TAKE A LEAP
Fourteen scientists ponder everything from string theory to true love.
January 4, 2005 [free registration required]

"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

This was the question posed to scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers by John Brockman, a literary agent and publisher of Edge, a Web site devoted to science. The site asks a new question at the end of each year. Here are excerpts from the responses, to be posted Tuesday at www.edge.org.


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(dall'inserto culturale del Sole 24 Ore - domenica 2 gennaio 2005)
January 2, 2005

Fate largo alle «beautiful minds»
di Roberto Casati

L’interesse dei mezzi di comunicazione per questo tipo di figure intellettuali ha preso tre vie principali. La prima è la più evidente ma in un certo senso anche la più sorprendente; si tratta della pubblicazione di opere di divulgazione scientifica di altissimo livello, affidata non a divulgatori di professione ma a scienziati cui si chiede di presentare al grande pubblico il loro lavoro, senza fare troppe concessioni. Nata da un’idea di un agente letterario, John Brockman, ha permesso di far venire alla luce best-seller come L’istinto del linguaggio di S. Pinker, Armi acciaio e malattie di J. Diamond, I vestiti nuovi dell'imperatore di R. Penrose, L’universo elegante di B. Greene. Hanno sorpreso sia la qualità della scrittura che le vendite; evidentemente c'era un bisogno di opere di alto livello che le case editrici hanno saputo individuare.

La terza cultura di John Brockman
di Armando Massarenti

Domanda intrigantissima, cui hanno già risposto, tra gli altri, intellettuali come John Barrow, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Stanislas Dehaene, Daniel C. Dennett, Keith Devlin, Howard Gardner, Freeman Dyson, Leon Lederman, Janna Levin, Joseph LeDoux, Benoit Mandelbrot, Martin Rees, Steven Pinker, Carlo Rovelli, Craig Venter. I loro interventi saranno resi disponibili sul sito nei prossimi giorni. Il dibattito sarà seguito a livello internazionale, con anticipazioni in contemporanea di diversi interventi, dal «New York Times», dal «Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung» e, per l’Italia, dal Domenicale
del Sole-24 Ore.

Una nuova figura di intellettuale pubblico è venuta alla luce, e vi è un luogo in cui essa può esprimersi con grande libertà. Siamo certi che anche nel nostro Paese, più di quanto hanno fatto finora, non saranno in pochi a voler approfittare di questa opportunità.

 



GOD (OR NOT), PHYSICS AND, OF COURSE, LOVE: SCIENTISTS TAKE A LEAP
Fourteen scientists ponder everything from string theory to true love. 
January 4, 2005 [free registration required]

"What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

This was the question posed to scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers by John Brockman, a literary agent and publisher of Edge, a Web site devoted to science. The site asks a new question at the end of each year. Here are excerpts from the responses, to be posted Tuesday at www.edge.org.

|

 

(dall'inserto culturale del Sole 24 Ore - domenica 2 gennaio 2005)
January 2, 2005

Fate largo alle «beautiful minds» 
di Roberto Casati

L’interesse dei mezzi di comunicazione per questo tipo di figure intellettuali ha preso tre vie principali. La prima è la più evidente ma in un certo senso anche la più sorprendente; si tratta della pubblicazione di opere di divulgazione scientifica di altissimo livello, affidata non a divulgatori di professione ma a scienziati cui si chiede di presentare al grande pubblico il loro lavoro, senza fare troppe concessioni. Nata da un’idea di un agente letterario, John Brockman, ha permesso di far venire alla luce best-seller come L’istinto del linguaggio di S. Pinker, Armi acciaio e malattie di J. Diamond, I vestiti nuovi dell'imperatore di R. Penrose, L’universo elegante di B. Greene. Hanno sorpreso sia la qualità della scrittura che le vendite; evidentemente c'era un bisogno di opere di alto livello che le case editrici hanno saputo individuare.

La terza cultura di John Brockman
di Armando Massarenti

Domanda intrigantissima, cui hanno già risposto, tra gli altri, intellettuali come John Barrow, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Stanislas Dehaene, Daniel C. Dennett, Keith Devlin, Howard Gardner, Freeman Dyson, Leon Lederman, Janna Levin, Joseph LeDoux, Benoit Mandelbrot, Martin Rees, Steven Pinker, Carlo Rovelli, Craig Venter. I loro interventi saranno resi disponibili sul sito nei prossimi giorni. Il dibattito sarà seguito a livello internazionale, con anticipazioni in contemporanea di diversi interventi, dal «New York Times», dal «Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung» e, per l’Italia, dal Domenicale
del Sole-24 Ore. 

Una nuova figura di intellettuale pubblico è venuta alla luce, e vi è un luogo in cui essa può esprimersi con grande libertà. Siamo certi che anche nel nostro Paese, più di quanto hanno fatto finora, non saranno in pochi a voler approfittare di questa opportunità.



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— by Paul Nettleton,The Guardian



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— Matin Durani (Deputy Editor, Physics World)