Edge in the News: 2014

Iranian.com [4.16.14]

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.

TheLedger.com [4.15.14]

"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. ...

The Chronicle of Higher Education [4.14.14]

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. ...

Gazeta- WYBORCZA.PL [4.12.14]

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. . . .

Cleveland Plain Dealer [4.4.14]

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.

New Scientist [4.1.14]

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. ...