Edge in the News

Media Week [11.7.13]

In the excellent collection This Explains Everything, edited by John Brockman, two of the contributors provide an explanation for why this is easier said than done. David M Eagleman, a neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine, writes of "overlapping solutions", where the brain is not made up of separate parts that deal with different activities – ie. one area for language, another for face recognition etc. Instead, he says: "The deep and beautiful trick of the brain is more interesting. It provides multiple, overlapping ways of dealing with the world."

This is echoed by the psychology researcher Judith Rich Harris, who explains that this is the root reason for a good deal of the drama in our lives and our literature, movies, plays and soap operas. It is what leads one part of us to do something that another part of us knows is wrong.

Sprout.nl [10.28.13]

What ideas have changes in the Netherlands, or will in the future? Around 100 thinkers give their views in the recently published 'The Netherlands in Ideas'. Sprout presents a few contributions. 

Netherlands in ideas http://www.mavenpublishing.nl/boeken/nederland-in-ideeen/ is the first book of a series that Maven Publishing will publish each year with around 100 leading Dutch thinkers asking for short and sweet answer to one central question about the interface between science and society. The compilers, virologist Mark G and geneticist Tim van Opijnen, have copied a bit of the art of Edge.org http://www.edge.org , because it was high time for a Dutch counterpart. The question for the first edition: 'What idea, insight or innovation in the Netherlands has changed-or will so in the future?

The question has been answered by scientists, politicians, writers, journalists, and entrepreneurs.

Glas Slavonije [10.26.13]


...Science and science fiction work on different principles. You could not have the science to say Hey, I found this an important thing about the functioning of neurons in the brain that made me really sad! That would defeat the validity of the findings. Science is objective and devoid of emotion, and art relies on emotion. I respect science and scientists, as well as scientific discourse, and I could hardly say that the same person who writes a short story about landing on the moon also can build a machine that can really do that. But doesn't fiction sometime provide you with an idea that science later follows, such as in the case of a landing on the moon, first described in the novels of Jules Verne?

---Yes, it happens sometimes. Some things actually enter into the public discourse, even the scientific conversation, such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which today has become a common noun and is used in all areas of life. There is also the other side, like a web page on the Third Culture (Third Culture), led by John Brockman, where scientists put their findings into a social context, represent them through their writings, talk about the possible positive and negative impacts, the moral implications. ...

TheBlaze.com [10.4.13]


...university President Jo Ann Gora explored the FFRF’s complaint and determined that intelligent design should not be taught in sciences classes, as it is not embraced by the scientific community as holding valid theoretical value.

The BSU’s new rule is that faculty should not favor nor endorse one side of the faith debate over another. And that’s where the new allegations come into play.
The Discovery Institute disagreed with cracking down on the creationism taught in Hedin’s class and, rather than back away from the debate, the think tank decided to poke holes in courses it perceives as carrying water for atheistic theory.
As The Star Press reports, the conservative group penned a 10-page letter to Gora highlighting all of its areas of concern. One of the classes, “Dangerous Ideas,” is accused of inappropriately advocating secularism.
A description of the course textbook, “What Is Your Dangerous Idea?,” reads:
From Copernicus to Darwin, to current-day thinkers, scientists have always promoted theories and unveiled discoveries that challenge everything society holds dear; ideas with both positive and dire consequences. Many thoughts that resonate today are dangerous not because they are assumed to be false, but because they might turn out to be true.
What do the world’s leading scientists and thinkers consider to be their most dangerous idea? Through the leading online forum Edge (www.edge.org), the call went out, and this compelling and easily digestible volume collects the answers. From using medication to permanently alter our personalities to contemplating a universe in which we are utterly alone, to the idea that the universe might be fundamentally inexplicable, What Is Your Dangerous Idea? takes an unflinching look at the daring, breathtaking, sometimes terrifying thoughts that could forever alter our world and the way we live in it.
The Discovery Institute believes that the text’s contents are problematic.
“This completely one-sided book appears to be one long argument for atheism,” wrote Discovery Institute Vice President John West in his letter to the BSU president, according to the Press. “Indeed, its contributors declare that ‘Science Must Destroy Religion,’ that ‘There is no God, no Intelligent Designer; no higher purpose to our lives,’ and even that science should assume the role currently played by religion and that scientists should function as our ‘high priests.’”
Now, Gora will need to investigate this course as well to determine if the Discovery Institute’s concerns are valid. ...

Czech Radio VLTAVA [10.3.13]

In 1987, historian Russell Jacoby, in his book The Last Intellectuals, mourned the departure of a generation of public intellectuals and thinkers, that included, among others, the recently deceased Ralf Dahrendorf and people such as Václav Černý and Jan Patocka.
At the same time, however, he grieved over the domination of public space by cold academics. John Brockman on the other hand argues that the new public intellectuals in the early twenty-first century are the thinkers of the third culture, those scientists who, in accessible works, write about serious topics, such as the artificial self, natural selection, or syndromes of power and pride. The third culture calls for significant change. To what?
This issue is addressed Karel Hvížďala in his essay.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review [9.16.13]

The author of "The God Delusion" and "An Appetite for Wonder" doesn't care for "Pride and Prejudice": "I can't get excited about who is going to marry whom, and how rich they are."

What's the best book you've read so far this year?

I've been reading autobiographies to get me in the mood for writing my own and show me how it's done: Tolstoy (at one time my own memoir was to have been called, at my wife's suggestion, "Childhood, Boyhood, Truth"); Mark Twain; Bertrand Russell; that engaging maverick Herb Silverman; Edward O. Wilson, elder statesman of my subject. But the best new book I have read is Daniel Dennett's "Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking." A philosopher of Dennett's caliber has nothing to fear from clarity and openness. He is out to enlighten and explain, and therefore has no need or desire to language it up like those obscurantist philosophers, often of "Continental" tradition, for whom obscurity is valued as a protective screen, or even admired for its own sake. I once heard of a philosopher who gushed an "Oh, thank you!" when a woman at a party said she found his book hard to understand. Dennett is the opposite. He works hard at being understood, and makes brilliant use of intuition pumps (his own coining) to that end. The book includes a helpful roundup of several of his earlier themes, and is as good as its intriguing title promises.

Who are your favorite contemporary writers and thinkers?

I've already mentioned Dan Dennett. I'll add Steven Pinker, A. C. Grayling, Daniel Kahneman, Jared Diamond, Matt Ridley, Lawrence Krauss, Martin Rees, Jerry Coyne — indeed quite a few of the luminaries that grace the Edge online salon conducted by John Brockman (the Man with the Golden Address Book). All share the same honest commitment to real-world truth, and the belief that discovering it is the business of scientists — and philosophers who take the trouble to learn science. Many of these "Third Culture" thinkers write very well. (Why is the Nobel Prize in Literature almost always given to a novelist, never a scientist? Why should we prefer our literature to be about things that didn't happen? Wouldn't, say, Steven Pinker be a good candidate for the literature prize?)

The Daily News [9.16.13]

An organization promoting intelligent design is asking that Ball State review four professors teaching honors science courses.

The Discovery Institute sent a 10-page letter to the university on Sept. 10, in regards to President Jo Ann Gora's July 31 statement that intelligent design is not a scientific theory and should not be addressed in science courses. 
..."Discussions of intelligent design and creation science can have their place at Ball State in humanities or social science courses," Gora said in the statement. "However, even in such contexts, faculty must avoid endorsing one point of view over others."
In the new letter from the Seattle think-tank, "endorsing one point of view over others" is what they said some Ball State classes are doing.
...The letter focuses on Ranieri's single textbook for his course, "What is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable," edited by John Brockman, whom the Discovery Institute considers a prominent atheist. 
The Discovery Institute provides several selections from the book in its letter to Gora and the Board of Trustees, including the first paragraph from a chapter titled, "We are entirely alone."
... West said "What is Your Dangerous Idea?" is the only listed textbook for Ranieri's class, but there may be unlisted readings.  
"Maybe Professor Ranieri provides balance elsewhere in the course," West said. "He doesn't list any other specific readings in his syllabus, so we're asking [for an investigation]." ...


Elespectador,com [9.15.13]

Pinker is an intellectual and a psycholinguist, who has dedicated his professional life to know the human being and explain why we are as we are Generally, as a species, Because to try to know why we are as Individuals is impossible. He, himself, does not know why He studied psychology and not another subject, and why his life has taken the path it has taken. These are questions without good answers. Perhaps, as I said, some Opportunities tie with the skills one has, to Become the one you are. ...
His latest book, Already translated to Spanish, "The Better Angels of Out Nature", about he decline of violence and its implications, was written after the annual question answering proposed by Edge.org: state some Reasons for being optimist. Pinker found massive data and evidence to support the notion That violence in the world has Declined Dramatically, Whether we believe it or not. Deeply researched, as usual, he wrote a compelling and powerful book of over a thousand pages, a book that has Already been nominated for many awards. ...

The Berlin Review of Books [9.9.13]

...I could not agree more regarding the perverse effects that postmodernism has had on the humanities: tons of crappy theories, bad arguments, superficial historical recollections, paranoid political interpretations of major novels, untenable positions on basic biological facts, etc., all of which have been produced over the past 25 years or so in the name of a dubious  ideological agenda of "debunking" the deeply concealed motivations of the 'truth-producers', whose shameful aim is to serve the interests of powerful groups.

But the humanities are not just that. It is difficult to define exactly what a scholar in the humanities – or an "intellectual" (at least in the French and Italian sense) – is in contrast to a scientist, but it is clearly a different job. Let us try to identify some of the differences, a bit like in those 'spot the difference' puzzles, where kids have to find a number of variations between two images that initially seem exactly the same. ...

Innov'azione (Italy) [8.31.13]

Why communicate?

Although the foundation of every innovation is the desire to improve human life, progress is often experienced as a relentless horde of "barbarian invasion" (definition by Alessandro Baricco) that triggers feelings of powerlessness and mistrust . This is due to our inability to understand the phenomenon in progress, difficulties arising, in turn, by a double communicative deficits. On the one hand, in fact, it lacks an effective dialogue between the community of innovators and all of us. To innovate is not enough to enter service in the social fabric: it is essential to a "third culture" (John Brockman - www.edge.com), an approach such that all the protagonists of this paradigm shift meet in opportunities for debate. It is necessary that scientists comparing their case, their ideas and expectations in dialogue with us, avoiding the accumulation of knowledge in intellectual circles, encouraging the involvement of the younger generation, ensuring the succession of ideas, assessing the risks and issues related to 'advanced technology. Only by reconciling the scientific with the humanistic sphere, making the knowledge democratic, unified and accessible you can understand the meaning and direction of flow of innovations.

Andrés Roemer, CHRONICA.com.mex [8.30.13]

...The scientists of the third culture are able to transform knowledge into words and arguments palatable to an audience much broader than just a handful of professors at some universities. The audience for these scientists write is worldwide. And it is quite natural, because who would not want to know what moves to Earth, why we enjoy sex, what are the laws that govern nature, whether born or we do, why we think what we think, why we behave as we do, if there is freedom, if there is a god, if there is a soul, and so on. All these are questions not unlike what other philosophers and writers tried to answer, but the difference is in the approach: science.  ...

Christian Science Monitor [8.11.13]

...Along with the efficiencies and clever new applications that Big Data has yielded come big concerns about privacy. As science historian George Dyson noted in a recent article published in Edge.org, "If Google has taught us anything, it is that if you simply capture enough links, over time, you can establish meaning, follow ideas, and reconstruct someone's thoughts. It is only a short step from suggesting what a target may be thinking now, to suggesting what that target may be thinking next."

...Here's an easy prediction: Big Data is only going to get bigger. Every year, more sensors will produce more signals that will be more quickly analyzed. This will lead to more convenience. And more concern. Mr. Dyson – whose physicist father, Freeman Dyson, grappled with wondrous but fraught technologies such as nuclear energy – sums up the Big Data revolution this way: "Yes, we need big data, and big algorithms – but beware."

Book Journal [8.9.13]

How are the publishing houses sure halfway through 2013?

Non-fiction publishing houses Vantilt and Maven are both strongly up in the first half. ... " We're up 50 percent," says Sander Ruys, publisher of the young nonfiction Maven Publishing house. "Now it is true that we are a small publishing house, so if a few titles do well, we notice that right away. This Explains Everything, ed. by John Brockman, published in March, has sold 4,200 units sold. "Moreover, it is our first listing in the "Bestseller 60". It just opened at #57. " ... Ruys explains the success: "Our network is growing and we are still being discovered by journalists and booksellers who then enthusiastically set to work with us. On the other hand we know ourselves better and better which titles are doing well. Furthermore Maven's community is taking shape, thanks to the hiring of new employees. in early 2013 "The pre-read club grows, where people ahead of time reading our books and discuss. Our strategy is to grow a lively community where people speak about human behavior."

Virginia Heffernan, Yahoo News [8.2.13]

The disclosures of former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, who this week was granted temporary refugee status in Russia, suggest that the government has spent years tapping the very thoughts of Internet users, as George Dyson puts it in a recent essay on Edge.org.

It’s hard to believe that any citizen, apprised of his rights, would consent to having his mind regularly read by the government. So why did the Internet companies, through which we now externalize mental processes in the form of Web searches, e-commerce, and verbal and visual communication, so quickly sell us out? Why didn’t any one of the communication giants refuse, citing...well, citing anything, from the Bill of Rights to the Magna Carta to the law of the land to common sense?
Well, it seems one company did. ...

The Motley Fool [8.1.13]

Mark Twain says, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." In that spirit, here are 11 great books I've read lately that you should read, too.
This Will Make You Smarter: 150 New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, Various
Edge.org asked 150 of the world's smartest scientists to write a short (one or two page) article on a concept that will help average people think better. The authors are physicists, astronomers, and mathematicians, but each article is digestible to someone with no experience in these subjects. Every one is good. I could hardly put it down.

The Sunday Age (Australia) [7.14.13]

Chances are, you're scared of all the wrong things. This is because you likely suck at dealing with probability. But some people are pretty good at it. A bunch of scientists and mathematicians figured, for example, that a book titled This Will Make You Smarter is likely to attract more buyers than one with the more accurate title of ''A collection of short essays on useful old and new scientific concepts written by world leaders in their fields''. ...
This Will Make You Smarter, edited by John Brockman, Black Swan. 

Huffington Post [7.8.13]

...Alvin Toffler's Future Shock (1970) says it all. The meaning of his "Third Wave" was a rip-tide-undertow that would sweep maladaptive "societies and cultures aside." Toffler soothed the anxiety somewhat with "Society needs people who take care of the elderly, know how to be honest, compassionate, work in hospitals, and all kinds of skills that aren't just cognitive, they're emotional and affectional. You can't run a society on data and computers alone.

John Brockman picked up a thread from C.P. Snow's classic, The Two Cultures (1959) with his book The Third Culture (1996), giving meaning to a new generation of artists and scientists, who collectively sprinted off the blocks, carrying the Internet Revolution with them.

Stanley Kubric's A Space Odyssey (1968) changed the rules of engagement for probable futures. He co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur C. Clarke, who is best known for his visionary milestone Profiles of the Future (1962), which contributors to Wikipedia embarrassingly forgot to include in his writing career. ....


Motley Fool (Australia) [7.6.13]

Studies show that money does increase happiness. The latest research shows there’s not even a known satiation point — a higher income makes virtually everyone happier, although each additional dollar delivers less happiness than the one before it.

But we tend to overestimate money’s potential on our happiness by thinking of it out of context. Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics, writes in the book This Will Make You Smarter:

On average, individuals with high incomes are in a better mood than people with lower income, but the difference is about a third as large as most people expect. When you think of rich and poor people, your thoughts are inevitably focused on circumstances in which income is important. But happiness depends on other factors more than it depends on income.

Econ.BG (Bulgaria) [6.30.13]

The editors of intellectual site Edge.org decided to ask some of the most influential thinkers in the world - including physicists, neurologists and mathematicians—and ask them what they think are the most important scientific concepts in the modern era.

The outcome of the exercise is the book "This will make you smarter: New scientific concepts to improve thinking" —a collection of two hundred essays that describe the most important ideas to handle today and explore the world.

The Kyunghyang Shinmun [6.18.13]

Multimedia artist and literary agent American John Brockman, who has "the world's most exclusive address book", founded Edge Foundation in 1996, linking humanities, science, arts, business, and arranging exchanges to produce knowledge in the world. Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Nicholas Carr, are among Edge Foundation members.

Culture Shock is the second in the series of "Best of Edge" books. Writer and ciritc Evgeny Morozov notes that the influence of the Internet has been overestimated.
Surprisingly, computer scientists in the book write about the negative influence of the Internet. David Gelernter points to the low quality of information; Jaron Lanier complains about weaknesses in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. ...