EDGE 31 December 31, 1997
THE THIRD CULTURE
"THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER"
THE REALITY CLUB
Marc D. Hauser: EDGE at Harvard
John Horgan responds to Joseph LeDoux on "The End of Neuroscience"
Thomas de Zengotita and Marc D.Hauser on Rod Brooks' "Deep Questions"
COMMENTS ON EDGE
Harko Keijzer; Michael Naumann
1ST ANNIVERSARY LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
THE THIRD CULTURE
THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER
Dedicated to the Memory of James Lee Byars
Everything has been explained. There is nothing left to consider.
The explanation can no longer be treated as a definition. The
question: a description. The answer: not explanation, but a description
and knowing how to consider it. Asking or telling: there isn't
The final elegance: assuming, asking the question. No answers.
No explanations. "Why do you demand explanations? If they are
given, you will once more be facing a terminus. They cannot get
you any further than you are at present."1 The solution: not an
explanation: a description and knowing how to consider it.
Experience a minute. Experience an hour. Can you experience
a minute and an hour together, simultaneously, at the same time?
This is an important question to ask.
No explanation, no solution, but consideration of the question.
"Every proposition proposing a fact must in its complete analysis
propose the general character of the universe required for the
fact."2 The description, the proposition: not a definition, but
a commission. "Understanding a commission means: knowing what
one has got to do."3
Any new style, any new life, any new world, is but a god where
gods are no longer valid. "The god that one so finds is but a
word born of words, and returns to the word. For the reply we
make to ourselves is assuredly never anything other than the question
"Our kind of innovation consists not in the answers, but in
the true novelty of the questions themselves; in the statement
of problems, not in their solutions."5 What is important is not
"to illustrate a truthor even an interrogationknown
in advance, but to bring to the world certain interrogations .
. . not yet known as such to themselves."6
A total synthesis of all human knowledge will not result in
fantastic amounts of data, or in huge libraries filled with books.
There's no value any more in amount, in quantity, in explanation.
For a total synthesis of human knowledge, use the interrogative.
Ask the most subtle sensibilities in the world what questions
they are asking themselves.
from By the
Late John Brockman, 1969
19, I presented a eulogy to honor my friend and collaborator
of sorts, the artist James Lee Byars, who died in Egypt last May.
I met Byars in 1969 when he sought me out after the publication
of my first book, By the Late John Brockman . We were both
in the art world, we shared an interest in language, in the uses
of the interrogative, in avoiding the anesthesiology of wisdom,
and in "the Steins" Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein,
and Frankenstein. In 1971, our dialogue, in part, informed the
creation by James Lee of the WORLD QUESTION CENTER.
I wrote the following about his project at the time of his death:
"James Lee inspired the idea that led to the Reality Club (and
subsequently to EDGE), and is responsible for the motto of the
club. He believed that to arrive at an axiology of societal knowledge
it was pure folly to go to a Widener Library and read 6 million
volumes of books. (In this regard he kept only four books at a
time in a box in his minimally furnished room, replacing books
as he read them.) This led to his creation of the World Question
Center in which he planned to gather the 100 most brilliant minds
in the world together in a room, lock them behind closed doors,
and have them ask each other the questions they were asking themselves.
The expected result, in theory, was to be a synthesis of all thought.
But between idea and execution are many pitfalls. James Lee identified
his 100 most brilliant minds (a few of them have graced the pages
of this Site), called each of them, and asked what questions they
were asking themselves. The result: 70 people hung up on him."
That was in 1971. New technologies=new perceptions. The Internet
and email now allow for a serious implementation of Jimmy Lee's
grand design and I am pleased to note that among the contributors
are Freeman Dyson and Murray Gell-Mann, two names on his 1971
list of "the 100 most brilliant minds in the world."
For the first anniversary edition of EDGE I asked a number of
those people I consider to be part of "the third culture" to use
the interrogative. I have asked "the most subtle sensibilities
in the world what questions they are asking themselves."
I am pleased to present the World Question Center.
[Note: A selection from the World Question Center is running
in today's New York Times
(Tuesday, December 30th) and on the New York Times on the
THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER
"Given the ability of regulatory proteins to rescue functions
between taxa that haven't shared a common ancestor for 600 mya
how do we integrate this into how we think about the evolution
JEREMY C. AHOUSE
Works in developmental genetics at University of Wisconsin, Madison.
"Is a greater understanding of the way the brain works going to
give me a new language to explain what it is like to be me? Will
the words we use now one day seem as strange as the 'humours'
we once used to explain the state of our bodies? And what will
be the consequence if a scientist gains the power to know me better
than I can know myself?"
Editor of New Scientist, biologist and author of Science
And Technology In Japan.
"What is the crucial distinction between inanimate matter and
an entity which can act as an 'agent', manipulating the world
on its own behalf; and how does that change happen?"
Nobel laureate physicist at Princeton.
"Exactly how much of nature can we trash and burn and get away
Science writer for The New York Times; author of Natural
Obsessions, The Beauty Of The Beastly.
"To what extent can we achieve a more just society through the
use of better economic indicators, and to what extent is our choice
of economic indicators just a reificiation of the wishes of those
who are already economically powerful?"
Mathematical physicist at University of California, Riverside.
"What if Gutenberg had invented the world wide web instead of
the movable type slug? How would the questions scientists chose
to ask themselves over the past five centuries, and the language
in which they chose to answer, have been different?"
Former executive at Thinking Machines; author of After Thought.
"As a theoretical physicist, the interpretation of quantum mechanics
and the nature of time are what occupy me most, but, as a mystified
sentient being, I should like to ask the child's question: Are
the most remarkable things in life sights, sounds, colors,
tastes really just subjective epiphenomena with no role
or significance in the 'objective' world?"
Theoretical physicist; author of The Frame Of Mind.
"Will we ever generate enough bandwidth to convey prana?"
JOHN PERRY BARLOW
Co-founder, Electronic Frontier Foundation; a former lyricist
for the Grateful Dead.
"Is the Universe a great mechanism, a great computation, a great
symmetry, a great accident, or a great thought?"
"Is there enough information in the observable universe to identify
the fundamental laws of Nature beyond all reasonable doubt?"
"Are there other minds that think about us?"
JOHN D. BARROW
Cosmologist, Professor of Astronomy, University of Sussex, UK;
author of Theories Of Everything; Pi In The Sky.
"How can we build a new ethics of respect for life that goes beyond
individual survival to include the necessity of death, the preservation
of the environment, and our current and developing scientific
MARY CATHERINE BATESON
Anthropologist, George Mason University; author Composing A
Life; Peripheral Visions.
"How can considering the longest time scales in human endeavor
lead us to deal with the approaching crises of greenhouse warming
and species diversity?"
Physicist, University of California, Irvine; author of Timescape.
"How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead
of difficult and rare?"
Founder of The Whole Earth Catalog; author of How Buildings
"Which cognitive skills develop in any reasonably normal human
environment and which only in specific socio-cultural contexts?"
JOHN T. BRUER
President, James S. McDonnell Foundation
"What is the mathematical essence that distinguishes living from
non-living, so that we can engineer a transcendence across the
Computer scientist; director of MIT's AI Lab.
"Do humans have evolved homicide modules evolved psychological
mechanisms specifically dedicated to killing other humans under
Psychologist at University of Texas at Austin; author of The
Evolution Of Desire.
"If Mosaic had never supported pictures (read: the Internet didn't
become a commercial medium), what would I be doing right now?"
JASON McCABE CALCANIS
Publisher, Silicon Alley Reporter.
"How will minds expand, once we understand how the brain makes
WILLIAM H. CALVIN
Theoretical neurophysiologist, University of Washington; author
of The Cerebral Code; How Brains Think.
"Any musically aware listener will know of music that breaks out
of established forms or syntax to profound effect my personal
favourites include Beethoven's Eroica symphony, Wagner's
Tristan und Isolde, Schoenberg's Erwartung, Debussy's
Apres midi d'un faune... What is the most that we can ever
say objectively about what those composers are discovering? What
are the limits of objective description using science, mathematics
and musical analysis? More generally, how do these structures
in sound make sense? As of now, I see only very preliminary hypotheses
in response to this last question, no possibility of much more
given current understanding and techniques, and no consensus as
to the ultimate constraints on such an
Editor of Nature.
"It's probably the case that intergroup competition was an important
part of human evolution and there is increasing evidence that
'ethnicity' may be a correlate of 'modernity.' If ethnicity, and
the human use of biological cues (and cultural and linguistic
cues) to indicate social identity are parts of our evolutionary
legacy, it makes it that much harder to eradicate ethnocentrism
and racism. Can we do it? How can we engage our focus on the flip
side of competition cooperation?"
Anthropologist at the University of Michigan; coauthor of Race
And Human Evolution.
"How can we develop an objective language for describing subjective
Philosopher, University of California, Santa Cruz; author of The
"When will we learn to ask 'And then what' as a matter of course?"
Biologist and BBC Radio Four broadcaster; author of The Seed
"If Gordon Moore was correct in his prediction that the amount
of information storable on semiconductor chips would double every
18 months, then over time is time more or less valuable?"
President and CEO of Learn Technologies Interactive in New York
City, an interactive media developer and publisher.
"How can we sustain young people's interest in asking questions
such as these? Does the emphasis on personal success and security
divert psychic energy from taking the long-term view on things?
How long can we keep curiosity and creativity alive in an increasingly
Psychologist, University of Chicago; author of Flow: The Psychology
Of Optimal Experience; Creativity.
"What is information and where does it ultimately originate?"
Physicist, University of Adelaide, Australia; author of The
Mind Of God; Are We Alone.
"What might a second specimen of the phenomenon that we call life
Evolutionary biologist, Oxford; author of River Out Of Eden;
Climbing Mount Improbable.
"How can we even begin to formulate the right questions about
Cognitive neuropsychologist, Institut National de la Santé;
author of The Number Sense.
"How on earth does the brain manage its division of labor problem
that is, how do the quite specialized bits manage to contribute
something useful when they get 'recruited' by their neighbors
to assist in currently dominant tasks (or is this 'recruitment'
an illusion are they not helping but just complaining about
the noise caused by their hyperactive neighbors)?"
DANIEL C. DENNETT
Philosopher, Tufts University; author of Darwin's Dangerous
Idea; Kinds Of Minds.
"Throughout its history, the scientific community has shown great
integrity in resisting the onslaught of anti-rationalism. How
can it now be persuaded to show the same integrity in regard to
Physicist, Oxford University; author of The Fabric Of Reality.
"Why are decentralized processes ubiquitous in nature and society
and why are they so poorly understood that people will sacrifice
their autonomy and freedom for authoritarian, centralized solutions
(gods, governments, and gurus) to personal and social problems?"
ARTHUR DE VANY
Professor, Mathematical Behavioral Sciences Dept., University
Of California, Irvine.
"Is justice real?"
THOMAS DE ZENGOTITA
Anthropologist; teaches philosophy and anthropology at The Dalton
School and at the Draper Graduate Program at New York University.
"What do collapses of past societies teach us about our own future?"
Biologist, UCLA Medical School; author of The Third Chimpanzee;
Guns, Germs, And Steel
"Is psychic phenomenon just wishful thinking and can we ever prove
it exists or doesn't exist using scientific methodology."
JOHN C. DVORAK
Columnist for Pc Magazine; Pc/Computing, Boardwatch.
"What makes a soul? And if machines ever have souls, what will
be the equivalent of psychoactive drugs? of pain? of the physical
/ emotional high I get from having a clean office?"
President, Edventures Holdings, Inc; publisher of Release 1.0
Newsletter; author of Release 2.0.
"The best questions were asked long ago. For example, Fermi's
question, 'Where are they?', and Blake's question, 'How do you
know but ev'ry bird that cuts the airy way is an immense world
of delight, clos'd by your senses five?' My question is, 'What
goes on inside the head of a baby?' "
Physicist, Institute for Advanced Study; author of Disturbing
The Universe; From Eros To Gaia.
"Why not trees in the oceans?"
Leading authority in the field of Russian Aleut kayaks; author
of Baidarka; Darwin Among The Machines.
"Will we find the will and the way to limit our population growth
before the Biosphere does it for us?"
Paleontologist and Curator at The American Museum of Natural History;
author of The High Table; Dominion.
"As biological and traditional forms of cultural evolution are
superseded by electronic (or post electronic) evolution, what
will be the differentially propagating "units" and the outcome
of the natural selection among them?"
Evolutionary biologist at Amherst; author of Evolution Of Infectious
"Will the 'theory of everything' be a theory of principles, not
particles? Will it invoke order from above, not below?"
Retired Director of the American Institute of Physics; author
of The World Of Elementary Particles.
"However appropriate it may be for the economy, the 'market model'
is a grossly inadequate model for the rest of human society. With
the decline of religious conviction and the slow pace of changes
in the legal code, how can we nurture persons and institutions
that can resist a purely market orientation in all spheres of
Psychologist at Harvard; author of Frames Of Mind; The Mind's
New Science; Extraordinary Minds.
"When will the nation's leading intellectuals come clean & admit
that Biblical doctrine (on women, nature, homosexuality, the absolute
nature of moral truth and lots of other topics) makes them cringe
and they are henceforth NOT Jews and NOT Christians, and the hell
with old time religion?"
Computer scientist at Yale; author of Mirror Worlds; Drawing
"Is superstring theory (or M-theory, as it has become) the long-sought
unified theory of all the elementary particles and forces of nature?"
"How can we improve our reward system for excellence in filtering,
interpreting, and synthesizing the vast body of so-called information
with which we are deluged."
Nobel laureate physicist at the Santa Fe Institute; author of
The Quark And The Jaguar.
"How can we teach each other to embrace pluralism, and to trust
each other with the new tools that promote privacy and freedom
EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) Staff Counsel.
"Can science survive the sell-out to technology and the corporate
Biologist, Schumacher College; author of How The Leopard Changed
"At what point a complex organic macro-structure becomes 'alive'
Brazilian physicist, Dartmouth; author of The Dancing Universe.
"How do intelligent beings learn to adapt successfully on their
own to a rapidly changing world without forgetting what they already
Cognitive scientist at Boston University; author of Studies
Of Mind And Brain; The Adaptive Brain.
"It appears likely that the universe that we can observe is just
one of an infinity of 'pocket universes,' which are continually
being created by a process called eternal inflation. These pocket
universes are believed to split off from a region of 'false vacuum',
which expands so quickly that its volume increases forever, despite
the loss of volume to the formation of pocket universes. The problem
is to find a reliable way to extract predictions from this picture.
The properties of the pocket universes can vary, and with an infinity
of trials essentially anything will happen an infinite number
of times. We need to learn how to distinguish the probable from
the improbable, but so far such a probability calculation has
never been given a precise definition."
Physicist at MIT; author of The Inflationary Universe.
"Are life and consciousness purely emergent phenomena, or subtly
connected to a fundamental level of the universe?"
STUART HAMEROFF, M.D.
Neuroscientist, University of Arizona; coeditor of Toward A
Science Of Consciousness.
"How can we reconcile our desire for fairness and equity with
the brutal fact that people are not all alike?"
JUDITH RICH HARRIS
Developmental psychologist; co-author of The Child: A Contemporary
View Of Development.
"It is now possible for functional parts of one animal's brain
to be transplanted into another's. A tasty question for future
research, one with volatile biomedical and ethical implications,
is whether the memories and goals and desires of one animal can
be transplanted as well?"
MARC D. HAUSER
Evolutionary psychologist at Harvard; author of The Evolution
"Is there a way to enlarge our separate tribal loyalties, to include
all our fellow humans?"
Mathematician; author of What Is Mathematics, Really?
"Where is the frontier?"
W. DANIEL HILLIS
Computer scientist; V-P of R&D at the Walt Disney Company author
of How Computers Think (forthcoming).
"How can we bring up children so that they have the ability to
form satisfying relationships and a proper moral sense? How do
we construct a society with a proper moral code? Do we know what
a proper moral code is?"
Ethologist; Fellow, former Master and Royal Society Professor,
St. John's College, Cambridge; author of Towards Understanding
Releationships; Individuals, Relationships, and Culture.
"Can we use our current technology to bring C. P. Snow's two
cultures closer together? For example, could we produce a vision-oriented,
computer-based version of the cross-cultural artifact envisioned
in Hermann Hesse's Das Glasperlenspiel?"
JOHN HENRY HOLLAND
Computer Scientist at the University of Michigan; author of Hidden
Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity; Emergence.
"Does anyone who is not a fool or fundamentalist still believe
Science writer; author of The End Of Science.
"Why and how do we jump to conclusions in mathematics?"
Mathematician; author of Goedel's Theorems; A Workbook On Formalization.
"Why is music such a pleasure?"
Psychologist at The New School for Social Research; author of
Consciousness Regained; A History Of The Mind; Leaps Of Faith.
"What will be the framework for a scientific study of the subject-object
Astrophysicist at the Institute for Advanced Study; President
of the Kira Institute.
"What are the implications of the science of complex adaptive
systems for the nature of law and of legal personhood?"
Attorney; founder of Counsel Connect; Co-Director, Cyberspace
"If humanity ever encounters an alien intelligence, will we be
able to communicate with it or even realize that it is
Writer, The New York Times; author of Fire In The Mind; Machinery
Of The Mind.
"What happens when a the library of human knowledge can process
what it knows and provide advice? In other words what happens
when the Library of Alexandria, Computing, and the Oracle at Delphi
Computer scientist; founder: Wide Area Information Servers Inc.;
The Internet Archive; Alexa.
"What must a physical system be such that it can act on its own
in an environment."
STUART A. KAUFFMAN
Biologist at the Santa Fe Institute; author of Origins Of Order;
At Home In The Universe.
"What does technology want?"
Executive editor, Wired; author of Out Of Control.
"Do we or even can we know the joint multi-variable probability
density function (f(x1, ... , xn)) that describes any realworld
Electrical engineer at USC; author of Fuzzy Thinking; Nanotime.
"Are the laws of physics a logical coherent whole, so that with
any small change the entire framework would crumble? Or are there
a continuum of possibilities, only one of which happens to have
been selected for our observed universe?"
LAWRENCE M. KRAUSS
Physicist, Case Western Reserve Universe University; author of
The Fifth Essence; Fear Of Physics; The Physics Of Star Trek.
"How do neural computation principles and the neural networks
of our brains, together with the relevant aspects of experience,
account for the details of all human concepts, especially their
structure, how they are learned, and how they are used in thought
and expressed in language?"
Cognitive scientist, University of California, Berkeley; coauthor
of Metaphors We Live ; author of Women, Fire, And Dangerous
"How can minds, lives, and relationships be enhanced by information
systems in unforeseen ways?"
"How can scientific and technological culture be articulated
so that fewer people are driven to embrace superstitions, and
so that technology is more likely to be designed and judged on
Computer scientist and musician; pioneer of virtual reality.
"With the ever-growing dominance of corporate forms of control
in everyday social life, how do we reconcile our notions of personal
liberty and autonomy rooted in Enlightenment political thought?"
EDWARD O. LAUMANN
Sociologist at the University of Chicago; author of The Social
Organization Of Sexuality.
"For how long can Christianity and Islam survive the recovery
of living organisms from beyond our planet by our species?"
"Can religion exist after humans have created living entities
Paleoanthropologist and former director of Kenya's Wildlife Services;
author of Origins Of Humankind and coauthor of The Sixth
"'What is the question I am asking myself?' After contemplating
this for hours the only honest answer I could come up with was,
'What is the question I am asking myself?'"
Physicist at MIT, who works on problems having to do with information
and complex systems.
"How can we know when and what we do not know?"
SIR JOHN MADDOX
Editor emeritus of Nature; author of The Doomsday Syndrome;
What Remains To Be Discovered (forthcoming).
"Do new computing technologies create or destroy jobs?"
Technology reporter, The New York Times; coauthor, Takedown.
"When posterity looks back on the 20th Century from the perspective
of a hundred years, what will they see as our greatest successes
and worst follies?"
PAMELA McCORDUCK & JOSEPH TRAUB
(McCorduck:) Writer; author of Machines Who Think; coauthor
of The Futures Of Women. (Traub:) Computer scientist at
Columbia; author of Complexity And Information (forthcoming).
"What will happen when the male, scientific, hierarchical, control-oriented
Western culture that has dominated Western thought integrates
with the emerging female, spiritual, holographic, relationship-oriented
Eastern way of seeing?"
Editor, Release 1.0
"Will it be possible to direct young people to the great educational
question of learning what they have become without having chosen
it, their unknown internal worlds, in the face of the blistering
assault of stimuli ( in medias res, truly) they encounter continuously
Philosopher & educator; Co-Director, Institute for Learning Technologies
"How come we don't understand how photosynthesis works?"
Founder of Animatrix, an interactive design company; currently
teaches interactive design at Stanford.
"In 500 years, how will the phenotypic, genotypic and physical
spaces occupied by life descended from that on earth have changed?"
"How best can we combine democracy and expertise to make the
living conditions of the people of earth, especially those currently
in hardship, better and more equitable?"
Freelance writer, and a contributing editor at Wired and
"How does the capacity for low mood give a selective advantage?"
RANDOLPH NESSE, M.D.
Psychiatrist at the University of Michigan; coauthor of Why
We Get Sick.
"How much of what we as persons can experience in life can we
share with fellow human beings?"
Danish science writer; author of The User Illusion (forthcoming
in the U.S.).
HANS ULRICH OBRIST
Curator for Musee D'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and museum
in progress, Vienna; chief editor of the magazine "Point d'Ironie."
"Why are religions still vital?"
ELAINE H. PAGELS
Religious historian at Princeton; author of The Gnostic Gospels;
; The Origin Of Satan.
"Which industries will shake out, or disappear in the new industrial
revolution fomented by the advent of the world wide web, intranets,
and extranets? How do we help those who are afraid of these new
technologies to benefit from them, rather than be crushed by those
Intranet and extranet pioneer and engineer; President, Pantheon
"A chimpanzee cannot understand Bessel functions or the theory
of black holes. Human forebrains are a few ounces bigger than
a chimp's, and we can ask many more questions than a chimp. Are
there facets of the universe we can never know? Are there questions
we can't ask?"
CLIFFORD A. PICKOVER
Computer scientist; author of The Alien Iq Test; The Loom Of
"What is needed regarding the understanding of the mental process
so that we will be able to produce thought computationally?"
Cyber-entrepreneur, linguist, translator and scientist who previously
worked in image processing algorithms at Bell Labs.
"How does the brain represent the meaning of a sentence?"
Psychologist at MIT;author of The Language Instinct; How The
"Do emotions contribute to intelligence, and if so, what are the
implications for the development of a technology of 'affective
ROBERT R. PROVINE
Neurobiologist and psychologist at the University of Maryland;
author of Quest For Laughter.
"Can our ever-more-integrated society avoid becoming more vulnerable
to high-tech extremists and terrorists?"
SIR MARTIN REES
Royal Society Professor at King's College, Cambridge; author of
Before The Beginning.
"Given what we know now about the origins, history, and impacts
of technology, is it possible to design, deploy, and use technologies
in ways that help humans be more human, instead of more like components
in a machine?"
Founder of Electric Minds, a webzine; author of Tools
For Thought; Virtual Communities.
"How to ensure that we develop sciences and technologies that
serve the people, are open to democratic scrutiny and which assist
rather than hinder humans to live harmoniously with the rest of
Neurobiologist, The Open University; author Lifelines; The
Making Of Memory.
"Is there a happiness gene, and is it dominant?"
Co-founder and Publisher of Wired.
"Can human beings achieve spontaneous morality by opening ourselves
further to some basic expression of nature, or must we create
and adopt a set of moral guidelines?"
Author, Cyberia; Media Virus; Ecstasy Club; columnist for
New York Times Syndicate and Time Digital.
"Why does our 'humanness' keep getting in the way of rational
Writer and television producer; author of The Living Body;
Skyscraper; 21St Century Jet.
"How can the implicit beliefs that are imparted to us in childhood
be 'reasoned with' in an educational context."
Computer scientist and cognitive psychologist at Northwestern;
author of The Creative Attitude; Tell Me A Story.
"I often wondersometimes despairwhether it will be
possible to solve long term, global problems(global warming being
my current focus) until we can overcome collective denial, which
in turn, may not become conscious until we grapple with personal
myths. I question whether the eventual loss of half the other
species on Earth will even be enough to overcome personal escapism
that has gone collectivewhat I sometimes think of a 'psychological
fractal'. Perhaps that's not even a question, but it occupies
my mind a lot."
STEPHEN H. SCHNEIDER
Atmospheric scientist at Stanford; author of The Genesis Strategy;
"Do exotic life forms, made of very different materials than those
used by life on earth, occur elsewhere in the Universe?"
Biochemist at New York University; author of Origins; The Human
"Does reality have real numbers?"
Chief Architect, Microsoft Corporation.
"Fundamentally, is the flow of time something real, or might our
sense of time passing be just an illusion that hides the fact
that what is real is only a vast collection of moments?"
Theoretical physicist at Penn State; author of The Life Of
"How to articulate the natural and the social sciences without
being either driven or blocked by ideological agendas?"
Cognitive and social scientist at the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris;
author of Rethinking Symbolism; On Anthropological Knowledge.
"Is it more useful to theorize a new conception of self that emerges
from the widespread adoption of networked technology, or to seek
to problematize it?"
Cofounder of Suck.
"Why are most individuals and all human societies grossly under-achieving
Australian research scientist, broadcaster; author of Rogue
Asteroids And Doomsday Comets.
"Why can our minds do physics? That is, why does the behavior
of the physical world map so neatly onto mathematical laws, given
that those laws are (arguably) strings of symbols that our brains
happen to be capable of manipulating, apparently as a fortuitous
byproduct of some evolutionary process that made our ancestors
better adapted to dodging hyenas in the Rift Valley? Why is it
that a person sitting in a chair in a room can, by using those
leftover hyena-dodging and buffalo-hunting neurons to manipulate
symbols in his head, design wing flaps for a 747, or figure out
what was happening one femtosecond after the Big Bang?"
Novelist; author of The Big U; Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller; The
Diamond Age; Snow Crash.
"How shall I teach my children?"
Astronomer; author of The Cuckoo's Egg; Silicon Snake Oil.
Director of the Virtual Worlds Group in the Microsoft Advanced
Technology and Research Division.
"What was the key factor in the success of Homo sapiens
compared with other human species such as the Neanderthals?"
Research paleoanthropologist at The Natural History Museum, London;
co-author of In Search Of The Neanderthals; African Exodus.
"How predictive is the much sought-after 'Theory of Everything'
intended to be? Presumably it will show why the formation of fundamental
particles was inevitable, and why these were bound to form into
atoms, and presumably predict galaxies. But will it show that
life was bound to appear? Or consciousness? How powerful will
it be really or can it be? What is the Universe really
"What is religion? Is it necessary? Can we devise a religion
for the 21st century and beyond that is plausible and yet avoids
banality one that people see the need for? What would it
Cambridge biologist and writer; author of Last Animals At The
Zoo; The Time Before History.
"Why is our western civilization so reluctant to accept subjective,
first-hand experience as fundamental data? In close association:
why the reluctance to consider one's experience as a realm to
be explored with a discipline just as rigorous as the one invented
by science for material phenomena?"
Biologist at the École Polytechnique, in Paris; author
of Principles Of Biological Autonomy; coauthor of Autopoiesis
"Why does our species so obsessively document its origins and
past yet so persistently ignore the dangerous portents of its
future, such as overpopulation?"
"Can there be a more reliable definition of intelligence than
the ability of a species to realize it has predators and competitors,
and then exterminate them as we humans have?"
PETER D. WARD
Paleontologist at University of Washington; author In Search
Of Nautilus; The End Of Evolution.
"Is the phenomenology of modern biology converging on a small
number of basic truths or will it increasingly diverge, becoming
so endlessly complex that no single human mind will be able to
ROBERT A. WEINBERG, M.D.
Biologist, MIT; founding member of the Whitehead Institute for
Biomedical Research, Cambridge, Mass.; author of Racing To
The Beginning Of The Road.
"What do we want from science?"
Australian science writer; author of Pythagoras' Trousers:
God, Physics, And The Gender Wars.
"The major change through the prehistory of our species is the
evolution of our brain, the development of a social organ that
makes human culture (and language) part of our biology. My question
is whether we can ever transcend the consequences and free ourselves
of the biological limitations that have been imposed in the process."
MILFORD H. WOLPOFF
Paleoanthropologist at the University of Michigan; author of Paleoanthropology;
coauthor of Race And Human Evolution.
THE REALITY CLUB
Marc D. Hauser on EDGE at Harvard
From: Marc D. Hauser
Science B29 is a core science course at Harvard. What this means
is that it is one of several possible sciences courses that non-science
majors can take, as well as science majors.
Three years ago it was also set up as the primary intro course
for the Mind, Brain and Behavior program. I teach the course with
Irv DeVore. Although B29 has been running for almost 30 years,
starting with DeVore and Bob Trivers (who were literally inventing
sociobiology on the fly), it has gone through many permutations.
It attempts to do for Harvard undergrads what Sesame street
does for young children: provide a flavor for new ideas, radical
ways of thinking, and new frontiers of thought. It takes as its
central thesis that evolutionary theory provides a unifying theme
to the organization of life, but that there are constraints all
along the way. It begins by laying out the central tenets of Darwinian
thought, including discussions of natural selection, kin selection,
adaptation, and so on. It then moves into brain evolution and
design, targeting problems of modularity, domain-specificity,
sex differences, brain damage, and brain development.
From neural evolution and constraints, we move to a discussion
of how societies are constructed, using both data on animal cultures
and human cultures as our empirical playground. Lastly, we turn
to how brains build minds, how consciousness evolved, how languages
play with mind and how minds play with language, and how systems
of moral regulation emerge.
The lectures present broad strokes, designed to engage and enrage
the students. Given that the class size reaches about 500, there
is no time for questions in class. Questions and discussion emerge
within the smaller sections. Each week, a group of about 20 students
meet with their teaching assistants, graduate students who have
training in biology, psychology or anthropology; some of them
are even overqualified PhDs!
This year, we will try something new, integrating material from
EDGE () into the discussions. The hope is that students interested
in the topics to emerge will not only bring up some of the material
with their peers, but will also volley their thoughts back to
EDGE members. Given that this will be our first go, we will certainly
need to modify the nature of the interaction. It is our hope that
the students will play a large role in customizing the extent
to which the material on the EDGE is used. I can see several functions
to the EDGE material: 1) as a vehicle for entertaining new ideas;
2) as a source of additional information on topics being discussed
in lecture and in section; and 3) and a contact point for group
Marc D. Hauser
MARC D. HAUSER, is an evolutionary psychologist, and an associate
professor at Harvard University where he is a fellow of the Mind,
Brain, and Behavior Program. He is the author of The Evolution
of Communication, and What The Serpent Said: How Animals
Think And What They Think About (forthcoming).
John Horgan Responds to Joseph LeDoux on "The End of Neuroscience"
From: John Horgan
John Horgan Responds to Joseph LeDoux on "The End of Neuroscience"
In his December posting, Joseph LeDoux argued that when it comes
to his own field, neuroscience, my "death sentence" for science
is grossly premature. His main argument is that "neuroscience
is infantile." That is simply not true. Galvani showed two centuries
ago that nerves emit and respond to electric current, and around
the same time Gall produced a precursor of the modular theory
of mind that Steve Pinker and others are now touting. William
James wrote Principles of Psychology in 1890, and Freud began
setting forth his psychoanalytic theory shortly thereafter (after
producing a solid book on aphasia). Meanwhile, Cajal and others
were already unraveling the structure and function of neurons.
Here we are 100 years later, in the era of MRI and PET scans
and DNA probes and computer models and microelectrode recordings
from individual neurons. We have compiled a huge amount of information
about the brain and its role in perception and behavior. Yet as
LeDoux acknowledges, "we know very little. We have no idea how
our brains make us who we are. There is as yet no neuroscience
of personality... The meltdown of mental life in psychosis is
still a mystery."
So LeDoux and I agree on the current plight of his field. The
question is, just how far will neuroscience go in the future,
given how little progress there has been to date? I grant that
my treatment of neuroscience in The End Of Science was
a bit superficial; as LeDoux points out, explaining consciousness
should not be the be-all and end-all of neuroscience.
I hope to atone for my sins in a new book on neuroscience and
other mind-related fields, including psychiatry, behavioral genetics,
evolutionary psychology and even artificial intelligence. I fear
that, given their poor record to date, some of the most critical
problems addressed by these fields may be intractable. I'm not
just talking about the old thumbsuckers like consciousness and
free will and nature/nurture but practical problems like mental
A couple of months ago, I spent a disturbing morning watching
patients at the Psychiatric Institute in New York City receiving
shock therapy. If I were suicidally depressed, I might submit
to shock treatment myself; incredibly, it is the most effective
treatment for severe depression that we have. But the relapse
rate is extremely high, as much as 90 percent. And no one can
pretend that this is a "scientific" therapy; it's the equivalent
of kicking a TV set on the blink.
I am certainly not the only observer who has come to a pessimistic
conclusion about the future of mind-related science. The Harvard
psychologist Howard Gardner, a contributor to this site, states
in a 1992 essay, "Scientific Psychology: Should We Bury It Or
Praise It?": "Psychology has not added up to an integrated science,
and it is unlikely ever to achieve that goal." Gardner speculates
that in the future psychology, rather than becoming a "hard" science
like physics, will become more literary in nature. Gardner tries
his best to make this prophecy sound hopeful; to me, it sounds
like an acknowledgement of defeat.
LeDoux is absolutely right that we will never know if such pessimism
is warranted if we give up now. Let me assure him that I believe,
and hope, his field has a vital future. If I were advising my
own kids on what field of science to study, neuroscience would
be my first choice (and particle physics the last). The problems
of neuroscience are profoundly important both intellectually
and pragmatically. The fact that these problems may also be unsolvable
means that the field will never die.
Thomas de Zengotita and Marc D.Hauser on Rod Brooks' "Deep Questions"
From: Tom De Zegongatita
It's been a long time since I browsed the cognitive science/neural
modeling literature. It is really exciting to see such an emphasis
on bodies and needs. I never had a platform bias against silicon
based consciousness, but I always had a strong intuition that
the primary problem will be getting such materials to be "alive."
Mobility and vision and limbs are nice, but Coglike beings need
other similar beings to relate toand especially to exchange
with. Consciousness is a reciprocal entity...
See Marcel Mauss' The Gift and its progeny...
Tom de Zengotita
THOMAS DE ZENGOTITA teaches philosophy and anthropology at The
Dalton School and at the Draper Graduate Program at New York University.
From: Marc D. Hauser
In the commentary by Ledoux, he states that neuroscience has
yet to have its all encompassing theory, a la Newton or Darwin.
Did he say Darwin? Well, some would hold that Darwinian theory
is the theory that neuroscience needs to work out many of the
interesting details. As Fodor articulated in The Elm and the Expert,
however, Darwinian theory isn't necessarily the right kind of
theory to explain how one goes from mental states as intentional
operators to mental states as compuational operators, but some,
like Pinker, Cosmides and Tooby, think that there is a good chance
that Darwinian design stance will help. They would argue more
strongly than I, of course. So, what kind of all-encompassing
theory is LeDoux looking for? At what level?
Much discussion has focused on Rod Brooks' interview and on
the possibility of robotic souls and moral perspective. We might
start by considering the kinds of pressures that could have led
to a moral perspective and for this, the animal kingdom poses
some interesting problems. My own interest is in trying to work
out how we go from rule-guided behavior to rule-based societies
that place values on the rules. In this sense, the agenda seems
to me two-fold. What are the core emotions underlying moral societies?
And, what mechanisms are necessary for one to implement such emotions,
control others, and solve the relevant problems that society throws.
Marc D. Hauser
COMMENTS ON EDGE
Harko Keijzer; Michael Naumann
From: Harko Keijzer
"The EDGE newsletter is the best of the internet."
HARKO KEIZJER, former publisher of Contact in Amsterdam is cofounder
of Paradigma (with Piet Hoenderdos) a Dutch Internet company.
From: Michael Naumann
"[EDGE] is the celebration of electronic discourse at the highest
MICHAEL NAUMANN, publisher, is President of Henry Holt & Co.
1ST ANNIVERSARY LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
In January 1997 I reinvented the EDGE newsletter as a Website
() to allow the third culture thinkers to present their work and
ideas to each other (via an edited mail list), and to the public
(via the World Wide Web).
The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers
in the empirical world who, through their work and expository
writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual
in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining
who and what we are. It is a large enough umbrella to also include
the "digerati," the doers, thinkers, and writers, connected in
ways they may not even appreciate, who have tremendous influence
on the emerging communication revolution surrounding the growth
of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
The participants present their work with the understanding that
they will be challenged. A feature of EDGE is a continuation of
"The Reality Club," founded in 1980. The hallmark of The Reality
club has been rigorous and impolite discourse where thinking smart
prevails over the anesthesiology of wisdom. The motto of the club:
"To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the
most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together,
and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."
EDGE participation is by invitation only. The contributors a
"who's who" of distinguished scientists and digerati who communicate
their work and ideas to the public. They receive EDGE editions
by email, an average so far of two to three per month, either
as a one page table of contents URL notice; or an ascii text file
(usually around 10,000 words). Although we have the technology
for direct posting to the website and for "chat," all presentations
and comments are screened prior to emailing and posting to the
The ideas presented on EDGE are speculative; they represent
the frontiers of knowledge in the areas of evolutionary biology,
genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, and physics.
Some of the fundamental questions posed are: Where did the universe
come from? Where did life come from? Where did the mind come from?
Emerging out of the third culture is a new natural philosophy,
founded on the realization of the import of complexity, of evolution.
Very complex systems,, whether organisms, brains, the biosphere,
or the universe itself,, were not constructed by design; all have
evolved. There is a new set of metaphors to describe ourselves,
our minds, the universe, and all of the things we know in it,
and it is the intellectuals with these new ideas and images, those
scientists and others doing things and writing their own books,
who drive our times.
EDGE is a living document on the World Wide Web which displays
"the third culture" in action. The "content" of EDGE is the group
of people who connect in this way. They are: Jeremy C. Ahouse,
Izumi Aizu, Alun Anderson, Philip Anderson, Natalie Angier, John
Baez, James Bailey, Julian Barbour, John Perry Barlow, John D.
Barrow, Mary Catherine Bateson, Patrick Bateson, Gregory Benford,
Sandra Blakeslee, Stewart Brand, Rod Brooks, John T. Bruer, David
Bunnell, James Lee Byars, David Buss, Jason McCabe Calcanis, William
Calvin, Rachel Caspari, David Chalmers, Philip Campbell, Jeremy
Cherfas, Luyen Chou, Patricia S. Churchland, Carol Gilligan, Mihalyi
Csikszentmihalyi, Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Stanislas Dehaene,
Daniel C. Dennett, David Deutsch, Arthur De Vany, Thomas de Zengotita,
Jared Diamond, Carl Djerassi, John Doerr, John C. Dvorak, Esther
Dyson, Freeman Dyson, George Dyson, Niles Eldredge, Brian Eno,
Nancy Etcoff, Paul Ewald, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Kenneth Ford,
Howard Gardner, Michael S. Gazzaniga, David Gelernter, Murray
Gell-Mann, Carol Gilligan, Marcelo Gleiser, Mike Godwin, Daniel
Goleman, Brian Goodwin, John Gribbin, Stephen Grossberg, Tor Gulliksen,
Alan Guth, Stuart Hameroff, Judith Rich Harris, Marc D. Hauser,
Reuben Hersh, J.C. Herz, W. Daniel Hillis, Robert Hinde, John
Henry Holland, Ernest B. Hook, John Horgan, Verena Huber-Dyson,
Nicholas Humphrey, Piet Hut, David Johnson, George Johnson, Brewster
Kahle, Stuart Kauffman, Paul Keegan, Kevin Kelly, Bart Kosko,
Lawrence M. Krauss, George Lakoff, Christopher G. Langton, Jaron
Lanier, Edward O. Laumann, Richard Leakey, Joseph Ledoux, Philip
Leggiere, Ted Leonsis, Maria Lepowsky, Seth Lloyd, Steve Lohr,
David Lykken, Christa Maar, Sir John Maddox, Pattie Maes, Lynn
Margulis, John Markoff, Jerry Michalski, Pamela McCorduck, Scott
McNealy, Hans-Joachim Metzger, Marvin Minsky, Steven Mithen, Frank
Moretti, Marney Morris, Oliver Morton, David G. Myers, Nathan
Myhrvold, Randolph Nesse, M.D., Tor Nørretranders, Rafael
E. Nunez, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Elaine H. Pagels, Clifford Pickover,
Paolo Pignatelli, Steven Pinker, Margie Profet, Robert Provine,
Steven Quartz, Tim Race, Sir Martin Rees, Colin Renfrew, Howard
Rheingold, Steven Rose, Louis Rossetto, Doug Rowan, Doulgas Rushkoff,
Karl Sabbagh, Roger Schank, Stephen H. Schneider, Terrence Sejnowski,
Richard Shaffer, Robert Shapiro, Charles Simonyi, Lee Smolin,
Dan Sperber, Carl Steadman, Duncan Steel, Neal Stephenson, Ian
Stewart, Cliff Stoll, Linda Stone, Chris Stringer, Frank Sulloway,
Peter Tallack, Timothy Taylor, Joseph Traub, Arnold Trehub, Lew
Tucker, Colin Tudge, Sherry Turkle, Francisco Varela, Peter von
Sivers, Peter D. Ward, Robert A. Weinberg, M.D., Margaret Wertheim,
Lawrence Wilkinson, Dave Winer, Ellen Winner, Naomi Wolf, Milford
Wolpoff, Richard Saul Wurman, G. Pascal Zachary.
The EDGE Website is sponsored in part by Silicon Graphics and
is authored and served with WebFORCE® systems. For more information
on VRML, see vrml.sgi.com. Our other sponsor is Pantheon Interactive,
who maintain the mail lists and design and produce the Website.
For more information on Pantheon Interactive, see http://www.pan-interactive.com/.
Kip Parent, the cofounder and President on Pantheon, is a Web
pioneer and the visionary who was among the first to design and
implement intranets and extranets. Nearly coincidental to the
founding of the EDGE Website, was the launch of Kip's company,
which has emerged as a classic Silicon Valley start-up success
story, and whose clients now include Intel, Novell, Silicon Graphics,
Xerox, Cisco Systems, among others. In addition, Kip is heading
a new venture, RightsCenter, Inc., a global extranet for the book
It's been a great year. To the several hundred EDGE contributors,
to Silicon Graphics, to Kip Parent and his colleagues at Pantheon
Interactive many thanks and a Happy New Year!
1. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Zettel, eds. G. E. M. Anscombe
and G. H. von Wright, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1967), p. 58e, para. 315.
2. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York:
Harper & Row, Publishers, 1960), p. 17.
3. Wittgenstein, op cit, pp. 120-21e, para. 695.
4. Wallace Stevens, "Two Prefaces," in Opus Posthumous (New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 270.
5. Paul Valery, The Outlook For Intelligence (New York:
Harper & Row, 1962), p. 136.
6. Alain Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel, trans. Richard
Howard (New York: Grove Press,
1965), p. 14.