Edge in the News: 2006

charleston.net [12.31.06]

The World Question Center at www.edge.org every year asks scientists, doctors, philosophers and educators a question.

The question for 2006 was "What is your dangerous idea?"

Princeton University professor of astrophysics Piet Hut posted this idea:"In everyday experience, time flows, and we flow with it. In classical physics, time is frozen as part of a frozen spacetime picture. And there is, as yet, no agreed-upon interpretation of time in quantum mechanics."

What if a future scientific understanding of time would show all previous pictures to be wrong, and demonstrate that past and future and even the present do not exist? That stories woven around our individual personal history and future are all just wrong? Now that would be a dangerous idea.

"We hope we've reassured you, dear reader, that those crow's feet do not really exist. They are just an illusion.

Still, here on Earth, we like to celebrate the passage of time. Like we did last night. That's why our head hurts this morning and we don't have much of an appetite.

THE TIMES [12.31.06]

Scientists often find themselves accused of pessimism. From the gravity of their public warnings about the dangers of climate change or bird flu, they have earned a reputation as Jeremiahs with a bleak view of human nature and humanity’s future.

It is a charge most researchers contest vigorously: science, they say, is a profoundly optimistic pursuit. The idea that the world can be understood by gathering evidence, to the ultimate benefit of its citizens, lies at its heart. It is not just about problems, but about finding the solutions.

The breadth of this optimism is revealed today by the discussion website Edge.org — often likened to an online scientific “salon” — which marks every new year by inviting dozens of the world’s best scientific minds to answer a single question. For 2007, it is: “What are you optimistic about?” The answers show that even in the face of such threats as global warming and religious fundamentalism, scientists remain positive about the future.

Steven Pinker

Psychologist, Harvard University, author of The Blank Slate

In 16th-century Paris, a popular form of entertainment was cat-burning, in which a cat hoisted on a stage was slowly lowered into a fire.

As horrific as present-day events are, such sadism would be unthinkable today in most of the world. This is just one example of the most important and under appreciated trend in the history of our species: the decline of violence.

My optimism lies in the hope that the decline of force over the centuries is a real phenomenon, that it is the product of systematic forces that will continue to operate, and that we can identify those forces and perhaps concentrate and bottle them.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Director of the Autism Research Centre, University of Cambridge

I remain optimistic that for a good proportion of them [people with autism], it has never been a better time to have autism. Why? Because there is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age.For this new generation of children with autism, I anticipate that many of them will find ways to blossom, using their skills with digital technology to find employment, to find friends, and in some cases to innovate.

Daniel Dennett

Professor of Philosophy, Tufts University, author of Breaking the Spell

I expect to live to see the evaporation of the powerful mystique of religion. I think that in about 25 years almost all religions will have evolved into very different phenomena . . . With the worldwide spread of information technology (not just the internet, but cell phones and portable radios and television), it is no longer feasible for guardians of religious traditions to protect their young from exposure to the kinds of facts (and, yes, of course, misinformation and junk of every genre) that gently, irresistibly undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance. The religious fervour of today is a last, desperate attempt by our generation to block the eyes and ears of the coming generations, and it isn’t working.

Jared Diamond

Biologist and geographer, UCLA, and author of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse

I am cautiously optimistic about the state of the world, because: 1. Big businesses sometimes conclude that what is good for the long-term future of humanity is also good for their bottom line (cf Wal-Mart’s recent decision to shift their seafood purchases entirely to certified sustainable fisheries within the next three to five years). 2. Voters in democracy sometimes make good choices and avoid bad choices (cf some recent elections in a major First World country).

Is religion a destructive force? The debate over Fundamentalism and the new Atheists overshadows the scientific research on faith.
Süddeutsche Zeitung [12.31.06]

Natural scientists are now and are daring to study one of the last fields to have eluded them for so long: faith itself. This, of course, threatens faith and philosophy’s hold on the definition of man and his place in the world. This is a main reason why Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett are debated so fervently.

The Third Culture in Süddeutsche Zeitung

WHEN ONLY THE ENLIGHTENED SPEAK OUT, REASON IS BOUND TO LOSE

Is religion a destructive force? The debate over Fundamentalism and the new Atheists overshadows the scientific research on faith.

By Andrian Kreye, Editor, the Feuilleton, Süddeutsche Zeitung

ANDRIAN KREYE, from 1987 to 2006, was the US cultural correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung (currently the largest German-language daily). At the end of 2006, he moved from New York to Germany, where he took over the Feuilleton section of the newspaper (part Arts & Ideas, part Op-Ed section). He is also an Edge contributor.

Read the full article →

Piet Hut, Charleston [12.31.06]

The World Question Center at www.edge.org every year asks scientists, doctors, philosophers and educators a question.

The question for 2006 was "What is your dangerous idea?"

Princeton University professor of astrophysics Piet Hut posted this idea:

"In everyday experience, time flows, and we flow with it. In classical physics, time is frozen as part of a frozen spacetime picture. And there is, as yet, no agreed-upon interpretation of time in quantum mechanics.

"What if a future scientific understanding of time would show all previous pictures to be wrong, and demonstrate that past and future and even the present do not exist? That stories woven around our individual personal history and future are all just wrong? Now that would be a dangerous idea."

We hope we've reassured you, dear reader, that those crow's feet do not really exist. They are just an illusion.

Still, here on Earth, we like to celebrate the passage of time. Like we did last night. That's why our head hurts this morning and we don't have much of an appetite.

What are you optimistic about?
ARTS & LETTERS DAILY [12.31.06]

Intellectual impresario John Brockman puts his annual Edge question to leading thinkers... more»

Read the full article →

slashdot [12.31.06]

from the explain-yourself dept.

Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing [12.31.06]

Each year, John Brockman's EDGE asks a single question for the new year, and publishes the responses online. For 2007: ...

Respondents include many whose work has appeared on Boing Boing before, including: J. Craig Venter, Sherry Turkle, Danny Hillis, Jaron Lanier, Rodney Brooks, David Gelernter, Kevin Kelly, Freeman Dyson, George Dyson, Rudy Rucker, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, Clay Shirky, Ray Kurzweil, and Clifford Pickover.

Link to index.

Several of us from BoingBoing participated: here's Cory's response ("Copying Is What Bits Are For"), here's Pesco's ("We're Recognizing That the World Is a Wunderkammer"), here's mine (" Truth Prevails. Sometimes, Technology Helps.").

Seed [12.31.06]

 

WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE
John Brockman, ed (Harper Perennial)

Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, Craig Venter, Leon Lederman, Ray Kurzweil, Sam Harris, Alison Gopnik, and dozens of others let us in on what their gut is telling them. An unprecedented roster of brilliant minds, the sum of which is nothing short of an oracle—a book ro be dog-eared and debated.

Slashdot [12.31.06]

Posted by Hemos on Monday January 01, @08:43AM
from the explain-yourself dept.

SEED'S [12.31.06]

Five issues, insights, and observations shaping our perspective, from the editors of Seed. 1 The Edge Annual Question — 2007 What are you optimistic about? Why? Tons of brilliabnt thinkers respond. Check out our own editor-in-chief's answer here.

Seed [12.31.06]

Five issues, insights, and observations shaping our perspective, from the editors of Seed.

1 The Edge Annual Question — 2007
What are you optimistic about? Why? Tons of brilliabnt thinkers respond. Check out our own editor-in-chief's answer here.

THE TIMES [12.31.06]

If we could eradicate disgust, would global warfare disappear? That is the intriguing thesis of Marc Hauser, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and contributor to Edge (www.edge.org), a discussion forum for some of the world’s leading scientists.

Every year, Edge contributors are asked to consider an open-ended question. In his response to this year’s poser — What are you optimistic about, and why? — Hauser suggests that science may be able to rid the world of prejudices such as racism and sexism. These "isms" are fuelled not only by the perception of difference, but by the systematic denigration of others.

Pivotal to this process is disgust. Some aspects of this emotion are common to all cultures (an aversion to faeces and urine) but others are culture-specific. The agreeability of consuming sheeps’ eyeballs or chicken’s feet, for example, varies between countries.

Hauser calls disgust a "mischievous emotion", stretching beyond the purpose for which it originally evolved (most probably to keep us away from disease-carrying substances) and leaking into other arenas, such as the construction of social hierarchies. Look at the Indian caste system — the Dalits, or untouchables, perform the dirtiest work (such as handling dead animals or human excrement), live apart from polite society and, in some rural regions, are still banned from temples. ...

Alok Jha, The Guardian [12.31.06]

People's fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.

The web magazine Edge (www.edge.org) asked more than 150 scientists and intellectuals: "What are you optimistic about?" Answers included hope for an extended human life span, a bright future for autistic children, and an end to violent conflicts around the world.

Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instil today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will "gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance".

Biologist Richard Dawkins said that physicists would give religion another problem: a theory of everything that would complete Albert Einstein's dream of unifying the fundamental laws of physics. "This final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."

BOING BOING [12.31.06]


Each year, John Brockman's
EDGE asks a single question for the new year, and publishes the responses online. For 2007:

What are you optimistic about? Why?

While conventional wisdom tells us that things are bad and getting worse, scientists and the science-minded among us see good news in the coming years. That's the bottom line of an outburst of high-powered optimism gathered from the world-class scientists and thinkers by EDGE, the influential online salon that features an ongoing conversation among third culture thinkers (i.e., 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.)

The 2007 EDGE Question marks the 10th anniversary of EDGE, which began in December, 1996 as an email to about fifty people. In 2006, EDGE had more than five million user sessions.

The responses to this year's EDGE Question span topics such as string theory, intelligence, population growth, cancer, climate and much much more. Among the 150 world-class thinkers contributing their optimistic visions are Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Freeman Dyson, Howard Gardner, Marc D. Hauser, W. Daniel Hillis, Ray Kurzweil, Steven Pinker, Lisa Randall, and J, Craig Venter.

THE GUARDIAN [12.31.06]

People's fascination for religion and superstition will disappear within a few decades as television and the internet make it easier to get information, and scientists get closer to discovering a final theory of everything, leading thinkers argue today.

The web magazine Edge (www.edge.org) asked more than 150 scientists and intellectuals: "What are you optimistic about?" Answers included hope for an extended human life span, a bright future for autistic children, and an end to violent conflicts around the world.

Philosopher Daniel Denett believes that within 25 years religion will command little of the awe it seems to instil today. The spread of information through the internet and mobile phones will "gently, irresistibly, undermine the mindsets requisite for religious fanaticism and intolerance".

Biologist Richard Dawkins said that physicists would give religion another problem: a theory of everything that would complete Albert Einstein's dream of unifying the fundamental laws of physics. "This final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."

Part of that final theory will be formulated by scientists working on the Large Hadron Collider, a particle accelerator at Cern in Geneva, which is to be switched on this year. It will smash protons together to help scientists understand what makes up the most fundamental bits of the universe.

Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University, highlighted the decline of violence: "Most people, sickened by the bloody history of the 20th century, find this claim incredible. Yet, as far as I know, every systematic attempt to document the prevalence of violence over centuries and millennia (and, for that matter, the past 50 years), particularly in the west, has shown the overall trend is downward."

John Horgan, of the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey, was optimistic "that one day war - large-scale, organised group violence - will end once and for all".

This will also be the year that we get to grips with our genomes. George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, believes we will learn "so much more about ourselves and how we interact with our environment and fellow humans".

Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychologist at Cambridge University, focused on autistic children, saying their outlook had never been better. "There is a remarkably good fit between the autistic mind and the digital age," he said. "Many develop an intuitive understanding of computers, in the same way other children develop an intuitive understanding of people."

Leo Chalupa, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Davis, predicted that, by the middle of this century, it would not be uncommon for people to lead active lives well beyond the age of 100. He added: "We will be able to regenerate parts of the brain that have been worn out. So better start thinking what you'll be doing with all those extra years."

Mark Henderson, The Times [12.31.06]

• 'Jeremiahs' list their great hopes for 2007
• More romance, better old age and better death

Scientists often find themselves accused of pessimism. From the gravity of their public warnings about the dangers of climate change or bird flu, they have earned a reputation as Jeremiahs with a bleak view of human nature and humanity’s future.

It is a charge most researchers contest vigorously: science, they say, is a profoundly optimistic pursuit. The idea that the world can be understood by gathering evidence, to the ultimate benefit of its citizens, lies at its heart. It is not just about problems, but about finding the solutions.

The breadth of this optimism is revealed today by the discussion website Edge.org — often likened to an online scientific “salon” — which marks every new year by inviting dozens of the world’s best scientific minds to answer a single question. For 2007, it is: “What are you optimistic about?” The answers show that even in the face of such threats as global warming and religious fundamentalism, scientists remain positive about the future.

The First Edge of Computation Science Prize Awarded
Frankfurter Allgemeine [12.10.06]

NEW YORK The Edge of Computation Science Prize endowed with a hundred housand dollars goes at David Deutsch, the pioneer of quantum computer research. The honor is aimed at scientists, who advance the "computatrional idea" in the past ten years with their work. Deutsch, born in Israel and trained in Oxford and Cambridge, is credited with the development of a set of algorithms on which the theoretical conditions for a recent revolution in computation are based. The Edge Prize, named after the virtual Internet salon Edge, in which an international avant-garde of researchers and philosophers meet, was organized by John Brockman, the New York Guru of the third culture.

The Prize was initiated by the investor Jeffrey Epstein, an inspired promoter of science, who also donated the Prize money. Among the other nominees were researchers such as Tim Berners Lee, Noam Chomsky, David Gelernter, Larry Smarr and J. Craig Venter.

Read the full article →

The Philadelphia Inquirer [12.10.06]

Book, nonfiction: "What We Believe but Cannot Prove," edited by John Brockman. The editor, who also runs the very influential Web site Edge (http://www.edge.org), asks some of the most brilliant people in the world one heck of a good question.

[...continue]

Newsweek [11.8.06]

A New Take on Atheism: Armed with evolutionary psychology and inflamed by the 9/11 attacks, these authors--Richard Dawkins, left, Sam Harris, center, and Daniel C. Dennett--treat belief in God as a superstition the modern world can no longer afford

...On the science Web site Edge.org, the astronomer Carolyn Porco offers the subversive suggestion that science itself should attempt to supplant God in Western culture, by providing the benefits and comforts people find in religion: community, ceremony and a sense of awe. "Imagine congregations raising their voices in tribute to gravity, the force that binds us all to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, and the Sun to the Milky Way," she writes. Porco, who is deeply involved in the Cassini mission to Saturn, finds spiritual fulfillment in exploring the cosmos. But will that work for the rest of the world—for "the people who want to know that they're going to live forever and meet Mom and Dad in heaven? We can't offer that." If Dawkins, Dennett and Harris are right, the five-century-long competition between science and religion is sharpening. People are choosing sides. And when that happens, people get hurt.

[...continue]

Pages