As the founder and publisher of edge.org, a website devoted to great thinkers discussing the world’s greatest challenges, John Brockman has a pretty decent idea of what makes a person smarter.
Here, he’s collected ideas from many of today’s top thinkers—including Richard Dawkins, Daniel Kahneman and Kathryn Schulz, to name but a few—in one book, aptly named This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking. Brockman was kind enough to allow us to run a few passages from this collection that we called in a starred review, "a winning combination of good writers, good science and serious broader concerns." ...
At his online science salon Edge.org, John Brockman asked: What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive tool kit? He packed 150 answers from Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, and other leading thinkers into ``This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking'' (Harper Perennial). What's great about it is that in two to four pages a reader can learn a new concept, such as the Pareto Principle (the inevitable tendency for wealth and a variety of other things to be concentrated among the few), kakonomics (the widespread unconscious preference for mediocre outcomes), and apophenia (incorrectly finding patterns or connections in data that is actually random).
The website for years Edge.org meets many of the best scientists, artists, thinkers and technologists, all attentive to think the changes in knowledge and how to understand the world and life. As every year, the site invites them to answer a single question. The nearly 200 responses are an incredible display of wit, knowledge and sensitivity. And like every year, Radar read them and reproduced the 10 most remarkable and original to the question that opened in 2012: What's your favorite explanation deeper, beautiful or elegant? ...
At the beginning of every year, I count the minutes for the appearance of the annual question on Edge.org, the website Network Magazine has called "the world's intelligent site". And every year I tell friends about six responses from the more than 200 philosophers, writers, entrepreneurs and scientists. ... As in previous years, a collection of the answer will appear in a printed book and appear in stores ... it's still an extraordinary experience, and Free Online.
To the question 'How is the internet changing the way you think?' the right answer is 'Too soon to tell'. The deep changes will be manifested only when new cultural norms shape what the technology makes possible. - CLAY SHIRKY
... Some people will find ... an intellectual environment suited to their mental proclivities. Others will see a catastrophic erosion in the ability of humans to engage in more meditative modes of thought. Many likely will be somewhere between, worried about its long-term effects on the depth of individual intellect. - NICHOLAS CARR
...That site, www.edge.org, is a renowned intellectual salon attracting the best and the brightest minds, predominantly scientific, to an ongoing conversation about the ideas and innovations shaping the way we understand the world. ...The UK books are a year behind America's, so How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? dates from 2010. That doesn't make it any less fascinating, and for some, the book format increases their accessibility.
[Adapted from Alison Gopnik's essay] for www.edge.org, in response to the website's 2012 annual question: "What is your favorite deep, elegant or beautiful explanation?"
You can hear this faint alarm bell of anxiety ringing in the title of John Brockman's thought-provoking collection of essays, How Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? (Note the implication: the internet is moulding us, not the other way around.)...Thankfully, many of Edge's essayists violently disagree with each other. To some, the internet is "a work of genius, one of the highest achievements of the human species" (Richard Dawkins) and "the most human of technologies" (the historian Noga Arikha). To others, it is "the greatest detractor to serious thinking since the invention of the television" (the neurobiologist Leo Chalupa) and "nothing more... than a very useful, and very dumb, butler" (the neuroscientist Joshua Greene). .. The essays are peppered with insights. These include a theory that virtual cities will encourage states of psychosis, as real cities already do, and the observation that what we call old media (books, newspapers, television) are, in fact, very recent inventions, whereas websites based on communal sharing, such as Facebook, signal a return to prehistoric, tribal patterns of communication
She is intellectually fearless, deeply serious about science, personally effervescent and always curious. Her interests are environmental sustainability (particularly fish), the evolution and function of guilt, honour and shame, and the role of IT in shaping environmental action - all of which fall under a broad interest in the tragedy of the commons. ...
I was told some years ago that the reason why some species of sea turtles migrate all the way across the South Atlantic to lay their eggs on the east coast of South America after mating on the west coast of Africa is that when the behavior started, Gondwanaland was just beginning to break apart (that would be between 130 and 110 million years ago), and these turtles were just swimming across the narrow strait to lay their eggs. Each year the swim was a little longer—maybe an inch or so—but who could notice that? Eventually they were crossing the ocean to lay their eggs, having no idea, of course, why they would do such an extravagant thing.
And the answers do not disappoint. In fact, reinforce, if proof were still needed the deep sense of cultural path Edge: breaking the walls that traditionally separate scientific specialties and interdisciplinary approach to research in this time of great change, not only preference intellectual or fashionable slogan, but real preconditions for an exploration of the very sources of innovative knowledge.
... Science theories that explain puzzling human behavior or the inner workings of the universe were also particular favorites of the Edge contributors: Psychologist Alison Gopnik of the University of California, Berkeley, is partial to one that accounts for why teenagers are so restless, reckless and emotional. Two brain systems, an emotional motivational system and a cognitive control system, have fallen out of sync, she explains. ...
Chris Stringer, a leading scientist at theLondon Museum of Natural History, has been in the thick of human origins research for the last forty years.
Recently he was interviewed in a video for John Brockman’s Edge site. (It’s almost forty-five minutes long, but well worth watching in full.) A couple of points in his discussion there caught my interest.
Every January, John Brockman, the impresario and literary agent who presides over the online salon Edge.org, asks his circle of scientists, digerati and humanities scholars to tackle one question. ... The responses, released at midnight on Sunday, provide a crash course in science both well known and far out-of-the-box, as admired by the likes of Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, physicist Freeman Dyson and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
... many nominated ideas were not from those found in science courses taught in school or college. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University thinks the most beautiful idea to him would be emergence, in which complex phenomena almost magically comes into being from extremely simple components. For example, a human being arises from a few thousand genes. The intelligence of an ant colony - labor specialization, intricate underground nests comes from the seemingly senseless behavior of thousands of individual ants. He says that "Critically, there's no blueprint or central source of command and out of this emerges a highly efficient colony."
The concept of collective intelligence proposed by the science writer Matt Ridley goes in this direction: we live in a society centered on the cult of 'individual intelligence, the charisma and meritocracy, but the development of the human species was gregarious but guaranteed the ability to operate complex systems "networking", through the division of labor and the sharing of objectives.
Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Einstein's reinterpretation of the cosmos through general relativity and the idea that we live in one of an infinity of universes are some of the most elegant and beautiful human ideas, according to a group of the world's leading thinkers.
A sort of scientific-cultural online salon, Edge poses its annual big question to a select group of thinkers and publishes their responses. This year's essayists include biologist Richard Dawkins, geographer Jared Diamond and computer scientist David Gelernter. It all goes online at 12:01 a.m. Sunday morning. edge.org.
Perhaps without ever having encountered this volume, Peter Milligan mimics perfectly the dramas and the cogitations of those third-phase essays in Dangerous Idea in his recent Hellblazer Annual: Suicide Bridge. At its heart, what is truly dangerous about ideas, and what is the danger in these ideas spreading?