The great discovery that launched the scientific revolution was the insight that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions. It was the discovery of ignorance.
These musings take me back to Edge (www.edge.org), a website founded by John Brockman, a literary agent specializing in serious nonfiction (mostly scientific). Among other endeavors, Edge every year asks a single question of 150-200 leading scientists and researchers. The 2014 question, which particularly titillated me, is best summarized by the title of its published collection of answers (Harper Perennial, 2015):
I find it exhilarating to have so much of our scientific elite capable of questioning the generally accepted wisdom that they have helped create or sustain. To me, this is a typically American phenomenon.
Some years ago, two different Chinese journalists interviewed me and asked the same question, which was very popular at the time: “Do you think China can innovate?” I responded, “If you ask whether Chinese people are capable of innovating, the answer is that we have hundreds or maybe thousands of them innovating every day in Silicon Valley. But to innovate you need a degree of chaos, so the real question is, How much chaos is China willing to accept?”
READ: "This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories that Are Blocking Progress," ed. John Brockman
"This Idea Must Die" is a fascinating collection of mini-essays from 175 scientific luminaries describing which scientific idea they deem most eligible for falling by the wayside, cushy grants and prevailing vogues be damned. The strength of the essays lies both in their disciplined brevity as well as the remarkable ability of these very brilliant thought-leaders to convey their areas of inquiry in a manner general readers can understand. For those who tend to stereotype the planet's empiricists as plodding, observation-driven technicians, the elasticity of thought and imaginative excursions on display here easily dispel that notion. Surely recognizing and articulating the sacred cows in our midst, as happens here, is one step towards constructing newer, better models.
...Our innovative journey toward change involves inquiry, curiosity and doubt. Much of this we do the same way the Wright’s did – by letting the world know of our thoughts and views. Any proponent of change has to proclaim his/her thoughts. Galileo, one of the greatest astronomers and scientists of all time, defended his views on heliocentrism in Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. Philosophers such as Plato, Kant and Nietzsche, and many others, published their thoughts that changed the world in outlook and philosophy. A new innovative book This Idea Must Die edited by John Brockman takes us through scientific theories and practices that are blocking our progress. At a recent interview, Brockman said: "Daniel Kahneman has studied human rationality and found out that characteristics we thought we had as humans aren’t necessarily the case. We are not HOMO ECONOMICUS, we’re not the rational human beings we thought we were. A lot of what we do is pre-conscious and without acknowledgement."...
On his website Edge.org, John Brockman—an idea guru—interviews and opens dialogues with the century’s brightest minds (many of which he represents as their agent). Every year, he publishes a book that poses an unsettling question to philosophers, scientists, and other kinds of big thinkers. This is how he’s come up with his 'question books,' such as WHAT SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?, WHAT HAVE YOU CHANGED YOUR MIND ABOUT?, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?, and WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA? Reading through the answers (both on the website and in these annual question books) would be an excellent way for extraterrestrials to figure out what’s going on in the minds of those crazy humans.
Few will dispute the fact that this world we live in is built on ideas. They encompass anything between the ideals of democracy to the relatively more recent technological conveniences such as the Internet. ...
Some of these have been discussed in a new book titled, "This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress." This is the latest in a series of annual books posing a question every year to some of the best minds.
The brainchild of John Brockman, the founder of the intellectually stimulating edge.org, the current book is a compendium of answers to the question, "What scientific idea is ready for retirement?" posed to 175 of the world's greatest scientists, philosophers, and writers.
As Brockman explains it, few truly new ideas are developed without abandoning old ones first. And, as theoretical physicist Max Planck (1858-1947) noted, "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." ...
by Sam Roberts, New York Times Obituary
Barbara Strauch, a reporter and editor who wrote two books about the brain and directed health and science coverage for The New York Times for a decade, died on Wednesday at her home in Rye, N.Y. She was 63. ...
“Something quite serious has been lost,” she wrote in 2013 on the website Edge.org, an online discussion group. “And, of course, this has ramifications not only for the general level of scientific understanding, but for funding decisions in Washington — and even access to medical care. And it’s not good for those of us at The Times, either. Competition makes us all better.
Architecture and design give order and meaning to the spaces, changing the conception and, often, flipping it to its foundations.An idea of breaking it actually constitutes a solid basis for innovation. With the same momentum design school Domus Academy, founded the Metaphysical Club: a gathering of 15 thinkers with a multidisciplinary approach rigorously that has the task of indicating the guidelines to form the designers of tomorrow. ...
Founded at the request of the creative director Gianluigi Ricuperati, with the collaboration of Francesca Vargas, leader of the Master course in Interior Design & Living, the Club will meet several times a year to Milan to identify the themes that will guide the search and location of Domus Academy in the following months. The approach is inspired by the vibrant atmosphere of literary cafes and salon intellectuals of every time and place, and not the physical: the Parisian circles of late nineteenth century to the platform Edge.org [http://edge.org], the virtual space where scientists and scholars discuss openly of topics and themes disparate. Because every point of view is different from the other and why diversity should become the largest resource for teaching, rather than a limit.
Can the Apple Watch become a must-have accessory for the Bitcoin generation that views currency, forget a watch, as a quaint has-been? ...
Author and historian Yuval Noah Harari brutally likens computer games to a drug-addled brain in a conversation with Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, titled “Death Is optional”, for Edge.org. As robots and technology make us humans redundant, we will have no meaning in life, he says cheerily. We will solve our inner problems by clicking on digital gadgets. Many of us do that already, witness the slew of passengers who attack their anxiety by babbling into phones the minute the plane lands. What will happen with an always-on watch? I shudder to think. ...
Daniel Dennett wants to convince Tom Stoppard that there is no Hard Problem.
Dennett, on the other hand, thinks that we may have already solved the problem of consciousness with a coterie of small-scale, rather banal explanations. The non-mysterious ways in which the brain creates our sensory experience might be the only ingredients we need to explain how it is that we are aware of feeling something.
He expands on this possibility in his contribution to a new collection of essays at edge.org that asks the question: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” He chooses the Hard Problem (even though, he says, it isn’t actually a scientific idea) and suggests we should approach all of its difficulties in the same way as scientists approach extrasensory perception and telekinesis: as “figments of the imagination”. ...
Recommendations of recent books from the staffs of a rotating list of Bay Area independent bookstores. This week’s list is from Copperfields Books, Santa Rosa
A KIM JONG-IL PRODUCTION: THE EXTRAORDINARY TRUE STORY OF A KIDNAPPED FILMMAKER, HIS STAR ACTRESS, AND A YOUNG DICTATOR'S RISE TO POWER, by Paul Fischer: A jaw-dropping book about the former North Korean leader’s atttempt to boost the reputation of his country’s filmmaking industry.
THIS IDEA MUST DIE: SCIENTIFIC THEORIES THAT ARE BLOCKING PROGRESS, by John Brockman: Want a dinner party guaranteed to produce intense and lively conversation? Introduce Brockman’s book!
BETWEEN YOU AND ME: CONFESSIONS OF A COMMA QUEEN, by Mary Norris: This is a fabulous meandering ride through language, the pursuit of a good pencil and how best to say what you mean, from the New Yorker’s copy editor.
UNEXPECTED ART: SERENDIPITOUS INSTALLATIONS, SITE SPECIFIC WORKS AND SURPRISING INTERVENTIONS, by Jenny Moussa Spring: Imagine turning the corner toward the harbor in Auckland, New Zealand, to discover a 60-foot bright yellow rubber duck quietly floating there. This modest art book is full of astonishing, inventive and delightful art installations around the world.
#19—This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress (HarperPerennial) edited by John Brockman.
This Idea Must Die
Edited by John Brockman
(read by David Colacci and Susan Ericksen)
John Brockman's collection of writings shows that not only do new ideas triumph by replacing old ones, but also that new ideas respond to "new information made possible by new measurements", as Jared Diamond argues in one of 175 mini-essays from many of the world's most eminent brains. Linguist Steven Pinker joins novelist Ian McEwan, ethologist Richard Dawkins, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb and scores of others in presenting scientific theories that they believe must die because they are blocking progress. Some of these ideas are clearly dated, including those about IQ, race, nature vs nurture, and altruism. Those listening to narrators David Colacci and Susan Ericksen will probably jump around the book as they look for arguments justifying their own conclusions. Psychologist Adam Waytz will find supporters who feel Aristotle's aphorism that man is a social animal should be retired. Helen Fisher's thoughts on love and addiction will gain her an audience, as will Jane Gruber's ideas about so-called negative emotions such as sadness and fear.
Brain plasticity, godlessness, Malthusian notions - all should go according to the responses to John Brockman's latest question
THE physicist Max Planck had a bleak view of scientific progress. "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents..." he wrote, "but rather because its opponents eventually die."
This is the assumption behind This Idea Must Die, the latest collection of replies to the annual question posed by impresario John Brockman on his stimulating and by now venerable online forum, Edge. The question is: which bits of science do we want to bury? Which ideas hold us back, trip us up or send us off in a futile direction? ...
This Idea Must Die is garrulous and argumentative. I expected no less: Brockman's formula is tried and tested. Better still, it shows no sign of getting old.
Because a lot of ideas don’t die. They recede for a while–like Lamarck’s notion of the inheritance of acquired traits–and then insinuate their way back into scientific consciousness.
But that’s a minor complaint. Brockman’s new anthology, in which he asks a host of leading intellectuals what ideas should be consigned to the dustbin, is engaging. ...
ONE of the anxieties haunting the 21st century is a fear that technological change will soon make many human lives seem essentially superfluous.
It’s a fear as old as the Luddites, but the promise of computing, robotics and biotechnology has given it new life. It suddenly seems plausible that a rich, technologically proficient society will no longer offer meaningful occupation to many people of ordinary talents, even as it offers ever-greater wealth, ever-widening powers and, perhaps, ever-longer life to the elite.
That anxiety dominates the most provocative conversation you can eavesdrop on this week, between the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari on the website Edge.org. ...
We think of ISIS as anti-human, and we are right to. But what if the greater threat to humanity is not among the barbaric brigades of the Levant, but among the far more sophisticated barbarians at work in Silicon Valley? This discussion between economist Daniel Kahneman and historian Yuval Noah Harari is … illuminating on that question. ...
...Really and truly, read the whole thing [http://edge.org/conversation/yuval_noah_harari-daniel_kahneman-death-is-optional]. It’s important. Cosimanian Orthodoxy really is the religion of the future. Note well that Harari is not saying he wants these things to happen (though he might). He is saying that current trends are leading in this direction. ...
Are you an idea junkie? Of course you are! It’s exciting to hear about ideas, especially new ones. There’s a progression that happens when you hear a new idea – you run it through your brain, try to envision where it might lead. Who will benefit from this new idea? Who will it hurt? Will it be worth the cost? Is it legal; is it morally defensible? Is it, in fact, a good idea?
In our latest episode of Freakonomics Radio, we run that progression in reverse. Rather than asking if a new idea is a good one, we ask whether it’d be better if some of the ideas we cling to were killed off. The episode is called “This Idea Must Die.” ...
The episode is drawn from a fascinating book of the same name: This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress (Edge Question Series). It’s the latest edition in an annual series of books put out by the intellectual salon Edge.org and its ringleader John Brockman. ...
John Brockman has collected his “angels”: all of the many scientists, philosophers, psychologists, techno-geeks, and mathematicians that he either is an agent for or whom he simply knows, and posed to them a provocative question: “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” The results, in the form of 1-4 page mini-essays, are compiled in a new book,This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories that are Blocking Progress. You can buy it for only $11.81 on Amazon.
Although I’m not a fan of “idea anthologies” in general, this one is good, and well worth reading. For one thing, you’ll be surprised at the ideas that people say must be deep-sixed, including “Theories of everything” (Geoffrey West), “Entropy” (Bruce Parker), “Falsifiablity” (Sean Caroll, and I disagree with him), “Humans are by nature social animals” (Adam Waytz), “Mind versus matter” (Frank Wilczek), “Culture” (Pascal Boyer), and “The illusion of scientific progress” (Paul Saffo, whose essay I again disagree with). You can see the entire list of contributors, which number about 150) at the Amazon page, simply by clicking on the bookcover link here.
...For a mini-education in contrarian thinking in science, this book is essential.