Edge 289—June 12, 2009
HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK?
For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.
LERA BORODITSKY is an assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University, who looks at how the languages we speak shape the way we think.
From WHAT'S NEXT?
Humans communicate with one another using a dazzling array of languages, each differing from the next in innumerable ways. Do the languages we speak shape the way we see the world, the way we think, and the way we live our lives? Do people who speak different languages think differently simply because they speak different languages? Does learning new languages change the way you think? Do polyglots think differently when speaking different languages?
These questions touch on nearly all of the major controversies in the study of mind. They have engaged scores of philosophers, anthropologists, linguists, and psychologists, and they have important implications for politics, law, and religion. Yet despite nearly constant attention and debate, very little empirical work was done on these questions until recently. For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.
I often start my undergraduate lectures by asking students the following question: which cognitive faculty would you most hate to lose? Most of them pick the sense of sight; a few pick hearing. Once in a while, a wisecracking student might pick her sense of humor or her fashion sense. Almost never do any of them spontaneously say that the faculty they'd most hate to lose is language. Yet if you lose (or are born without) your sight or hearing, you can still have a wonderfully rich social existence. You can have friends, you can get an education, you can hold a job, you can start a family. But what would your life be like if you had never learned a language? Could you still have friends, get an education, hold a job, start a family? Language is so fundamental to our experience, so deeply a part of being human, that it's hard to imagine life without it. But are languages merely tools for expressing our thoughts, or do they actually shape our thoughts?
Most questions of whether and how language shapes thought start with the simple observation that languages differ from one another. And a lot! Let's take a (very) hypothetical example. Suppose you want to say, "Bush read Chomsky's latest book." Let's focus on just the verb, "read." To say this sentence in English, we have to mark the verb for tense; in this case, we have to pronounce it like "red" and not like "reed." In Indonesian you need not (in fact, you can't) alter the verb to mark tense. In Russian you would have to alter the verb to indicate tense and gender. So if it was Laura Bush who did the reading, you'd use a different form of the verb than if it was George. In Russian you'd also have to include in the verb information about completion. If George read only part of the book, you'd use a different form of the verb than if he'd diligently plowed through the whole thing. In Turkish you'd have to include in the verb how you acquired this information: if you had witnessed this unlikely event with your own two eyes, you'd use one verb form, but if you had simply read or heard about it, or inferred it from something Bush said, you'd use a different verb form.
Clearly, languages require different things of their speakers. Does this mean that the speakers think differently about the world? Do English, Indonesian, Russian, and Turkish speakers end up attending to, partitioning, and remembering their experiences differently just because they speak different languages? For some scholars, the answer to these questions has been an obvious yes. Just look at the way people talk, they might say. Certainly, speakers of different languages must attend to and encode strikingly different aspects of the world just so they can use their language properly.
Scholars on the other side of the debate don't find the differences in how people talk convincing. All our linguistic utterances are sparse, encoding only a small part of the information we have available. Just because English speakers don't include the same information in their verbs that Russian and Turkish speakers do doesn't mean that English speakers aren't paying attention to the same things; all it means is that they're not talking about them. It's possible that everyone thinks the same way, notices the same things, but just talks differently.
Believers in cross-linguistic differences counter that everyone does not pay attention to the same things: if everyone did, one might think it would be easy to learn to speak other languages. Unfortunately, learning a new language (especially one not closely related to those you know) is never easy; it seems to require paying attention to a new set of distinctions. Whether it's distinguishing modes of being in Spanish, evidentiality in Turkish, or aspect in Russian, learning to speak these languages requires something more than just learning vocabulary: it requires paying attention to the right things in the world so that you have the correct information to include in what you say.
Such a priori arguments about whether or not language shapes thought have gone in circles for centuries, with some arguing that it's impossible for language to shape thought and others arguing that it's impossible for language not to shape thought. Recently my group and others have figured out ways to empirically test some of the key questions in this ancient debate, with fascinating results. So instead of arguing about what must be true or what can't be true, let's find out what is true.
Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.1 This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like " Southsoutheast, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."
The result is a profound difference in navigational ability and spatial knowledge between speakers of languages that rely primarily on absolute reference frames (like Kuuk Thaayorre) and languages that rely on relative reference frames (like English).2 Simply put, speakers of languages like Kuuk Thaayorre are much better than English speakers at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes or inside unfamiliar buildings. What enables them — in fact, forces them — to do this is their language. Having their attention trained in this way equips them to perform navigational feats once thought beyond human capabilities. Because space is such a fundamental domain of thought, differences in how people think about space don't end there. People rely on their spatial knowledge to build other, more complex, more abstract representations. Representations of such things as time, number, musical pitch, kinship relations, morality, and emotions have been shown to depend on how we think about space. So if the Kuuk Thaayorre think differently about space, do they also think differently about other things, like time? This is what my collaborator Alice Gaby and I came to Pormpuraaw to find out.
To test this idea, we gave people sets of pictures that showed some kind of temporal progression (e.g., pictures of a man aging, or a crocodile growing, or a banana being eaten). Their job was to arrange the shuffled photos on the ground to show the correct temporal order. We tested each person in two separate sittings, each time facing in a different cardinal direction. If you ask English speakers to do this, they'll arrange the cards so that time proceeds from left to right. Hebrew speakers will tend to lay out the cards from right to left, showing that writing direction in a language plays a role.3 So what about folks like the Kuuk Thaayorre, who don't use words like "left" and "right"? What will they do?
The Kuuk Thaayorre did not arrange the cards more often from left to right than from right to left, nor more toward or away from the body. But their arrangements were not random: there was a pattern, just a different one from that of English speakers. Instead of arranging time from left to right, they arranged it from east to west. That is, when they were seated facing south, the cards went left to right. When they faced north, the cards went from right to left. When they faced east, the cards came toward the body and so on. This was true even though we never told any of our subjects which direction they faced. The Kuuk Thaayorre not only knew that already (usually much better than I did), but they also spontaneously used this spatial orientation to construct their representations of time.
People's ideas of time differ across languages in other ways. For example, English speakers tend to talk about time using horizontal spatial metaphors (e.g., "The best is ahead of us," "The worst is behind us"), whereas Mandarin speakers have a vertical metaphor for time (e.g., the next month is the "down month" and the last month is the "up month"). Mandarin speakers talk about time vertically more often than English speakers do, so do Mandarin speakers think about time vertically more often than English speakers do? Imagine this simple experiment. I stand next to you, point to a spot in space directly in front of you, and tell you, "This spot, here, is today. Where would you put yesterday? And where would you put tomorrow?" When English speakers are asked to do this, they nearly always point horizontally. But Mandarin speakers often point vertically, about seven or eight times more often than do English speakers.4
Even basic aspects of time perception can be affected by language. For example, English speakers prefer to talk about duration in terms of length (e.g., "That was a short talk," "The meeting didn't take long"), while Spanish and Greek speakers prefer to talk about time in terms of amount, relying more on words like "much" "big", and "little" rather than "short" and "long" Our research into such basic cognitive abilities as estimating duration shows that speakers of different languages differ in ways predicted by the patterns of metaphors in their language. (For example, when asked to estimate duration, English speakers are more likely to be confused by distance information, estimating that a line of greater length remains on the test screen for a longer period of time, whereas Greek speakers are more likely to be confused by amount, estimating that a container that is fuller remains longer on the screen.)5
An important question at this point is: Are these differences caused by language per se or by some other aspect of culture? Of course, the lives of English, Mandarin, Greek, Spanish, and Kuuk Thaayorre speakers differ in a myriad of ways. How do we know that it is language itself that creates these differences in thought and not some other aspect of their respective cultures?
One way to answer this question is to teach people new ways of talking and see if that changes the way they think. In our lab, we've taught English speakers different ways of talking about time. In one such study, English speakers were taught to use size metaphors (as in Greek) to describe duration (e.g., a movie is larger than a sneeze), or vertical metaphors (as in Mandarin) to describe event order. Once the English speakers had learned to talk about time in these new ways, their cognitive performance began to resemble that of Greek or Mandarin speakers. This suggests that patterns in a language can indeed play a causal role in constructing how we think.6 In practical terms, it means that when you're learning a new language, you're not simply learning a new way of talking, you are also inadvertently learning a new way of thinking. Beyond abstract or complex domains of thought like space and time, languages also meddle in basic aspects of visual perception — our ability to distinguish colors, for example. Different languages divide up the color continuum differently: some make many more distinctions between colors than others, and the boundaries often don't line up across languages.
To test whether differences in color language lead to differences in color perception, we compared Russian and English speakers' ability to discriminate shades of blue. In Russian there is no single word that covers all the colors that English speakers call "blue." Russian makes an obligatory distinction between light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy). Does this distinction mean that siniy blues look more different from goluboy blues to Russian speakers? Indeed, the data say yes. Russian speakers are quicker to distinguish two shades of blue that are called by the different names in Russian (i.e., one being siniy and the other being goluboy) than if the two fall into the same category.
For English speakers, all these shades are still designated by the same word, "blue," and there are no comparable differences in reaction time.
Further, the Russian advantage disappears when subjects are asked to perform a verbal interference task (reciting a string of digits) while making color judgments but not when they're asked to perform an equally difficult spatial interference task (keeping a novel visual pattern in memory). The disappearance of the advantage when performing a verbal task shows that language is normally involved in even surprisingly basic perceptual judgments — and that it is language per se that creates this difference in perception between Russian and English speakers.
When Russian speakers are blocked from their normal access to language by a verbal interference task, the differences between Russian and English speakers disappear.
Even what might be deemed frivolous aspects of language can have far-reaching subconscious effects on how we see the world. Take grammatical gender. In Spanish and other Romance languages, nouns are either masculine or feminine. In many other languages, nouns are divided into many more genders ("gender" in this context meaning class or kind). For example, some Australian Aboriginal languages have up to sixteen genders, including classes of hunting weapons, canines, things that are shiny, or, in the phrase made famous by cognitive linguist George Lakoff, "women, fire, and dangerous things."
What it means for a language to have grammatical gender is that words belonging to different genders get treated differently grammatically and words belonging to the same grammatical gender get treated the same grammatically. Languages can require speakers to change pronouns, adjective and verb endings, possessives, numerals, and so on, depending on the noun's gender. For example, to say something like "my chair was old" in Russian (moy stul bil' stariy), you'd need to make every word in the sentence agree in gender with "chair" (stul), which is masculine in Russian. So you'd use the masculine form of "my," "was," and "old." These are the same forms you'd use in speaking of a biological male, as in "my grandfather was old." If, instead of speaking of a chair, you were speaking of a bed (krovat'), which is feminine in Russian, or about your grandmother, you would use the feminine form of "my," "was," and "old."
Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? It turns out that it does. In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender. The same pattern of results also emerged in entirely nonlinguistic tasks (e.g., rating similarity between pictures). And we can also show that it is aspects of language per se that shape how people think: teaching English speakers new grammatical gender systems influences mental representations of objects in the same way it does with German and Spanish speakers. Apparently even small flukes of grammar, like the seemingly arbitrary assignment of gender to a noun, can have an effect on people's ideas of concrete objects in the world.7
In fact, you don't even need to go into the lab to see these effects of language; you can see them with your own eyes in an art gallery. Look at some famous examples of personification in art — the ways in which abstract entities such as death, sin, victory, or time are given human form. How does an artist decide whether death, say, or time should be painted as a man or a woman? It turns out that in 85 percent of such personifications, whether a male or female figure is chosen is predicted by the grammatical gender of the word in the artist's native language. So, for example, German painters are more likely to paint death as a man, whereas Russian painters are more likely to paint death as a woman.
The fact that even quirks of grammar, such as grammatical gender, can affect our thinking is profound. Such quirks are pervasive in language; gender, for example, applies to all nouns, which means that it is affecting how people think about anything that can be designated by a noun. That's a lot of stuff!
I have described how languages shape the way we think about space, time, colors, and objects. Other studies have found effects of language on how people construe events, reason about causality, keep track of number, understand material substance, perceive and experience emotion, reason about other people's minds, choose to take risks, and even in the way they choose professions and spouses.8 Taken together, these results show that linguistic processes are pervasive in most fundamental domains of thought, unconsciously shaping us from the nuts and bolts of cognition and perception to our loftiest abstract notions and major life decisions. Language is central to our experience of being human, and the languages we speak profoundly shape the way we think, the way we see the world, the way we live our lives.
1 S. C. Levinson and D. P. Wilkins, eds., Grammars of Space: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006).
Top scientists predict the future of science
FOR PROPHETIC visions of the future, some people turn to horoscopes or fortune tellers. But if you really want to know what the future holds, ask a scientist.
Not just a renowned, seasoned scientist, but a fresh mind, someone who is asking themselves the questions that will define the next generation of scientific thought.
That's precisely what Max Brockman has done in this captivating collection of essays, written by "rising stars in their respective disciplines: those who, in their research, are tackling some of science's toughest questions and raising new ones".
The result is a medley of big ideas on topics ranging from cosmology and climate change, to morality and cognitive enhancement.
The collection is diverse, but one theme resounds: when it comes to the human race, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We owe our evolutionary success to our unique modes of social behaviour.
In their essay "Out of our minds", journalist Vanessa Woods and anthropologist Brian Hare suggest that it wasn't intelligence that led to social behaviour, but rather social behaviour that paved the way for the evolution of human intelligence. "Humans got their smarts only because we got friendlier first," they write.
We are a social species, and we have our brains to thank. As Harvard University neuroscientist Jason Mitchell writes: "The most dramatic innovation introduced with the rollout of our species is not the prowess of individual minds, but the ability to harness that power across many individuals."
Language allows us to do this in an unprecedented way – it serves as a vehicle for transferring one's own mental states into another's mind. Lera Boroditsky – a professor of psychology, neuroscience and symbolic systems at Stanford University – has an interesting piece about the ways in which our native language shapes the way we think about such basic categories as space, time and colour.
We also connect to other minds via mirror neurons – those copycat brain cells that echo other people's actions and emotions from within the confines of our own skulls.
Mirror neurons allow us to learn from one another's experiences and to see the world through foreign eyes – a neurological feat that seems to lie at the basis of so much of what it is to be human.
Through mirror neurons, "our experiences fuse into the joint pool of knowledge that we call culture," writes neuroscientist Christian Keysers of the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. "With the advent of language, books and television, this sharing becomes global, allowing us to exchange experiences across time and space."
Mirror neurons are thought to be the seat of empathy, so our brains, you might say, are wired for morality.
But our social brains evolved in small, localised communities, and as the pace of technological innovation accelerates, global communication increasingly becomes a fact of daily life. Will communications technologies lead us to evolve a broader moral sense?
Joshua Greene, a cognitive neuroscientist and philosopher at Harvard, explains why humans are apt to save a child who is dying right in front of their eyes, but not a child who is dying halfway across the world.
"Nature endowed us with tuggable heartstrings, a crucial design feature for creatures whose survival depends on cooperation. But nature couldn't foresee that our survival might someday depend on cooperation across oceans and continents, and so neglected to outfit us with heartstrings that are readily tugged from a distance," he writes.
For an example of the power of social behaviour, we need look no further than this book. While each essay is its own gem, together they form a remarkable dialogue about what it is to be human now, and what it will be in the future.
So what is next? The suggestions are as varied as they are intriguing.
According to Laurence Smith, professor of earth and space sciences at University of California, Los Angeles, dramatic rises in temperature due to global warming are set to sweep across the high latitudes, transforming "land that is hardly livable into land that is somewhat livable". As climate change escalates, might we someday find ourselves migrating to the once frozen north?
In his piece The Aliens Among Us, biologist Nathan Wolfe argues that scientists need to catalogue the global diversity of viruses and identify those that are actually beneficial to the organisms they infect.
Doing so, he says, will offer us a better understanding of human health and disease, the biology of our planet, the future of pandemics and the environment – even what real alien life might look like.
In a particularly fascinating essay, UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman suggests that as we come to better understand the structure and function of our brains, we may also come to understand our most basic beliefs.
Big ideas, he says – the kind that shape human thought for decades, even centuries – "stick" because they match the structure and function of our brains.
As an example, Lieberman looks at Cartesian dualism: the idea that mind and body are two different kinds of things, one material, the other something else. Despite being widely discredited by philosophers and scientists, mind-body dualism is one of those infuriatingly sticky ideas.
Why? Because the brain processes information about bodies in a separate way than it does information about minds, argues Lieberman. That is, our underlying neural plumbing happens to deal with bodies and minds as two different categories of being – leading, perhaps, to a mistaken philosophical assumption that they truly are two different categories of being.
My favourite piece was Brain Time by neuroscientist David Eagleman at the Baylor College of Medicine.
Experiments, he says, have shown that our brain's perception of time is remarkably malleable. This raises the deeper and endlessly thorny question of how we can disentangle neuroscience from physics.
Echoing Einstein, who referred to time as "a stubbornly persistent illusion", Eagleman writes: "Our physical theories are mostly built on top of our filters for perceiving the world, and time may be the most stubborn filter of all to budge out of the way."
When thinking about what's next, I can't help but suspect that, as we venture deeper into fundamental physics and deeper into the mysteries of consciousness, it will become increasingly important to distinguish what are features of a real, external reality – assuming such a thing exists at all – from artifacts of the structures and functions of our brains.
In asking questions about the inner workings of our brains we inevitably run into questions about the outer workings of the universe. So what's next for cosmology?
According to Stephon Alexander, a physicist at Haverford College, Pennsylvania, it all comes down to this question: what is dark energy, that furtive antigravitational stuff that seems to be accelerating the universe's expansion?
Alexander wonders if the answer lies in our most basic assumptions about how reality works, and in the silent tension that resides between the scientific programmes of reduction and emergence.
Perhaps, he speculates, a new level of relativity – in which both observers and fundamental particles are no longer absolute, invariant features of the world – is needed to understand the dark-energy puzzle.
"A physical consequence would be that matter can create space and space may curve itself into matter," Alexander writes. It's delicious food for thought.
Daniel Engber's Edge Question response to "What have you changed your mind about?" begets a five-part series on animal research for Slate [...]
Carolyn Porco's Cassini Imaging Team releases "a series of images and movies, dramatic and stark, revealing the waves on the edges of the Keeler gap in Saturn's A ring to be mile-high giants, towering over the rings surrounding them". [...]
"Accommodation" debate: posts in chronological order (suggested presentation):
In January 2009 Edge presented a special event: "Does The Empirical Nature of Science Contradict the Revelatory Nature Of Faith" a Reality Club conversation on Jerry Coyne's New Republic piece "Seeing and Believing. The never-ending attempt to reconcile science and religion, and why it is doomed to fail'. In the piecem Coyne reviewed two books, Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evoluion by Karl W. Giberson, and Only A Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul by Kenneth R. Miller.
Participating in the conversation were Lawrence Krauss, Howard Gardner, Lisa Randall, Patrick Bateson, Daniel Everett, Daniel C. Dennett , Lee Smolin, Emanuel Derman, Karl W. Giberson, Kenneth R. Miller, Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, and Michael Shermer.
The conversation has now shifted to what is now being called "accomodationism". Coyne writes:
Here are the relevant links:
MARC D. HAUSER
The art of good teaching is to allow the student to discover alternatives, to see the elegance of a good argument, and to understand how to engage in a conceptual revolution, overturning some of their cherished beliefs. This can happen in large class rooms or in seminars. None of this denies the importance of the digital age, nor does it ignore the fact that students today rely on digital media for learning. But such knowledge will not replace, but rather, compliment what goes on in the university. In fact, many professors are finding new ways to challenge their students in class, even large classes, by taking advantage of new technologies.
For example, in a large core science class that I have taught for many years on human nature, we have used digital clickers to engage students in class with questions as well as demonstrations of data collection. For example, I will often present an experiment in class, have students enter a response, and then immediately , pop up a graph of the class data.
This is fantastic as it not only engages every student in a large class, but shows them how they contribute to data collection and why it is important. It is also possible to use this technology in a different pedagogical mode. I ask the students a question, and they answer. If less than 75% of the class gets it wrong, I ask them to turn to their neighbor and discuss the problem. Virtually without fail, when they give their answer a second time, the scores go way up. Thus, I engage with the students, they engage each other, and a pedagogical circle has been formed. It is magic.
Tapscott's article thus underestimates the ingenuity of good teaching, that from my perspective, continues to thrive in many universities, and is not based on the premise of a blank slate student, waiting for professorial scribbling. Although I realize that many universities are turning to online classes, with virtually no personal engagement with the students, I find this trend sad. There is nothing more riveting than the dynamics of a class, when it is buzzing with discussion, to and from student to professor.
I'm not sure I've heard of many dinners hosted by Ameritech lately. Perhaps I'm missing something, but I suspect that the hundred universities represented that day are still in business, virtually every one of them bigger and stronger than they were in 1997. When Tapscott spoke, Peter Drucker had already spelled the doom of universities, and most recently Mark Taylor did so in the pages of the New York Times. We're still here.I grant you there are days when the busy provost thinks that a little doom would have its points. I've got books to read and books to write and a little quiet time in the rubble might not be all that bad. But we're still here.What strikes me most about Tapscott's essay is how far out of touch it is with current realities. Oh, I give you the NetGen kids pounding their phones to tweet each other and the hyper-multitasking and the creativity that arises in such settings. (I'm tweeting a little myself now, quite content that no one is following at http://www.twitter.com/Eugippius — all my tweets are quotations from Greek or Latin authors that I'm thinking about. Content of a new medium is always an old medium, and that can be quite powerful, bidirectionally.) I freely grant that there are dismal moments to be survived along the educational path. And I know with piercing clarity just how challenging a business model we've chosen for ourselves.But there are three big things about contemporary higher education that I find our wellwishers fail to notice:
Break that, demise that, huff and puff about collapse and the like: fine with me. My bets are on the faculty and the students of the modern university, still the most powerful engine for social and intellectual advancement I know.
Always have been. Still are. Hanging in there.
If these authors are the future of science, then the science of the future will be one exciting ride! Find out what the best minds of the new generation are thinking before the Nobel Committee does. A fascinating chronicle of the big, new ideas that are keeping young scientists up at night. — Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
"A preview of the ideas you're going to be reading about in ten years." — Steven Pinker, author of The Stuff of Thought
"Brockman has a nose for talent." — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author The Black Swan
"Capaciously accessible, these writings project a curiosity to which followers of science news will gravitate." — Booklist
"For those seeking substance over sheen, the occasional videos released at Edge.org hit the mark. The Edge Foundation community is a circle, mainly scientists but also other academics, entrepreneurs, and cultural figures. ... Edge's long-form interview videos are a deep-dive into the daily lives and passions of its subjects, and their passions are presented without primers or apologies. The decidedly noncommercial nature of Edge's offerings, and the egghead imprimatur of the Edge community, lend its videos a refreshing air, making one wonder if broadcast television will ever offer half the off-kilter sparkle of their salon chatter." — Boston Globe
Mahzarin Banaji, Samuel Barondes, Yochai Benkler, Paul Bloom, Rodney Brooks, Hubert Burda, George Church, Nicholas Christakis, Brian Cox, Iain Couzin, Helena Cronin, Paul Davies, Daniel C. Dennett, David Deutsch,Dennis Dutton, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, Drew Endy, Peter Galison, Murray Gell-Mann, David Gelernter, Neil Gershenfeld, Anthony Giddens, Gerd Gigerenzer, Daniel Gilbert, Rebecca Goldstein, John Gottman, Brian Greene, Anthony Greenwald, Alan Guth, David Haig, Marc D. Hauser, Walter Isaacson, Steve Jones, Daniel Kahneman, Stuart Kauffman, Ken Kesey, Stephen Kosslyn, Lawrence Krauss, Ray Kurzweil, Jaron Lanier, Armand Leroi, Seth Lloyd, Gary Marcus, John Markoff, Ernst Mayr, Marvin Minsky, Sendhil Mullainathan, Dennis Overbye, Dean Ornish, Elaine Pagels, Steven Pinker, Jordan Pollack, Lisa Randall, Martin Rees, Matt Ridley, Lee Smolin, Elisabeth Spelke, Scott Sampson, Robert Sapolsky, Dimitar Sasselov, Stephen Schneider, Martin Seligman, Robert Shapiro, Clay Shirky, Lee Smolin, Dan Sperber, Paul Steinhardt, Steven Strogatz, Seirian Sumner, Leonard Susskind, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Timothy Taylor, Richard Thaler, Robert Trivers, Neil Turok, J.Craig Venter, Edward O. Wilson, Lewis Wolpert, Richard Wrangham, Philip Zimbardo
WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT
great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture."
Praise for the online publication of
"The splendidly enlightened Edge website (www.edge.org) has rounded off each year of inter-disciplinary debate by asking its heavy-hitting contributors to answer one question. I strongly recommend a visit." The Independent
"A great event in the Anglo-Saxon culture." El Mundo
"As fascinating and weighty as one would imagine." The Independent
"They are the intellectual elite, the brains the rest of us rely on to make sense of the universe and answer the big questions. But in a refreshing show of new year humility, the world's best thinkers have admitted that from time to time even they are forced to change their minds." The Guardian
"Even the world's best brains have to admit to being wrong sometimes: here, leading scientists respond to a new year challenge." The Times
"Provocative ideas put forward today by leading figures."The Telegraph
The world's finest minds have responded with some of the most insightful, humbling, fascinating confessions and anecdotes, an intellectual treasure trove. ... Best three or four hours of intense, enlightening reading you can do for the new year. Read it now." San Francisco Chronicle
"As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and clarity." The News & Observer
"A jolt of fresh thinking...The answers address a fabulous array of issues. This is the intellectual equivalent of a New Year's dip in the lake—bracing, possibly shriek-inducing, and bound to wake you up." The Globe and Mail
"Answers ring like scientific odes to uncertainty, humility and doubt; passionate pleas for critical thought in a world threatened by blind convictions." The Toronto Star
"For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words, this is hard to beat. ...What a feast of egg-head opinionating!" National Review Online
"The optimistic visions seem not just wonderful but plausible." Wall Street Journal
"Persuasively upbeat." O, The Oprah Magazine
"Our greatest minds provide nutshell insights on how science will help forge a better world ahead." Seed
"Uplifting...an enthralling book." The Mail on Sunday
"Danger – brilliant minds at work...A brilliant bok: exhilarating, hilarious, and chilling." The Evening Standard (London)
"A selection of the most explosive ideas of our age." Sunday Herald
"Provocative" The Independent
"Challenging notions put forward by some of the world's sharpest minds" Sunday Times
"A titillating compilation" The Guardian
"Reads like an intriguing dinner party conversation among great minds in science" Discover
"Whether or not we believe proof or prove belief, understanding belief itself becomes essential in a time when so many people in the world are ardent believers." LA Times
"Belief appears to motivate even the most rigorously scientific minds. It stimulates and challenges, it tricks us into holding things to be true against our better judgment, and, like scepticism -its opposite -it serves a function in science that is playful as well as thought-provoking. not we believe proof or prove belief, understanding belief itself becomes essential in a time when so many people in the world are ardent believers." The Times
"John Brockman is the PT Barnum of popular science. He has always been a great huckster of ideas." The Observer
"An unprecedented roster of brilliant minds, the sum of which is nothing short of an oracle—a book ro be dog-eared and debated." Seed
"Scientific pipedreams at their very best." The Guardian
"Makes for some astounding reading." Boston Globe
"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
"Intellectual and creative magnificence" The Skeptical Inquirer
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