— John Naughton, The Observer
Scientists' greatest pleasure comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way. These explanations are called "beautiful" or "elegant". Historical examples are Kepler's explanation of complex planetary motions as simple ellipses, Bohr's explanation of the periodic table of the elements in terms of electron shells, and Watson and Crick's double helix. Einstein famously said that he did not need experimental confirmation of his general theory of relativity because it "was so beautiful it had to be true."
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT,
OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?
Since this question is about explanation, answers may embrace scientific thinking in the broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, including other fields of inquiry such as philosophy, mathematics, economics, history, political theory, literary theory, or the human spirit. The only requirement is that some simple and non-obvious idea explain some diverse and complicated set of phenomena.
[Thanks to Steven Pinker for suggesting this year's Edge Question and to Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, and George Dyson for their ongoing advice and support.]
192 CONTRIBUTORS (128,500 words): Emanuel Derman, Nicholas Humphrey, Dylan Evans, Howard Gardner, Jeremy Berstein, Rudy Rucker, Michael Shermer, Nicholas Carr, Susam Blackmore, Scott Atran, David Christian, Andy Clark, Donald Hoffman, Derek Lowe, Roger Schank, Arnold Trehub, Timothy Taylor, Cliff Pickover, Ed Regis, Jared Diamond, Robert Provine, Richard Nisbett, Peter Woit, Haim Harari, Satyajit Das, Juan Enriquez, Jamshed Bharucha, Richard Foreman, Scott D. Sampson, Jonathan Gotschall, Keith Devlin, Clay Shirky, Steven Pinker, Gloria Origgi, Sean Carroll, Irene Pepperberg, Tor Nørretranders, Alan Alda, Jennifer Jacquet, George Dyson, Nigel Goldenfeld, Aubrey De Grey, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, George Church, Kevin Kelly, Stephen M. Kosslyn and Robin S. Rosenberg, Lawrence M. Krauss, James Croak, Armand Marie Leroi, Leonard Susskind, Douglas Rushkoff, Victoria Stodden, Daniel C. Dennett, Shing-tung Yau, Philip Campbell, Freeman Dyson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Martin Rees, Stanislas Dehaene, Samuel Arbesman, David Gelernter, Timothy D. Wilson, Judith Rich Harris, Samuel Barondes, Peter Atkins, Robert Kurzban, Todd C. Sacktor, Gerald Holton, Frank Wilczek, Elizabeth Dunn, Eric J. Topol, Lee Smolin, Roger Highfield, Michael I. Norton, Richard Dawkins, Neil Gershenfeld, Alison Gopnik, Terrence J. Sejnowski, Rodney Brooks, Philip Zimbardo, Christopher Sykes, Nicholas A. Christakis, Marcel Kinsbourne, Thomas A. Bass, Randolph Nesse, Sherry Turkle, Gino Segre, Eric R. Kandel, Hugo Mercier, Beatrice Golomb, Benjamin Bergen, Alun Anderson, Alvy Ray Smith, Katinka Matson, Steve Giddings, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gerd Gigerenzer , Gerald Smallberg, Paul Steinhardt, Adam Alter, Karl Sabbagh, David G. Myers, Lica DiBiase, Stuart Pimm, James J. O'Donnell, Albert-László Barabási, Simon Baron-Cohen, Charles Seife, Patrick Bateson, Carlo Rovelli, Jordan Pollack, Robert Sapolsky, Frank Tipler, Bruce Parker, Marcelo Gleiser, Richard Saul Wurman, Gary Klein, Ernst Pöppel, Evgeny Morozov, Gregory Benford, S. Abbas Raza, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Thomas Metzinger, David Haig, Melanie Swan, Laurence C. Smith, John C. Mather, Seth Lloyd, P. Murali Doriaswamy, Marti Hearst, Jon Kleinberg, Kai Krause, Joel Gold, Simone Schnall, Paul Saffo, Lisa Randall, Brian Eno, Giulio Boccaletti, Paul Bloom, Timo Hannay, Anthony Grayling, Matt Ridley, Doug Coupland, Amanda Gefter, Bruce Hood, Gregory Paul, Stephon Alexander, Bart Kosko, John Tooby, Stuart Kauffman, Barry C. Smith, John Naughton, Helen Fisher, Virginia Heffernan, Dimitar Sasselov, Eric Weinstein, Max Tegmark, PZ Myers, Andrew Lih, Christine Finn, Gregory Cochran, John McWhorter, Michael Vassar, Brian Knutson, Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran, Antony Garrett Lisi, Helena Cronin, Tania Lombrozo, Kevin Hand, Seirian Sumner, David Eagleman, Tim O'Reilly, Marco Iacoboni, Raphael Bousso, David Dalrymple, Emily Pronin, Dave Winer, Alanna Conner & Hazel Rose Markus, David Pizarro, Andrian Kreye, David Buss, Carl Zimmer, Stewart Brand, Anton Zeilinger, Carolyn Porco, Dan Sperber, Mahzarin Banaji, V.S. Ramachandran, Nathan Myhrvold, Charles Simonyi, Richard Thaler, Andrei Linde [Continue to responses.]
It's ever more delectable that the Edge Foundation— the network of prominent scientists and intellectuals founded by literary agent John Brockman in New York — has worked against the reciprocal ignorance of literary cultures and sciences of each other. Successfully. If you take the algorithms developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, which measure the value of links, Edge's website ranks seven on a global scale of ten. The New York Times ranks nine, eBay at eight. — Sueddeutche Zeitung
Susannah Meadows, New York Times
January 31, 2013
Two eerie story collections and two comic novels are part of this month’s crop, along with an anthology that has science writers aiming to explain, well, everything.
THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING
Edited by John Brockman
411 pages. Harper Perennial. $15.99.
Mr. Brockman, the editor and publisher of Edge.org, asked the thinkers in his online science community to share their favorite “deep, elegant or beautiful” explanation. . . . a handy collection of 150 shortcuts to understanding how the world works. Elegance in this context means, as the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins writes, the “power to explain much while assuming little.” . . . Among the things this book will teach you? How much you don’t know.
GEEKY FILMS AND DEEP EXPLANATIONS
Jascha Hoffman, New York Times
January 22, 2013
For 15 years, the literary agent John Brockman has been posing open-ended questions on his Web site Edge.org. Last year’s question — “What is your favorite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation?” — drew responses from more than 150 scientists and creative thinkers. The geographer Jared Diamond wonders at the 1950s experiments that revealed how plants and animals generate electricity; the anthropologist Helen Fisher thinks we can transcend the old nature-nurture debates by studying how the environment can turn genes on and off. But the meta-award goes to the philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein for answering one question with another: “Where do we get the idea that the beauty of an explanation has anything to do with the likelihood of its being true?
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATIONS "deeply satisfying...This Explains Everything delivers."
Tiffany O'Callaghan, CultureLab Editor
January 29, 2013
"A COLLECTION of essays by big thinkers answering big questions may never be a page-turner, but should still be deeply satisfying. And This Explains Everything delivers."
'THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING' EDITED BY JOHN BROCKMAN
Jan Gardner, The Boston Globe
January 26, 2013
Every year John Brockman, editor of the online salon Edge, puts forth a question that he hopes will inspire fascinating answers from leading scientists and thinkers, such as Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, and Sherry Turkle. He has done it again. This time he asked, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" A multiplicity of answers are offered in the compact, accessible essays that form "This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works" (Harper), edited by Brockman. If you want to increase the intellectual heft of your reading while keeping it entertaining, "This Explains Everything" will do nicely.
January 25, 2013
This is what editor John Brockman asked some of the world's foremost thinkers. He shares their answers with Veronica Rueckert — representing 150 of the most fascinating theories of how the world works.
January 25, 2013
Science salon Edge.org is permeated with a sense of wonder. Maybe that's what lured in the many brainy contributors (Steven Pinker, Brian Eno) to This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works, edited by John Brockman ($18, Harper Perennial).
January 14, 2012
A sort of scientific-cultural online salon, Edge poses its annual big question to a select group of thinkers and publishes their responses. This year's essayists include biologist Richard Dawkins, geographer Jared Diamond and computer scientist David Gelernter. It all goes online at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning. edge.org.
The Keys To The Future
Our Time Is Characterized By A 'scientific Wave That Seems To Overwhelm All Other Knowledge, Starting With Those Humanities. Only A Few "surfers" Can Ride It, Among Them ...
Miguel Gotor, La Repubblica
January 15, 2012
The concept of collective intelligence proposed by the science writer Matt Ridley goes in this direction: we live in a society centered on the cult of 'individual intelligence, the charisma and meritocracy, but the development of the human species was gregarious but guaranteed the ability to operate complex systems "networking", through the division of labor and the sharing of objectives.
Edge Challenges Leading Thinkers To Name Their 'favourite Explanations'
in Its Annual Question, Edge Magazine Asks 'what Is Your Favourite Deep, Elegant Or Beautiful Explanation?'
Alok Jha, Science Correspondent, The Guardian/observer
January 15, 2012
Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Einstein's reinterpretation of the cosmos through general relativity and the idea that we live in one of an infinity of universes are some of the most elegant and beautiful human ideas, according to a group of the world's leading thinkers.
What's Your Favorite Science Theory?
bangalore: John Brockman, The Literary Agent Who Presides Over The Online Salon Edge.org Every January Puts Forward A Question And Asks His Circle Of Scientists And Scholars To Tackle The Question.
January 16, 2012
... many nominated ideas were not from those found in science courses taught in school or college. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University thinks the most beautiful idea to him would be emergence, in which complex phenomena almost magically comes into being from extremely simple components. For example, a human being arises from a few thousand genes. The intelligence of an ant colony - labor specialization, intricate underground nests comes from the seemingly senseless behavior of thousands of individual ants. He says that "Critically, there's no blueprint or central source of command and out of this emerges a highly efficient colony."
Science's "most Beautiful Theories"
from Darwinian Evolution To The Idea That Personality Is Largely Shaped By Chance, The Favorite Theories Of The World's Most Eminent Thinkers Are As Eclectic As Science Itself
Sharon Begley, Reuters
January 17, 2012
Every January, John Brockman, the impresario and literary agent who presides over the online salon Edge.org, asks his circle of scientists, digerati and humanities scholars to tackle one question. ... The responses, released at midnight on Sunday, provide a crash course in science both well known and far out-of-the-box, as admired by the likes of Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, physicist Freeman Dyson and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
Scholars And Scientists Delve Into Big Ideas
from Darwinian Evolution To The Idea That Personality Is Largely Shaped By Chance, The Favorite Theories Of The World's Most Eminent Thinkers Are As Eclectic As Science Itself.
January 21, 2012
... Science theories that explain puzzling human behavior or the inner workings of the universe were also particular favorites of the Edge contributors: Psychologist Alison Gopnik of the University of California, Berkeley, is partial to one that accounts for why teenagers are so restless, reckless and emotional. Two brain systems, an emotional motivational system and a cognitive control system, have fallen out of sync, she explains. ...
January 22, 2012
I was told some years ago that the reason why some species of sea turtles migrate all the way across the South Atlantic to lay their eggs on the east coast of South America after mating on the west coast of Africa is that when the behavior started, Gondwanaland was just beginning to break apart (that would be between 130 and 110 million years ago), and these turtles were just swimming across the narrow strait to lay their eggs. Each year the swim was a little longer—maybe an inch or so—but who could notice that? Eventually they were crossing the ocean to lay their eggs, having no idea, of course, why they would do such an extravagant thing.
The Discreet Charm Of Science As We Read On The Site Guided And Animated By John Brockman, Edge's Demand For 2012 Has Been Designed By Steven Pinker, Psychologist And Cognitive Scientist, And Was Discussed With Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly And George Dyson.
January 22, 2012
And the answers do not disappoint. In fact, reinforce, if proof were still needed the deep sense of cultural path Edge: breaking the walls that traditionally separate scientific specialties and interdisciplinary approach to research in this time of great change, not only preference intellectual or fashionable slogan, but real preconditions for an exploration of the very sources of innovative knowledge.
February 5, 2012
The website for years Edge.org meets many of the best scientists, artists, thinkers and technologists, all attentive to think the changes in knowledge and how to understand the world and life. As every year, the site invites them to answer a single question. The nearly 200 responses are an incredible display of wit, knowledge and sensitivity. And like every year, Radar read them and reproduced the 10 most remarkable and original to the question that opened in 2012: What's your favorite explanation deeper, beautiful or elegant? ...