Indeed, the success of the TED video lectures and Edge.org — a Web site that John Brockman, an author and a book agent, created in 1996 and that has published dozens of video and text “conversations” with scientists — is evidence that the Internet has made it possible to gather small audiences intensely interested in subjects frequently ignored by the general news media.
...In 1996 the Reality Club morphed into online salon Edge.org, a place where, he explains, "science and scientific methods are being brought into areas where no one ever thought it was possible, like morality, psychology, into decision making." Like Brockman himself, Edge is wholly unpretentious: "There's no talking down to people, there's no baby talk, if somebody talks for an hour-and-a-half, I print it.
To say that John Brockman is a literary agent is like saying that David Hockney is a photographer. For while it's true that Hockney has indeed made astonishingly creative use of photography, and Brockman is indeed a successful literary agent who represents an enviable stable of high-profile scientists and communicators, in both cases the description rather understates the reality. More accurate ways of describing Brockman would be to say that he is a "cultural impresario" or, as his friend Stewart Brand puts it, an "intellectual enzyme". (Brand goes on helpfully to explain that an enzyme is "a biological catalyst – an adroit enabler of otherwise impossible things".)
The first thing you notice about Brockman, though, is the interesting way he bridges CP Snow's "Two Cultures" – the parallel universes of the arts and the sciences. When profilers ask him for pictures, one he often sends shows him with Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan, no less. Or shots of the billboard photographs of his head that were used to publicise an eminently forgettable 1968 movie, . But he's also one of the few people around who can phone Nobel laureates in science with a good chance that they will take the call.
Gumbrecht's ideas (...of science and humanities fusing for a greater scope of science) are nothing new. Such fusions have been around since the sciences have framed and made possible the global rise of Europe and the West. The Royal Society of England under Isaac Newton would be one example. The Berlin-Brandenburg Acadamy of Sciences and Humanities, created by Friedrich II., would be another. There is also the literary agent John Brockman who gives the thinkers who are in his view the world's brightest minds a question to respond to online in a strictly limited number of characters.
Humanities and sciences have traditionally been seen as “two cultures”, though as early as 1959, in his book The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, physicist and novelist C. P. Snow was calling for them to close the communication gap to answer the big questions facing humankind. Some 30 years later, literary agent John Brockman coined the term “the third culture”. Over the past few years, his network of scientists and thinkers has been tackling questions that have traditionally been the preserve of religion and philosophy: the origins and meaning of life and what human nature – and human ethics – really are.
Update: Boing Boing reader Jennifer Forman Orth, Ph.D., who is an Invasive Plant Ecologist, says, "That's actually a scan of the seedheads of a Clematis vine. So not a flower, not anymore - already pollinated and gone to fruit. But a small technicality for that beautiful image."