Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction
Edited by John Brockman
Before mass media came up in the mid-twentieth century there was the public lecture, at which some person of eminence or accomplishment would address a hall full of curious citizens. The Internet equivalent is supplied by nonprofit foundations like Edge.org and TED.com, which spread interesting ideas by inviting thinkers to give online talks.
Thinking is a spin-off from the Edge.org website and the various conferences it sponsors. It consists of twenty-two "unedited transcriptions of scientific talks and conversations" by scholars who investigate minds and brains. From their bylines I tallied twelve psychologists (minds), six cognitive scientists (brains), two philosophers, one researcher in linguistics, and one statistician.
In 1997, the Reality Club, which was formed in 1981 to explore themes of the post-Industrial Age, went on-line and was rebranded as "Edge." Those involved with Edge brainstorm to ask an annual question and challenge brilliant people to answer it. The 2012 question, "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" which sought to gather people’s opinions about their favorite scientific theory or explanation, led to more than 200 answers. This book includes edited forms of 148 of those answers it its 411 pages, making the average chapter less than 3 pages long. A common theme in the published answers is the proposal of "a simple and nonobvious idea … as the explanation for a diverse and complicated set of phenomena." ...
...I enjoyed reading this book immensely and spent more time on it, per page, than on any other book. Each of the 148 bite-size chapters is a delight, and trying to summarize the content would lead to a book-length review.
"What Should We Be Worried About?" is the title of a new 2014 book edited by John Brockman, in which 153 scientists, professors and leading thinkers write two- and three-page essays in response to the book title.
One essay highlights an issue that will worry governments increasingly in the future. The issue is the current unsustainable expectation of infinite economic growth.
The essay title is a question: "A World Without Growth?" by financial risk expert Satyajit Das. To paraphrase, all modern societies, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, depend on continuing economic growth as a universal solution for all political, social and economic problems, which includes improving living standards and reducing poverty.
Also, growth is now expected to solve the problems over overindebted individuals, businesses and nations.
Over the past 30 years, globalization and debt-driven consumption across the planet became the tool of generating economic growth. That planetwide growth is destroying the Earth's environment and using up finite resources, especially water.
Those factors, plus unsustainable debt levels rising in all nations, threatens to end an unprecedented 200 years of growth and expansion. ...
Why a different kind of scholar—and idea—hits big today
...In describing the shift of the limelight away from the humanities, many people invoke the decline of theory—specifically the abstruse poststructuralist thought espoused by Jacques Derrida and his acolytes—which once seemed set to take over not just the humanities but all of academe. "There is a particular kind of theory-head who thinks that they can explain everything to everyone," says Stephen Burt, a professor of English at Harvard University. "That’s gone. The people who think they can explain everything are in the sciences—or in one case linguistics, Steven Pinker. But I don’t think there’s an explanation for everything, so I don’t miss it." Burt, the rare English professor who has given a TED talk (on poetry and mortality, among other things), says his experience was "unequivocally positive."
People such as John Brockman, literary agent to star scientists and editor of Edge.org, argue that wooly humanists have simply given way to harder-headed thinkers who address intellectual topics, including the humanities, through a scientific lens. ...
Bring together two hundred of the most powerful minds in one place and let them inspire each other, confront and learn—it's a great recipe to accelerate scientific progress in the world and a quite interesting way to spend time. But how to do it? Even 30 years ago, such a project would not have a chance. The Internet radically changed this situation. In 1996, a New York literary agent John Brockman established the website Edge.org. It's an extraordinary cul-de-sac in the global network, which sooner or later gets everyone fascinated by the most advanced content on science, technology and society.
For website Edge.org publishes the writings and record videos of absolutely exquisite people, primarily leading American and British scientists, including Nobel Prize winners, as Frank Wilczek, Eric Kandel, Daniel Kahneman and George Smoot. A significant contribution by the science popularizors: writers, journalists and the golden children of Silicon Valley, who introduce the rest of the world to new technologies.
All this, the incredible group and its works, are managed by John Brockman—the man whose biography complies with the idea of the American dream. . . .
Insomniacs will have plenty of fodder to fuel their sleeplessness after reading What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night.
...Fifty years ago, nuclear annihilation might have topped the list. War is a bit player here, with a cheery nod from Steven Pinker, who basically tells us there’s not much to worry about (but offers prescient speculation about an aging Putin bent on regaining a former Soviet republic or two).
No, what we should be worrying about is superstition, fundamentalism, anti-scientific bias, the dumbing-down of just about everything–including ourselves–and the pervasive, addictive presence of the Internet.
But I found comfort in the 21-word, haiku-like entry from screenwriter and former Monty Python troupe member Terry Gilliam: "I’ve given up worrying. I merely float on a tsunami of acceptance of anything life throws at me...and marvel stupidly." And probably sleeps at night.
Seven years after it opened, and many millions of pounds later, the Wellcome Trust has put a new plank in its ambitious Wellcome Collection building in central London – with a new development that includes space for a controversial kind of research.
The trust coined the term "sciart" in 1996, and is now taking things to another level with backing for interdisciplinary research into science, humanities and the arts. A bespoke space for this research, called The Hub, will open its doors in October this year as part of a £17.5 million development of the Wellcome Collection building (see artist's impression, above). It will host a multidisciplinary team headed by social scientist Felicity Callard from Durham University.
There have been many attempts to bridge the gaps between arts and science; gaps made famous by C. P. Snow in his famous "Two Cultures" Rede lecture in 1959. Often these attempts involve the kind of intellectual bravura exemplified by John Brockman's Third Culture, or take the form of residencies for artists in scientific establishments, such as the Collide@CERN project. ...
Any political ideology involves some idea of the state of fiscal spending and tax scheme. And the practical tools of public policy (whether laws, regulations, taxes, or government subsidy programs) are directly influenced by the ideology of officials who create the advisers they hire, and the voters who elected to the first.
....And since we have an ideology formed, it acts as a "filter" that we use to make sense of the reality around us. As explained Gerald Smallberg...(see "Bias is the Nose for the Story" on "This Will Make You Smarter", 2012), humans do not appreciate the objective reality to filter the incredible amount of data they receive... Bias says Smallberg "is an intuition-a sensitivity, receptivity, which acts as a lens or filter our perceptions [...] These biases mediate between our intellect and our emotions to create, from perceptions, opinions, judgments, categories, metaphors, analogies, theories and ideologies through which we frame the way we see the world." This notion...is related to the argument of Daniel Kahneman (a psychologist and Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, see "Thinking, Fast and Slow", 2011) in the sense that our brain cohabiting two systems, one operating biases..."automatically and quickly, with little or no effort, and without feeling voluntary control" and another that "directs attention to activities that require mental effort, including complex calculations [...] and are associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice and concentration".
There is a pivotal scene in The Hobbit where Bilbo Baggins is lost and alone deep under the Misty Mountains, and by happenstance finds the infamous One Ring and puts it in his pocket. Soon after, he encounters the creature Gollum, and is forced to play a riddle game to determine whether Gollum will show him the way out, or eat him instead. Bilbo wins the contest, but Gollum realizes that Bilbo has his ring, which confers invisibility upon the wearer. As Gollum moves to attack him, Bilbo puts on the ring, evades Gollum, and escapes.
But there’s an important caveat here: Bilbo wins by breaking the rules of a game that in Middle-Earth is considered to be “sacred and of immense antiquity.” Bilbo was at a loss to come up with another riddle, and as he fidgeted and fumbled in his pocket he said aloud to himself, “What have I got in my pocket?” Gollum assumed this was a riddle, but of course there was no way he was going to be able to answer it correctly. Yet Bilbo’s question wasn’t a “genuine riddle according to the ancient laws,” as the narrator tells us.
“Sacred and of immense antiquity.” Sounds a lot like human morality, doesn’t it? In a recent essay collection, Thinking, John Brockman observes that “everyone seems to be studying morality these days.” But why are so many devoting so much time to it? Perhaps because moral norms pervade every aspect of our lives, from the most mundane to the most profound. The peculiar thing about morality, however, is that we expect the truly moral person to submit to its demands regardless of her own interests or desires. She should do what morality commands because it is her duty to do so. We want to know why that is.
The Ball State University case receives treatment today in Indiana's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star. Trying, perhaps to a fault, to be fair to BSU president Jo Ann Gora, columnist and editor Russ Pulliam casts Dr. Gora as seeking to balance competing legitimate interests even as four Indiana legislators ask questions about her policy on teaching about intelligent design in science classrooms. ...
...Meanwhile, Gora allowed a course, "Dangerous Ideas," that also in its way tries to illuminate ultimate questions. But it does so by hammering away at the theme, as one essay in the course's text puts it, that "Science Must Destroy Religion." No, not every page or every essay in the book sounds that theme, but an intelligent reader will not be surprised to learn its editor, John Brockman, is an "influential atheist." Gora's spokesman, Tony Proudfoot, has grossly misrepresented the contents of that text. Neither Coyne nor anyone at Ball State has admitted this. ...
Ball State University (BSU) is in full spin mode trying to defend the use of a book, What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, as the sole textbook in one of its courses, "Dangerous Ideas." The book is cited in an article in the Muncie Star Press, "Lawmakers probe religion vs. science at BSU." BSU spokesman Tony Proudfoot tries to defend the course on the grounds that the book includes religion-friendly chapters, and therefore isn't a polemic against religion. In fact, BSU has badly misrepresented the hard-to-miss anti-religious goals of the book, as well as the three supposedly religion-friendly chapters it cites. I'll elaborate more below, but of the three chapters BSU cites as being religion-friendly, one has nothing to do with religion and the other two are explicitly anti-religious.
First, some background. What Is Your Dangerous Idea? is framed, billed, and marketed as a book of ideas by leading new atheist-types. The intended readership seems to be intellectual atheists, as its cover advertises the fact that the introduction is by new atheist (and evolutionary psychologist) Steven Pinker, and the afterword is by leading new atheist Richard Dawkins.
Indeed, the man behind What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, who served as its editor, is John Brockman, has been called one of "the 25 most influential living atheists." He was the literary agent and main promoter of Dawkins's 2006 book The God Delusion (and other books by Dawkins). In the acknowledgments of The God Delusion, Dawkins thanks Brockman for his "help in the preparation of this book" and states that Brockman's "whole-hearted and enthusiastic belief in the book was very encouraging." ....
...inflation has always been more a product of imagination than empirical evidence. There has never been more than circumstantial, hand-wavy support for its core mechanism, the reversal of gravity. Worse, the theory came in many different forms. My favorite was the eternally self-reproducing chaotic inflationary multiverse model proposed by Andrei Linde, who along with Alan Guth and Paul Steinhardt is credited with inventing inflation. ...
...Just two months ago, inflation pioneer Paul Steinhardt wrote on the website Edge.org: "I think a priority for theorists today is to determine if inflation and string theory can be saved from devolving into a Theory of Anything and, if not, seek new ideas to replace them. Because an unfalsifiable Theory of Anything creates unfair competition for real scientific theories, leaders in the field can play an important role by speaking out—making it clear that Anything is not acceptable—to encourage talented young scientists to rise up and meet the challenge."
Why scientists need to stop worrying about whether or not everything in biology serves a purpose.
John Brockman, the publisher and science impresario who runs the online science and culture salon Edge.org, has asked his provocative, annual Edge question: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? "Few truly new ideas are developed without abandoning old ones first," Brockman writes. "What established scientific idea is ready to be moved aside so that science can advance?"
Here’s my candidate for forced retirement: The idea that we need to distinguish between things in biology that are there for a purpose and those that aren’t.
So the writer Álvaro Bisam called the pairing of the philosopher and linguist Remis Ramos Ricardo Martinez, creators of Third Culture. A movement that, at the eaves of a podcast, mixed sciences, humanities, and popular culture. Now, if people want it, you could become a book.
In 2009, when the philosopher Remis Ramos (34) and the linguist Ricardo Martinez (44) were enrolled in a Masters in Cognitive Studies at the University of Chile, they launched the popular world of podcasts. The pair of humanist scholars decided that on his radio show webcast going to talk about ... science?
Yes Third Culture, podcast, blog and web show today disclosure cognitive science that make since, has earned them the title of "academic punks" (coined by writer Álvaro Bisam in the article "Freak City," published in UDP) magazine and a small, but loyal group of followers who reads and listens attentively their analyzes, ranging from dense scientific studies to issues of popular culture such as music, television and video games. According to legend, while Podcaster site existed always remained among the most listened to 10, which confirms to them that there is growing interest in learning about these issues.
- Why the name Third Culture?
RR: The concept is John Brockman, who in his book Third Culture argues that this dichotomy between science and the humanities must end. There is an idea that there are two cultures: the humanities, all locked in their libraries, arguing amongst themselves, and on the other hand, scientists in their laboratories, arguing amongst themselves. The third culture would try to amigarlos and bring that knowledge to the public.
A man would not be human if he did not care would reveal himself.But what if scientists worried?
Annually John Brockman, founder of the famous discussion platform allows Edge.org , a question for a selection of the most interesting scientists, authors and artists in the world. The responses are then collected and published in book form. This time, Brockman asked the question: "Where should we should be worried about?"
The result can be read in the book recently published 153 x caffeine for your mind. Include Nicholas Carr (The shallow), Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker (The Blank Slate), Brian Eno (musician and producer of U2), Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Black Swan) and 148 others to answer question posed by John Brockman. They talk briefly and powerfully about the concerns that keep them busy, such as more and more people are becoming increasingly stress the consequences of a major Internet outage, and that we have ceased to explore the space ...
John Brockman asks experts what we should fret over—and what to let go
PARENTING Relax, says psychologist Aiison Gopnik. Mostly kids are shaped by their genes and peers. Be concerned about poverty or neglect, not about being the perfect parent. Says Brockman: "Kids will be just fine."
VIOLENCE IN FILMS Fictional mayhem isn't worth all the hand-wringing, says English professor Jonathan Gottschall. Proof that it leads to real violence is shaky.
FINDING LOVE Yes, singles, worry a little. According to psychologist David Buss, 'The competition to attract desirable mates is ferocious," so give it your attention.
INTERNET COLLAPSE Big worry, says historian George Dyson, who believes we are not prepared for an inevitable "catastrophic breakdown oft he Internet."
WORRYING lt is itself a worry because it is mentally "corrosive," says psychiatrist Joel Gold, who fears too many people are fretting instead of enjoying life.
...That dominance of short-term thinking is regrettable, but might also be inevitable in this media-political era. And maybe there's also a good side to the mitigating climate show. That is certainly what environmental economist Jennifer Jacquet suggests in the fascinating book [What Should We Be Worried About?] 153 x caffeine for your mind. Lay In that bundle 153 great thinkers of that we really should be worried.
In her contribution Jacquet says that the heavy emphasis on the human responsibility in climate change leads to a kind of pessimistic lethargy. It is the paralyzing notion that no longer matter, because we are bound.Jacquet fears that a basis for a more effective climate policy is also slowed down by the fact that we let ourselves psychologically paralyze by too much doom posts. It is better to focus on concrete problems, susceptible, for which realistic solutions are conceivable. All will be well, so are the message (but not real).
Jacquet's idea stimulates the mind. Certainlyit turns out that a number of other authors-thinkers come to the same conclusion. We make ourselves worry too much. That is their biggest concern. As Classicist James O'Donnell summarizes the " Your anxiety will in the end go away, because the problem will most likely go away; or perhaps your fear will come true and you'll be in a different place; or else you'll be dead. . . .
The darkest fears of the leading lights and rising stars of science, brought together by the Edge's John Brockman, could keep us all awake at night
WARNING: read the subtitle of this book first. Its editor, cultural impresario John Brockman, may well have you struggling to get your shut-eye as he sets out to keep us on our toes.
The trick this time lies in the tone of a book of answers to questions that Brockman poses annually to science's great and good on his Edge website. It's really not all good news.
In 2007, Edge asked what we were optimistic about. Six years later, the tone sounds like a pessimistic rejoinder: what shouldwe be worried about? But with Brockman it's rarely simple. He invited people to share a scientific worry that might not be on the popular radar, or one they think should drop off the radar. ...
At the end of the exercise, Brockman's crew has left us with a net balance of new fears. But they also introduce us to some big ideas. As psychologist Daniel Goleman puts it: "Effective worrying focuses our attention on a genuine threat and leads to anticipating solutions." Or perhaps biologist Craig Venter is onto something when he writes, hopefully tongue in cheek: "As a scientist, an optimist, an atheist, and an alpha male, I don't worry."
We care about the Third World War, aging, drug use but also about himself - zabrinjavanja. In the book "What Should We Be Worried About 'series of celebrity scientist reveals his greatest concerns and answers the question of how to prevent them.
What should we be worried? That's the question John Brockman, founder Edge.org ('smartest' global sites, according to a review in The Guardian) set by the world's most influential scientists including Steven Pinker, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Frank Wilczek, Seth Lloyd, Alison Gopnik, Nassim Nicholas Taleb Helen Fisher, Lawrence Krauss, Susan Blackmore and many others.
He asked them to discover what they are most concerned, with special emphasis on scenarios that have not yet appeared on the global radar.
The greatest minds of our time in the field of neuroscience, economics, philosophy, physics, psychology, biology and many other areas of its proposed 150 ideas that will bring a revolution in the understanding of the modern world.
Cosmologist Sean Carroll is one of many who have recently answered the annual question posed by Edge.org, which this year was: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Sean, whom I’ve met at the Naturalism workshop he organized not long ago, and for whom I have the highest respect both as a scientist and as a writer, picked “falsifiability.”
Which is odd, since the concept — as Sean knows very well — is not a scientific, but rather a philosophical one.
Now, contra some other skeptics of my acquaintance, at least one of whom was present at the above mentioned workshop, Sean is actually somewhat knowledgable and definitely respectful of philosophy of science, as is evident even in the Edge piece. Which means that what follows isn’t going to be yet another diatribe about scientism or borderline anti-intellectualism (phew!). ...