"Does God play dice?" (...first asked
by Albert Einstein some time in the 30's.)
Like mathematics whose symbols can represent physical
properties when applied to some scientific problem, God
is a convenient symbol for nature, for the way the world works.
Einstein's reaction of utter incredibility to the quantum theory
from its development in the late 20's until his death in 1955,
was echoed by colleagues who had participated in the early creation
of the quantum revolution, which Richard Feynman had termed the
most radical theory ever.
Well does she?
The simplest example of what sure looks like God playing
dice happens when you walk past a store window on a sunny day.
Of course you are not just admiring your posture and checking
your attire, you are probably watching the guy undressing the
manikin, but that is another story.
So how do you see yourself, albeit dimly, while the manikin abuser
sees you very clearly? Everyone knows that light is a stream of
photons, here from the sun, some striking your nose, then reflected
in all directions. We focus on two photons heading for the window.
We'll need thousands to get a good picture but two will do for
a start. One penetrates the window and impacts the eye of the
manikin dresser. The second is reflected from the store window
and hits your eye, a fine picture of a good looking pedestrian!
What determines what the photons will do? The photons are identical...trust
me. Philosophers of science assure us that identical experiments
give identical results.
The only rational conclusion would seem to be that she
plays dice at each impact of the photon. Using a die with 10 faces,
good enough for managing this bit of the world, numbers one to
nine determine that the photon goes through, a ten and the photon
is reflected. Its random...a matter of probability.
Dress this concept up in shiny mathematics and we have quantum
science which underlies physics, most of chemistry and molecular
biology. It now accounts for 43.7% of our GNP. (this is consistent
with 87.1% of all numbers being made up.)
So what was wrong with Einstein and his friends? Probabilistic
nature which is applicable to the world of atoms and smaller,
has implications which are bizarre, spooky, wierd. Granting that
it works, Einstein could not accept it and hoped for a deeper
explanation. Today, many really smart physicists are are seeking
a kinder, gentler formulation but 99.3% of working physicists
go along with the notion that she is one hell-of-a crap
LEON M. LEDERMAN , the director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator
Laboratory, has received the Wolf Prize in Physics (1982), and
the Nobel Prize in Physics (1988). In 1993 he was awarded the
Enrico Fermi Prize by President Clinton. He is the author of several
books, including (with David Schramm) From Quarks to the Cosmos
: Tools of Discovery, and (with Dick Teresi) The God Particle:
If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?
your business model?"
Until this summer this was the most common question at Silicon
Valley parties, at bus stops, conferences and grocery stores.
Everyone had a business model, none planned to make money, all
focused on the exit strategy.
The euphoria attracted a despicable kind carpetbagger, one who
wanted nothing more than money, and had a disdain for technology.
All of a sudden technology was out of fashion in Silicon Valley.
Now that the dotcom crash seems permanent, entrepreneurs are looking
for real ways to make money. No more vacuous "business models."
VCs are hunkering down for a long haul. The average IQ of Silicon
Valley entrepreneurs is zooming to its former stratospheric levels.
There's a genuine excitement here now, but if you ask what the
business model is you're going to get a boring answer.
Silicon Valley goes in cycles. Downturns are a perfect time to
dig in, listen to users, learn what they want, and create the
technology that scratches the itch, and plan on selling it for
DAVE WINER, CEO UserLand Software, Inc.
you hoping for a girl or a boy?"
moment of birth used to be attended by an answer to a nine-month
mystery: girl or boy? Now, to anyone with the slightest curiosity
and no mystical scruples, simple, non-invasive technology can
provide the answer from an early stage of pregnancy. With both
of our children, we chose to know the answer (in the UK about
half of parents want to know), and I suspect the likelihood of
the question continuing to be asked will diminish rapidly.
interesting is this is the first of many questions about the anticipated
child that will soon not be asked. These will range from the trivial
(eye colour, mature height) to the important (propensity to certain
diseases and illnesses). The uneasiness many people still have
about knowing the sex of the child suggests that society is vastly
unprepared for the pre-birth answers to a wide range of questions.
KNOBEL is a managing director of Vesta Group, an Internet and
wireless investment company based in London. He was formerly head
of the programme of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting
in Davos and Editor-in-Chief of World Link.
"How do societies function and change?"
The general question of how human societies operate, and how they
change, was once a central feature of theory-building in anthropology.
The question at least significant progress in answering
the question has largely disappeared at the emergent, large-scale
level ("society" or "culture") originally
defined by the social sciences.
the past three decades, behavioral biology and studies of gene-culture
coevolution have made some important theoretical advances in the
study of human social behavior. However, the concepts of inclusive
fitness, reciprocal altruism, memes, coevolution, and related
ideas have yet to effectively penetrate the question of how large-scale
cultural institutions political, economic, religious, legal,
and other systems function, stay the same, or change.
strong inclination toward bottom-up explanations, which account
for human social phenomena in terms of lower-level individual
behaviors and epigenetic rules implies either that social
institutions (and thus how they function and change) are only
epiphenomena, thus less worthy of investigating than the genetic
bases of behavior and evolutionary psychology; or that cultural
systems and institutions do exist they function and change
at a level of complexity above human psychology, decision-making,
and epigenetic rules but have largely been forgotten by
certain fields purporting to study and to explain human social
POTTS is Director of The Human Origins Program, Department of
Anthropology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian
Institution. He is the author of Humanity's Descent : The Consequences
of Ecological Instability and a presenter, with Stephen Jay
Gould, of a videotape, Tales of the Human Dawn.
the right to own property be preserved?"
all of history, humans traded objects, then traded currency for
objects, with the idea that when you buy some thing, you own
it. This most fundamental human right the right to own
is under attack again. Only this time, the software industry,
not the followers of Karl Marx, are responsible.
In the last 15 years of the information age, we discovered that
every object really has three separable components: the informational
content, delivered on a physical medium,
governed by the license, a social or legal contract governing
the rights to use the thing. It used to be that the tangible media
token (the thing) both held the content, and (via possession)
enforced the common understanding of the "ownership" license.
Owners have rights to a thing to trade it, sell it, loan
it, rent it, destroy it, donate it, paint it, photograph it, or
even chop it up to sell in pieces.
For a book, the content is the sequence of words themselves, which
may be rendered as ink scratches on a medium of paper bound inside
cardboard covers. For song it is a reproduction of the audio pattern
pressed into vinyl or plastic to be released by a reading device.
The license - to own all rights but copy rights was enforced
simply by possession of the media token, the physical copy of
the book or disk itself. If you wanted to, you could buy a book,
rip it into separate pages, and sell each page individually. You
can slice a vinyl record into individual song rings for trade.
For software, content is the evolving bits of program and data
arranged to operate on some computer. Software can be delivered
in paper, magnetic, optical, or silicon form, or can be downloaded
from the internet, even wirelessly. Software publishers know the
medium is completely irrelevant, except to give the consumer the
feeling of a purchase.
Even though you had the feeling of trading money for something,
your really don't own the software you paid for. The license clearly
states that you don't. You are merely granted a right to use the
information, and the real owner can terminate your license at
will, if you criticize him in public. Moreover, you cannot resell
the software, you cannot take a "suite" apart into working products
to sell each one separately. You cannot rent it or loan it to
a friend. You cannot look under the hood to try to fix it when
it breaks. You don't actually own anything but exchanged your
money for a "right to use", and those rights can be arbitrarily
dictated, and then rendered worthless by the very monopoly you
got it from, forcing you to pay again for something you felt you
had acquired last year.
There is no fundamental difference between software, recordings,
and books. E-books are not sold, but licensed, and Secure Music
will be available in a pay-per-download format. Inexorably driven
by more lucrative profits from rentals, I predict that within
a couple of decades, you will no longer be able to "buy" a new
book or record. You will not be able to "own" copies. This may
not seem so nefarious, as long as you have easy access to the
"celestial jukebox" and can temporarily download a "read-once"
license to any entertainment from private satellites. Your children
will have more room in their homes and offices without the weight
of a lifetime collection of books and recordings.
What are humans when stripped of our libraries? And it won't stop
For an automobile, the content is the blueprint, the organization
of mechanisms into stylistic and functional patterns which move,
built out of media such as metals, pipes, hoses, leather, plastic,
rubber, and fluids. Because of the great expense of cloning a
car, Ford doesn't have to spell out the licensing agreement: You
own it until it is lost, sold, or stolen. You can rent it, loan
it, sell it, take it apart, and sell the radio, tires, engine,
carburetor, etc. individually.
But the license agreement can be changed! And when Ford discovers
the power of UCITA, you will have to pay an annual fee for a car
you don't own, which will blow up if you fail to bring it in or
pay your renewal fee. And you will find that you cannot resell
your car on an open secondary market, but can only trade it in
to the automobile publisher for an upgrade.
Without an effort to protect the right to own, we may wake up
to find that there is nothing left to buy.
POLLACK, a computer science and complex systems professor at Brandeis,
works on AI, Artificial Life, Neural Networks, Evolution, Dynamical
Systems, Games, Robotics, Machine Learning, and Educational Technology.
He is a prolific inventor, advises several startup companies and
incubators, and in his spare time runs Thinmail, a service designed
to enhance the usefulness of wireless email.
is the nature of our creator?"
This question was once entertained by the educated and non-educated
alike, but is now out of fashion among the learned, except in
two small corners of intellectual life. One corner is religious
theology, which many scientists would hardly consider a legitimate
form of inquiry at this time. In fact it would not be an exaggeration
to say that modern thinking considers this question as fit only
for the religious, and that it has no part in the realm of science
at all. But even among the religious this question has lost favor
because, to be honest, theology hasn't provided very many satisfactory
answers for modern sensibilities, and almost no new answers in
recent times. It feels like a dead end. A question that cannot
be asked merely by musing in a book-lined room.
The other corner where this question is asked but only
indirectly is in particle physics and cosmology. We get
hints of answers here and there mainly as by-products of other
more scientifically specific questions, but very few scientists
set out to answer this question primarily. The problem here is
that because the question of the nature of our creator is dismissed
as a religious question, and both of these sciences require some
of the most expensive equipment in the world paid by democracies
committed to separation of church and state, it won't do to address
the question directly.
But there is a third way of thinking emerging that may provide
a better way to ask this question. This is the third culture of
technology. Instead of asking this question starting from the
human mind contemplating the mysteries of God, as humanists and
theologists do, or starting from experiment, observation, and
testing as scientists do, the third way investigates the nature
of our creator by creating creations. This is the approach of
nerds and technologists. Technologists are busy creating artificial
worlds, virtual realities, artificial life, and eventually perhaps,
parallel universes, and in this process they explore the nature
of godhood. When we make worlds, what are the various styles of
being god? What is the relation to the creator and the created?
How does one make laws that unfold creatively? How much of what
is created can be created without a god? Where is god essential?
Sometimes there are theories (theology) but more often this inquiry
is driven by pure pragmatic engineering: "We are as gods and may
as well get good at it," to quote Stewart Brand.
While the third way offers a potential for new answers, more than
the ways of the humanities or science, the truth is that even
here this question of the nature of our creator
is not asked directly very much. This really is a question that
has disappeared from public discourse, although of course, it
is asked every day by billions of people silently.
KELLY is a founding editor of Wired magazine. In 1993 and
1996, under his co-authorship, Wired won it's industry's
Oscar The National Magazine Award for General Excellence.
Prior to the launch of Wired , Kelly was editor/publisher
of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical
and cultural news. He is the author of New Rules for the New
Economy; and Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines,
Social Systems, and the Economic World.
"How should adult education work? How do we educate the
masses? (That's right, The Masses.)...."
should adult education work? How do we educate the masses? (That's
right, The Masses.) How do we widen the circle of people
who love and support great art, great music, great literature?
How do we widen the circle of adults who understand the science
and engineering that our modern world is built on? How do we rear
good American citizens? Or for that matter good German citizens,
or Israeli or Danish or Chilean? And if this is the information
age, why does the population at large grow worse-informed every
year? (Sorry that last one isn't a question people have
stopped asking; they never started.)
These questions have disappeared because in 2001, the "educated
elite" never goes anywhere without its quote-marks. Here in America's
fancy universities, we used to believe that everyone deserved
and ought to have the blessings of education. Today we believe
our children should have them and to make up for that fact,
to even the score, we have abolished the phrase. No more "blessings
of education." That makes us feel better. Many of us can't say
"truth and beauty" without snickering like 10-year-old boys.
But the situation will change, as soon as we regain the presence
of mind to start asking these questions again. We have the raw
materials on hand for the greatest cultural rebirth in history.
We have the money and the technical means. We tend to tell our
children nowadays (implicitly) that their goal in life is to get
rich, get famous and lord it over the world. We are ashamed to
tell them that what they really ought to be is good, brave and
true. (In fact I am almost ashamed to type it.) This terrible
crisis of confidence we're going through was probably inevitable;
at any rate it's temporary, and if we can't summon the courage
to tell our children what's right, my guess is that they will
figure it out for themselves, and tell us. I'm optimistic.
GELERNTER, Professor of Computer Science at Yale University and
of Mirror Worlds, The Muse in the Machine, 1939:
The Lost World of the Fair, and Drawiing a Life: Surviving
the not so distant future we will have to revive the question
about who and what we are.
will have to, not because we choose to do so, but because the
question will be posed to us by Others or Otherness: Aliens, robots,
mutants, and the like.
phenomena like information processing artifacts, computational
life forms, bioengineered humans, upgraded animals and pen-pals
in space will force us to consider ourselves and our situation:
Why didn't we finish hunger on this planet? Are we evil or just
idiots? Why do we really want to rebuild ourselves? Do we regain
our soul when the tv-set is turned off?
going to happen like this: We build a robot. It turns towards
us and says: "If technology is the answer then what was the
NORRETRANDERS is a science writer, consultant, lecturer and organizer
based in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was recently appointed Chairman
of the National Council for Competency.
about the workers?"
may have been uttered as often in caricature as in anger, but
the voice from the crowd asked a question that was accepted as
reasonable even by those who winced at the jeering tone. Until
fifteen or twenty years ago, the interest-earning and brain-working
classes generally felt that they owed something to the workers,
for doing the drudgery needed to keep an industrialised society
going. And it was taken for granted that the workers were a class,
with collective interests of their own. In some instances
British miners, for example they enjoyed considerable respect
and a romantic aura. Even in the United States, where perhaps
the question was not put quite the same way, the sentiments were
there is an underclass of dangerous and hopeless folk, an elite
of the fabulous and beautiful, and everybody in between is middle
class. Meritocracy is taken for granted, bringing with it a perspective
that sees only individuals, not groups. There are no working classes,
only low-grade employees. In a meritocracy, respect is due according
to the rank that an individual has attained. And since achievement
is an individual matter, those at the upper levels see no reason
to feel they owe anything to those at lower ones. This state of
affairs will probably endure until such time that people cease
to think of their society as a meritocracy, with its upbeat tone
of progress and fairness, and start to feel that they are living
in a Red Queen world, where they have to run ever faster just
to stay in the same place.
KOHN'S most recent book, published last year, is As We Know
It: Coming to Terms with an Evolved Mind. His other books
include The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science and
Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground.
He writes a weekly column on digital culture, Second Site,
for the London Independent on Sunday.
do our brains become who we are?"
Many neuroscientists, myself included, went into brain research
because of an interest in the fact that our brains make us who
we are. But the topics we end up working on are typically more
mundane. It's much easier to research the neural basis of perception,
memory or emotion than the way perceptual, memory, and emotion
systems are integrated in the process of encoding who we are.
Questions about the neural basis of personhood, the self, have
never been at the forefront of brain science, and so are not,
strictly speaking, lost questions to the field. But they are lost
questions for those of us who were drawn to neuroscience by an
interest in them, and then settle for less when overcome with
frustration over the magnitude of the problem relative to the
means we have for solving it. But questions about the self and
the brain may not be as hard to address as they seem. A simple
shift in emphasis from issues about the way the brain typically
works in all of us to the way it works in individuals would be
an important entry point. This would then necessitate that research
on cognitive processes, like perception or memory, take subjects'
motivations and emotions into consideration, rather than doing
everything possible to eliminate them. Eventually, researchers
would study perception, memory, or emotion less as isolated brain
functions than as activities that, when integrated, contribute
to the real function of the brain-- the creation and maintenance
of the self.
JOSEPH LEDOUX is a Professor of Neural Science at New York University.
He is author of The Emotional Brain.