Edge in the News

La Stampa [1.4.06]

Per quanto spaventevole e surreale possa apparire l'idea di ventiquattrore senza connessione alcuna, se non con i propri pensieri o con la mancanza dei suddetti, considerare la solitudine addirittura una minaccia per l'umanità così come la conosciamo sembrerebbe una provocazione. E infatti lo è. Sul filo del paradosso, così ha risposto il neurobiologo californiano Leo Chalupa alla domanda posta dalla rivista Edge: qual è, secondo lei, l'idea più pericolosa oggi in circolazione? Pericolosa non perché è falsa, ma perché potrebbe rivelarsi vera? Chalupa argomenta appunto che l'iper-informazione che ci bombarda è una forma di totalitarismo, serve a intasare l'attività neuronale, cioè a impedirci di pensare. E che un'intera giornata di solitudine sarebbe perciò eversiva: molti, pensando e ripensando, metterebbero in discussione la società in cui viviamo. ...

Andrian Kreye, Munich [1.4.06]

Who controls humans? God? The genes? Or nevertheless the computer? The on-line forum Edge asked its yearly question — and the answers raised more questions.

Once a year self-styled head of the Third Culture movement and New York literary agent John Brockman asks his fellow thinkers and clients a question, who publishes their answers every New Year's Day in his online forum edge.org. Thus Mr. Brockman fulfills the promise that is the basic principle of Third Culture.

The sciences are asking mankind's relevant questions he says, while the humanities busy themselves with ideological skirmishes and semantic hairsplitting. It is about having last words, which have never been as embattled as in the current context of post-ideological debates and de-secularization. That's why this year's question 'What is your dangerous idea' seemed unusually loaded. Since it's inception in 1998 the forum had mainly dealt with the basic questions of science culture per se. But maybe that's why this year the debate has brought out the main concerns of Third Culture more direct than in the years before.

'New Year's eve of dialogue' intellectual play and enjoy
THE HANKYOREH [1.4.06]
Read the full article →

Kyung Hang [1.3.06]

Global warming can be overcome himself. ??? ???? ??. Schools should be prohibited. ????? ???? ?? ??? ??. Must learn to love bacteria. ?? ??? ??? ? ??? ?? ? ??(The Edge)? ????, ??????, ???, ??????, ????, ?????? ? ????? ??? ??? ??? ?????? ?? ? ?? ?????. Headquartered in New York, the Internet magazine, The Edge (The Edge) by physicists, evolutionary biologists, philosophers, computer scientists, psychologists and other experts against science reporter, What is dangerous is the answer to water are. ? ??? ??·????? ??? ?3? ?? ??? ???? ??? ??? ?? ? ?? 1?1? ? ???? ????(www.edge.org)? ?? ??. The Edge emerged as the social and natural scientists Article 3 of the culture of the target members questions of the year every year on January 1 after throwing them in the webpage (www.edge.org) is carrying on. ????? ??? ?? ?? ????? ???? ??? ?? ????. Living in the modern era of uncertainty, the wisdom of a scholar is to give. ??? ?? 117?? ????. This year 117 people replied. ???? ??? ??, ????. Summary of typical responses, are introduce

Taipei Times [1.3.06]

Academics see gene cloning perils, untamed global warming and personality-changing drugs as presenting the gravest dangers for the future of civilization

Mankind's increasing understanding of the way genes influence behavior and the issue's potential to cause ethical and moral dilemmas is one of the biggest dangers facing society, according to leading scientists. The concerns were voiced as part of an exercise by the Web site magazine Edge, which asked more than 100 scientists and philosophers: "What is your dangerous idea?"

The responses were published online recently.

Craig Venter, founder of the J Craig Venter Science Foundation, said the genetic basis of personality and behavior would cause conflicts in society. He said it was inevitable that strong genetic components would be discovered at the root of many more human characteristics such as personality type, language capability, intelligence, quality of memory and athletic ability.

"The danger rests with what we already know: that we are not all created equal," he said.

It is an idea echoed by Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University.

"The human genomic revolution has spawned an enormous amount of commentary about the possible perils of cloning and human genetic enhancement. I suspect that these are red herrings. When people realize that cloning is just forgoing a genetically mixed child for a twin of one parent, and is not the resurrection of the soul or a source of replacement organs, no one will want to do it," he said.

"Likewise, when they realize that most genes have costs as well as benefits [they may raise a child's IQ but also predispose him to genetic disease], `designer babies' will lose whatever appeal they have," he added.

Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University, said our increased understanding of how our brains work would lead to difficult questions in defining morality.

"As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics," Dawkins said.

"When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?" he said.

 

Editorials [1.3.06]

...Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University, said our increased understanding of how our brains work would lead to difficult questions in defining morality.

"As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics," Dawkins said.

"When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?" he said. ...

The Hindu [1.2.06]

MANKIND'S INCREASING understanding of the way genes influence behaviour and the issue's potential to cause ethical and moral dilemmas is one of the biggest dangers facing society, according to leading scientists. The concerns were voiced as part of an exercise by the web magazine Edge, which asked more than 100 scientists and philosophers: "What is your dangerous idea?" The responses were published online on Sunday.

Craig Venter, founder of the J.Craig Venter Science Foundation, said the genetic basis of personality and behaviour would cause conflicts in society. He said it was inevitable that strong genetic components would be discovered at the root of many more human characteristics such as personality type, language capability, intelligence, quality of memory and athletic ability. "The danger rests with what we already know: that we are not all created equal," he said.

It is an idea echoed by Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University. "The human genomic revolution has spawned an enormous amount of commentary about the possible perils of cloning and human genetic enhancement. I suspect that these are red herrings.

"When people realise that cloning is just forgoing a genetically mixed child for a twin of one parent, and is not the resurrection of the soul or a source of replacement organs, no one will want to do it. Likewise, when they realise that most genes have costs as well as benefits [they may raise a child's IQ but also predispose him to genetic disease], `designer babies' will lose whatever appeal they have."

Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University, said our increased understanding of how our brains work would lead to difficult questions in defining morality.

"As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?"

Focus on environment

Other scientists chose to focus on people's relationship with the environment. Physicist Paul Davies puts forward the idea that our fight against global warming may be lost. "The idea of giving up the global warming struggle is dangerous because it shouldn't have come to this. Mankind does have the resources and the technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions. What we lack is the political will."

Samuel Barondes, a neurobiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, is concerned at the march of drugs that can control the behaviour of the brain. Medications such as Prozac have been used successfully for years to treat conditions from depression to more serious psychiatric illnesses. "Despite the testimonials and apparent successes, the sustained use of such drugs to change personality should still be considered dangerous," said Professor Barondes. "The real danger is that there are no controlled studies of the effects of these drugs on personality over the many years or even decades in which some people are taking them."

Royal Society president Martin Rees said the most dangerous idea was public concern that science and technology were running out of control. "Almost any scientific discovery has a potential for evil as well as for good; its applications can be channelled either way, depending on our personal and political choices; we can't accept the benefits without also confronting the risks. The decisions that we make, individually and collectively, will determine whether the outcomes of 21st century sciences are benign or devastating."

Professor Rees argues that the feeling of fatalism will get in the way of properly regulating how science progresses. "The future will best be safeguarded — and science has the best chance of being applied optimally — through the efforts of people who are less fatalistic." —

Slashdot [1.2.06]

Posted by ScuttleMonkey on Tuesday January 03, @11:27PM
from the shhh-it's-too-dangerous-to-talk-about-here dept.

GabrielF writes "Every year The Edge asks over 100 top scientists and thinkers a question, and the responses are fascinating and widely quoted. This year, psychologist Steven Pinker suggested they ask "What is your most dangerous idea?" The 117 respondents include Richard Dawkins, Freeman Dyson, Daniel Dennett, Jared Diamond -- and that's just the D's! As you might expect, the submissions are brilliant and very controversial." [...click here]

http://192.168.1.12/edge/?q=addedit-article&from=1&aid=6 [1.2.06]

"TechCrunch's Vivek Wadhwa has a great article that takes a look at difference between startups and "established" tech companies and what they each mean to the economy and innovation in general. Wadhwa examines statistics surrounding job creation and innovation and while big companies may acquire startups and prove out the business model, the risk and true innovations seems to be living at the startup level almost exclusively. 'Now let’s talk about innovation. Apple is the poster child for tech innovation; it releases one groundbreaking product after another. But let’s get beyond Apple. I challenge you to name another tech company that innovates like Apple—with game-changing technologies like the iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad. Google certainly doesn’t fit the bill—after its original search engine and ad platform, it hasn’t invented anything earth shattering. Yes, Google did develop a nice email system and some mapping software, but these were incremental innovations. For that matter, what earth-shattering products have IBM, HP, Microsoft, Oracle, or Cisco produced in recent times? These companies constantly acquire startups and take advantage of their own size and distribution channels to scale up the innovations they have purchased.'"
Link to Original Source

THE GUARDIAN [1.1.06]

Mankind's increasing understanding of the way genes influence behaviour and the issue's potential to cause ethical and moral dilemmas is one of the biggest dangers facing society, according to leading scientists. The concerns were voiced as part of an exercise by the web magazine Edge, which asked more than 100 scientists and philosophers: "What is your dangerous idea?". The responses were published online yesterday.

Craig Venter, founder of the J Craig Venter Science Foundation, said the genetic basis of personality and behaviour would cause conflicts in society. He said it was inevitable that strong genetic components would be discovered at the root of many more human characteristics such as personality type, language capability, intelligence, quality of memory and athletic ability. "The danger rests with what we already know: that we are not all created equal," he said.

It is an idea echoed by Steven Pinker, a psychologist at Harvard University. "The human genomic revolution has spawned an enormous amount of commentary about the possible perils of cloning and human genetic enhancement. I suspect that these are red herrings. When people realise that cloning is just forgoing a genetically mixed child for a twin of one parent, and is not the resurrection of the soul or a source of replacement organs, no one will want to do it. Likewise, when they realise that most genes have costs as well as benefits (they may raise a child's IQ but also predispose him to genetic disease), "designer babies" will lose whatever appeal they have."

Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University, said our increased understanding of how our brains work would lead to difficult questions in defining morality. "As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics.

"When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?"

Other scientists chose to focus on people's relationship with the environment. Physicist Paul Davies puts forward the idea that our fight against global warming may be lost. "The idea of giving up the global warming struggle is dangerous because it shouldn't have come to this. Mankind does have the resources and the technology to cut greenhouse gas emissions. What we lack is the political will."

Samuel Barondes, a neurobiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, is concerned at the march of drugs that can control the behaviour of the brain. Medications such as Prozac have been used successfully for years to treat conditions from depression to more serious psychiatric illnesses. "Despite the testimonials and apparent successes, the sustained use of such drugs to change personality should still be considered dangerous," said Professor Barondes. "The real danger is that there are no controlled studies of the effects of these drugs on personality over the many years or even decades in which some people are taking them."

Royal Society president Martin Rees said the most dangerous idea was public concern that science and technology were running out of control. "Almost any scientific discovery has a potential for evil as well as for good; its applications can be channelled either way, depending on our personal and political choices; we can't accept the benefits without also confronting the risks. The decisions that we make, individually and collectively, will determine whether the outcomes of 21st century sciences are benign or devastating."

Professor Rees argues that the feeling of fatalism will get in the way of properly regulating how science progresses. "The future will best be safeguarded - and science has the best chance of being applied optimally - through the efforts of people who are less fatalistic."

http://search.yahoo.com/404handler?src=news&fr=404_news&ref=http%3A//www.edge.or... [1.1.06]

What you will find emerging out of the 117 essays written in response to the 2006 Edge Question — "What is your dangerous idea?" — are indications of a new natural philosophy, founded on the realization of the import of complexity, of evolution. Very complex systems — whether organisms, brains, the biosphere, or the universe itself — were not constructed by design; all have evolved. There is a new set of metaphors to describe ourselves, our minds, the universe, and all of the things we know in it.

THE TIMES [1.1.06]

LET ME take you to The Edge. Or more specifically, www.edge.org, an intriguing little website set up by John Brockman, the literary agent in New York responsible for catapulting science writers such as the neuropsychologist Steven Pinker into the big time.

The cyber salon styles itself, with unabashed pomposity, as a purveyor of the Third Culture, a potpourri of current science, futurology and philosophy. An annual highlight is the Edge question, posed every January by Brockman to set the theme for the coming year. The 2006 teaser, announced yesterday, is this: what is your dangerous idea? Brockman describes it as “an idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?”.

The answers have already started rolling in (Edge contributors have a particular disdain for the divine, so they probably haven’t got much to do at this time of year), and how very provocative they are. Here is my pick of the crop:

Kevin Kelly, editor-at-large of Wired magazine, cautions that the preservation of anonymity, usually viewed as admirable in this identity-obsessed world, is not necessarily a good thing. “There’s a dangerous idea circulating that . . . it is a noble antidote to technologies of control . . . Privacy can only be won by trust, and trust requires persistent identity,” he writes. He points to the damage done to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia by its policy, now abandoned, of allowing anonymous sources to place information on its public records.

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the director of the Quality of Life Research Centre at Claremont Graduate University in California, argues that the simplicity of the free market cannot meet the complex needs of humankind. “The dangerous idea on which our culture is based is that the political economy has a silver bullet — the free market — that must take precedence over any other value, and thereby lead to peace and prosperity.

“It is dangerous because, like all silver bullets, it is an intellectual and political scam that might benefit some, but ultimately requires the majority to pay for the destruction it causes.” When health, the environment and public safety are eroded by the free market, he says, we should think carefully about allowing it to reign unchallenged.

  • THERE IS ONE dangerous idea that still trumps them all: the notion that, as Steven Pinker describes it, “groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments”. For “groups of people”, read “races”.

    With the advent of genetics, the tinkle of The Bell Curve, reviled for its thesis that whites are smarter than blacks, refuses to fade away. The idea of genetic racial difference — accepted for physical traits such as skin colour and hair texture — is discarded as irrelevant and even dangerous when applied to mental characteristics such as intelligence.

    A pair of academics trod this perilous territory recently, when they suggested that the disease-causing genes unique to Ashkenazi Jews — such as those responsible for Tay-Sachs disease and Gaucher disease — continue to be passed on because they offer a counter benefit: enhanced intelligence.

    Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran, from the University of Utah, cite circumstantial evidence for their theory: a handful of papers that link those same disease-causing genes to increased neural growth. This, they suggest, fits with the observation that Ashkenazis favoured “cognitively demanding” jobs, such as setting up businesses.

    The Bell Curve, incidentally, suggested that Ashkenazi Jews had the highest average IQ of any ethnic group. Einstein was an Ashkenazi (although it’s safe to assume he was so exceptional as to be untypical). The Utah academics, whose study has been denounced as “bullshit” by some commentators, point out that Jews — not necessarily Ashkenazi — punch well above their weight in the Nobel Prize league. They comprise 3 per cent of the American population but 27 per cent of US laureates.

    Of course, others confronted with genius do not invoke genes, brains and diseases — rather a cultural emphasis among Jewish parents on scholarship and academic achievement. What . . . pushy Jewish mothers nagging their precious sons to do well? Now there’s a dangerous idea.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article78... [1.1.06]

The cyber salon styles itself, with unabashed pomposity, as a purveyor of the Third Culture, a potpourri of current science, futurology and philosophy. An annual highlight is the Edge question, posed every January by Brockman to set the theme for the coming year. The 2006 teaser, announced yesterday, is this: what is your dangerous idea? Brockman describes it as “an idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?”.

The answers have already started rolling in (Edge contributors have a particular disdain for the divine, so they probably haven’t got much to do at this time of year), and how very provocative they are. Here is my pick of the crop:

Kevin Kelly, editor-at-large of Wired magazine, cautions that the preservation of anonymity, usually viewed as admirable in this identity-obsessed world, is not necessarily a good thing. “There’s a dangerous idea circulating that . . . it is a noble antidote to technologies of control . . . Privacy can only be won by trust, and trust requires persistent identity,” he writes. He points to the damage done to the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia by its policy, now abandoned, of allowing anonymous sources to place information on its public records.

Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, the director of the Quality of Life Research Centre at Claremont Graduate University in California, argues that the simplicity of the free market cannot meet the complex needs of humankind. “The dangerous idea on which our culture is based is that the political economy has a silver bullet — the free market — that must take precedence over any other value, and thereby lead to peace and prosperity.

“It is dangerous because, like all silver bullets, it is an intellectual and political scam that might benefit some, but ultimately requires the majority to pay for the destruction it causes.” When health, the environment and public safety are eroded by the free market, he says, we should think carefully about allowing it to reign unchallenged.

  • THERE IS ONE dangerous idea that still trumps them all: the notion that, as Steven Pinker describes it, “groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments”. For “groups of people”, read “races”.

    With the advent of genetics, the tinkle of The Bell Curve, reviled for its thesis that whites are smarter than blacks, refuses to fade away. The idea of genetic racial difference — accepted for physical traits such as skin colour and hair texture — is discarded as irrelevant and even dangerous when applied to mental characteristics such as intelligence.

    A pair of academics trod this perilous territory recently, when they suggested that the disease-causing genes unique to Ashkenazi Jews — such as those responsible for Tay-Sachs disease and Gaucher disease — continue to be passed on because they offer a counter benefit: enhanced intelligence.

    Henry Harpending and Gregory Cochran, from the University of Utah, cite circumstantial evidence for their theory: a handful of papers that link those same disease-causing genes to increased neural growth. This, they suggest, fits with the observation that Ashkenazis favoured “cognitively demanding” jobs, such as setting up businesses.

    The Bell Curve, incidentally, suggested that Ashkenazi Jews had the highest average IQ of any ethnic group. Einstein was an Ashkenazi (although it’s safe to assume he was so exceptional as to be untypical). The Utah academics, whose study has been denounced as “bullshit” by some commentators, point out that Jews — not necessarily Ashkenazi — punch well above their weight in the Nobel Prize league. They comprise 3 per cent of the American population but 27 per cent of US laureates.

    Of course, others confronted with genius do not invoke genes, brains and diseases — rather a cultural emphasis among Jewish parents on scholarship and academic achievement. What . . . pushy Jewish mothers nagging their precious sons to do well? Now there’s a dangerous idea.

Alok Jha, http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2006/jan/02/genetics.research [1.1.06]

Mankind's increasing understanding of the way genes influence behaviour and the issue's potential to cause ethical and moral dilemmas is one of the biggest dangers facing society, according to leading scientists. The concerns were voiced as part of an exercise by the web magazine Edge, which asked more than 100 scientists and philosophers: "What is your dangerous idea?". The responses were published online yesterday.

Craig Venter, founder of the J Craig Venter Science Foundation, said the genetic basis of personality and behaviour would cause conflicts in society. He said it was inevitable that strong genetic components would be discovered at the root of many more human characteristics such as personality type, language capability, intelligence, quality of memory and athletic ability. "The danger rests with what we already know: that we are not all created equal," he said.

Boing Boing [12.31.05]

Each year, John Brockman at Edge.org asks some of the brightest minds in science and technology to consider one question. This year: What is your dangerous idea?

The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

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.

Here is U.C. Davis neurobiologist Leo M. Chalupa's dangerous idea:

# A 24-hour period of absolute solitude

Our brains are constantly subjected to the demands of multi-tasking and a seemingly endless cacophony of information from diverse sources. Cell phones, emails, computers, and cable television are omnipresent, not to mention such archaic venues as books, newspapers and magazines.

This induces an unrelenting barrage of neuronal activity that in turn produces long-lasting structural modification in virtually all compartments of the nervous system. A fledging industry touts the virtues of exercising your brain for self-improvement. Programs are offered for how to make virtually any region of your neocortex a more efficient processor. Parents are urged to begin such regimes in preschool children and adults are told to take advantage of their brain's plastic properties for professional advancement. The evidence documenting the veracity for such claims is still outstanding, but one thing is clear. Even if brain exercise does work, the subsequent waves of neuronal activities stemming from simply living a modern lifestyle are likely to eradicate the presumed hard-earned benefits of brain exercise.

My dangerous idea is that what's needed to attain optimal brain performance — with or without prior brain exercise — is a 24-hour period of absolute solitude. By absolute solitude I mean no verbal interactions of any kind (written or spoken, live or recorded) with another human being. I would venture that a significantly higher proportion of people reading these words have tried skydiving than experienced one day of absolute solitude.

 

Link to complete list of respondents, and their answers.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-brockman/the-edge-annual-question_b_13106.htm... [12.31.05]

The composer John Cage leaned across the table and handed me a copy of Cybernetics by Norbert Wiener. The year was 1966. We were at a weekly dinner gathering of young artists at the townhouse of Fluxus pioneer Dick Higgins. Cage would cook a meal--a mushroom dish--and we would sit around discussing his latest ideas.

I had been invited to meet with Cage because of my work on The Expanded Cinema Festival at Film-maker's Cinematheque in New York, a month-long program in late 1965 of performances by artists, dancers, poets, film-makers, and “happenings” performers, the connecting thread being the incorporation of cinema into their work.

Painter Robert Rauschenberg mounted a kinetic collage, a living version of his famous art pieces of the 1960s. Sculptor Claes Oldenburg presented an oddly designed movie projector that looked like the sphinx, placed it on the stage and projected light onto the audience. Video artist Nam June Paik, standing on a step-ladder behind a large opaque screen, over a period of hours, slowly cut out an ever-widening square revealing more of himself to the audience. I was sitting next to the artist Joan Miró, who was in town for a dinner in his honor that evening at the Museum of Modern Art. Despite the curator’s pleadings, Miró refused to budge and sat through the entire performance.

It was during this period that I first became cognizant of science. The artists, unlike their literary counterparts, were avidly interested in, and reading, the scientists. I started reading books by physicists Jeans, Eddington, Einstein, and poets such as Wallace Stevens, who had deep insights into ideas in the sciences. I received an invitation to meet with Marshall McLuhan. I recall that we talked a lot about his theme that art can serve as a beacon — a distant early warning system that can tell the old culture what is beginning to happen, to interpret what scientists are doing. The value was not in explanation, or the popularizing of science; rather, it was in description, rendering visible the questions the scientists were asking.

Twenty-seven years later, in 1992, in an essay entitled "The Emerging Third Culture," I put forth the following argument:

Telegraph.co.uk [12.31.05]

The Earth can cope with global warming, schools should be banned and we should learn to love bacteria. These are among the dangerous ideas revealed by a poll of leading thinkers.

John Brockman, the New York-based literary agent and publisher of The Edge website posed the question: what is your dangerous idea? in reference to a controversial book by the philosopher Daniel Dennett that argued that Darwinism was a universal acid that ate through virtually all traditional beliefs.

Brockman received 116 responses to his challenge from Nobel laureates, futurists and creative thinkers. These were among them:

The evolution of evil

When most people think of stalkers, rapists, and murderers, they imagine crazed, drooling monsters with maniacal Charles Manson-like eyes. The calm, normal-looking image staring back at you from the bathroom mirror reflects a truer representation.

The danger comes from people who refuse to recognize that there are dark sides of human nature that cannot be wished away by attributing them to the modern ills of culture, poverty, pathology or exposure to media violence.

The danger comes from failing to gaze into the mirror and come to grips with the capacity for evil in all of us.

David Buss, Psychologist, University of Texas, Austin

Our planet is not in peril

Environmental crises are a fundamental part of the history of the earth: there have been dramatic temperature excursions, severe glaciations, vast asteroid and comet impacts. Yet the earth is still here, unscathed. And yet many people in the various green movements feel compelled to add on the notion that the planet is in crisis, or doomed; that all life on earth is threatened. The most important thing about environmental change is that it hurts people; the basis of our response should be human solidarity. The planet will take care of itself.

Oliver Morton, Chief news and features editor at Nature

Let's stop beating Basil's car

Basil Fawlty, television's hotelier from hell, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down. He seized a branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Has it run out of petrol?

Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Fawlty?

Isn't the murderer just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective genes? Why do we vent hatred on murderers when we should regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? We shall grow out of this and learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Fawlty.

Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary biologist, Oxford University

Biotechnology will be domesticated in 50 years

This means cheap tools and do-it-yourself kits for gardeners to design roses, and for animal-breeders to design lizards and snakes. It means biotech games for children, like computer games but with real eggs and seeds.

There are two dangers. First, smart kids and malicious grown-ups will find ways to convert biotech tools to the manufacture of lethal microbes.

Second, ambitious parents will find ways to apply the tools to the genetic modification of babies.

The unanswered question is, whether we can regulate domesticated biotechnology so that it can be applied to animals and vegetables but not to microbes and humans.

Freeman Dyson, Physicist, Institute of Advanced Study

Bacteria are us

Our sensibilities, our perceptions that register through our sense organ cells evolved directly from our bacterial ancestors. Yet our culture's terminology about bacteria is that of warfare: they are germs to be destroyed.

We load our soaps with anti-bacterials; stomach ulcers are now agreed to be caused by bacterial infection. Even if some admit the existence of "good" bacteria in soil or probiotic food, few of us tolerate the dangerous notion that human sperm tails and sensitive cells of nasal passages lined with waving cilia are former bacteria.

If this idea becomes widespread it follows that we humans must agree that, even before our evolution as animals, we have tried to kill our ancestors. Again, we have seen the enemy and, as usual, it is us. Social interactions of sensitive bacteria, then, not God, made us who were are.

Lynn Margulis, Biologist, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

The posterior probability of any particular God is small

You can't in any logical system I understand disprove the existence of God, or prove it for that matter. But in the probability calculus I use, He is very improbable.

Philip Anderson, Princeton University, Nobel laureate

Science must destroy religion

Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us incapable of criticising ideas that are now patently absurd and increasingly maladaptive. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality.

In the spirit of religious tolerance, most scientists keep silent when they should be blasting the hideous fantasies of a prior age with all the facts at their disposal.

Sam Harris, University of California, Los Angeles

Science encourages religion in the long run (and vice versa)

Ever since Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, scientists and secularly-minded scholars have been predicting the ultimate demise of religion.

But, if anything, religious fervour is increasing across the world. An underlying reason is that science treats humans and intentions only as incidental elements in the universe, whereas for religion they are central.

Science is not well-suited to deal with people's existential anxieties, including death, deception, loneliness or longing for love or justice. It cannot tell us what we ought to do, only what we can do.

Religion thrives because it addresses people's deepest emotional yearnings.

Scott Atran, Anthropologist, University of Michigan

School is bad for children

Schools are structured today in much the same way as they have been for hundreds of years. Schools should simply cease to exist as we know them.

The Government needs to get out of the education business and stop thinking it knows what children should know and then testing them constantly to see if they regurgitate whatever they have been spoon-fed.

We need to stop producing a nation of stressed-out students who learn how to please the teacher instead of pleasing themselves.

We need to produce adults who love learning, not adults who avoid all learning because it reminds them of the horrors of school.

We need to stop thinking that all children need to learn the same stuff. We need to create adults who can think for themselves.

Call school off. Turn them into apartments.

Roger Schank, Chief learning officer, Trump University

Free will is exercised unconsciously

By observing another person's brain activity, one can predict what someone is going to do before he is aware that he has made the decision to do it.

This finding has caused -philosophers to ask: if the choice is determined in the brain unconsciously before we decide to act, where is free will?

Are these choices predetermined? Is our experience of freely willing our actions an illusion, a rationalisation after the fact? Is one to be held responsible for decisions that are made without conscious awareness?

Eric Kandel, Columbia University, Nobel laureate

Science may be 'running out of control'

Public opinion surveys (at least in the UK) reveal a generally positive attitude to science.

However, this is coupled with widespread worry that science may be "running out of control".

Whether this idea is true or false, it's an exceedingly dangerous one because it engenders pessimism, and de-motivates efforts to secure a safer and fairer world.

The future will best be safeguarded - and science has the best chance of being applied optimally - through the efforts of people who are less fatalistic.

Lord Rees, President, the Royal Society

Revealing the genetic basis of personality and behaviour will create societal conflicts

We attribute behaviours in other species to genes but when it comes to humans we seem to like the notion that we are all created equal, that each child is a "blank slate".

But it will inevitably be revealed that there are strong genetic components associated with most aspects of human existence, including personality sub-types, language capabilities, mechanical abilities, intelligence, sexual activities and preferences, intuitive thinking, quality of memory, willpower, temperament, athletic abilities, and so on.

The danger rests with what we already know: that we are not all created equal.

Leo M. Chalupa, http://www.boingboing.net/2006/01/01/edgeorg_annual_quest.html [12.31.05]

The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

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.

ARTS & LETTERS DAILY [12.31.05]

Science can be a risky game, as Galileo learned to his cost. NowJohn Brockman asks over a hundred thinkers, “What is your most dangerous idea?”... more»

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