"Imagine a painter who could, like Vermeer, capture the quality of light that a camera can, but with the color of paints. . . . She is at the forefront of a new wave in photography.". —Kevin Kelly, Executive Editor, Wired
HOW HAS KAHNEMAN'S WORK INFLUENCED YOUR OWN?
WHAT STEP DID IT MAKE POSSIBLE?
THE REALITY CLUB: Michael McCullough, June Gruber & Amy Cuddy, Xavier Gabaix & David Laibson, Gary Marcus, Christopher Chabris, Nicholas Epley, Jennifer Jacquet, Laurie Santos & Tamar Gendler, Jason Zweig, Mahzarin Banaji, Fiery Cushman, William Poundstone, Andrew Rosenfield, Cass Sunstein, Phil Rosenzweig, Richard Nisbett, Richard Thaler & Sendhil Mullainathan, Eric Kandel, Michael Norton, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Joshua Greene, Walter Mischel, Steven Pinker, Nicholas Christakis, Rory Sutherland
A new generation of artists, writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses, might create an abundance of new flowers and fruit and trees and birds to enrich the ecology of our planet. Most of these artists would be amateurs, but they would be in close touch with science, like the poets of the earlier Age of Wonder. The new Age of Wonder might bring together wealthy entrepreneurs ... and a worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders, working together to make the planet beautiful as well as fertile, hospitable to hummingbirds as well as to humans. —Freeman Dyson
In his 2009 talk at the Bristol Festival of Ideas, Freeman Dyson pointed out that we are entering a new Age of Wonder, which is dominated by computational biology. In articulating his vision for the future he noted that Edge is the nexus of this intellectual activity.
This "worldwide community of gardeners and farmers and breeders" has been getting together for an annual dinner since 1998. The dinner has had many names: "The Millionaires Dinner", "The Digerati Dinner", "The Billionaires' Dinner", "The Edge Science Dinner", "The Age of Wonder Dinner".
The industrial age had the nineteenth century Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal dinner club and learned society of leading cultural figures, natural philosophers, and industrialists, whose members included engineer James Watt, manufacturer, and his business partner Matthew Boulton (Boulton & Watt steam engines), physician and natural philosopher Erasmus Darwin, author and abolitionist Thomas Day, arms manufacturer Samuel Galton, Jr., chemist Joseph Priestly (discoverer of oxygen), potter Josiah Wedgewood, clergyman, natural philosopher, clock-maker John Whitehurst, botanist and geologist William Withering, and Benjamin Franklin. (Erasmus Darwin and Wedgewood were the grandfathers of Charles Darwin). The Society met each month near the full moon in each other's homes, and in venues such as Soho House, and Great Barr Hall. They referred to themselves as "lunarticks".
Edge, through its Master Classes, seminars, online activities, dinners, gathers together the third culture intellectuals and technology pioneers of the post-industrial, digital age. This year's dinner, held in Vancouver at the Blue Water Cafe, was no exception. The group, including founders of Microsoft, Google, Amazon, the father of the iPod, the inventor of the WYSIWYG word processor, people in art, photography, music, distinguished journalists and thinkers, was a remarkable gathering of outstanding minds. These are the people that are rewriting our global culture.
Some of the topics of conversation at the dinner included analog computation; neuromorphic computing; Nick Metropolis; when bad people are smart (speculating about Flight 370); the psychological pleasure of touching a historical artifact; gene expression patterns in the mouse brain; neuroscience-based understanding of human cognition; digitizing the human brain; space travel; Afonso Cuaron's movie Gravity; the outdated ISS space station; recovery of the Apollo 11 engines; the Superbowl; the Crimean crisis; brain waves and water; love in a warm place; art and danger; the nature of intuition; the inner workings of newspapers; animal interfaces for accessing internet; the role of luck in success; the design of interior configurations of private jets; the history and features of lighter-than-air ships; business models for broadcasting; love in a workplace; digital controls and state secrecy; research showing what produces happiness; how big a role luck plays in forming our destinies; the plasticity of the brain; how to develop your abs by surfing big waves; the marriage of youth and experience; and all generously lubricated by expensive wine and cheap gossip.
Vancouver, March 17, 2014
Alan Guth, a charter member of the Reality Club, came to New York in 1980, to give one of the first Reality Club talks. He presented his new theory on the early universe, which he had been working on for the past couple of years and had described earlier that year in a paper titled "The Inflationary Universe: A Possible Solution to the Horizon and Flatness Problems." It was a revolution in our understanding of the universe—a new theory that filled in the blanks left by earlier versions of the Big Bang theory. A few years later, Andrei Linde developed a version of Guth’s theory he refers to as Eternal Chaotic Inflation, which is now the most popular version of inflation.
Some thirty years later, I'm sitting in a hotel in Vancouver reading the news about what might turn out to be the most important scientific discovery of my lifetime: a possible direct confirmation of Guth's ideas. Using a radio telescope at the South Pole, John M. Kovac and his team of astronomers were able to glimpse the very early universe—capturing traces of light from 13.8 billion years ago. If their data are accurate, Guth was right.
Edge contributor and New York Times deputy science editor Dennis Overbye wrote about the developments in a story on the front page of Tuesday's New York Times: "...Inflation has been the workhorse of cosmology for 35 years, though many, including Dr. Guth, wondered whether it could ever be proved. ... If corroborated, Dr. Kovac’s work will stand as a landmark in science comparable to the recent discovery of dark energy pushing the universe apart, or of the Big Bang itself. It would open vast realms of time and space and energy to science and speculation."
How important is this development? MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark is quoted by Overbye as saying, "I think that if this stays true, it will go down as one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science." According to mathematical physicist Brian Greene, "If the results stand, they are a landmark discovery." Physicist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University, in a post on newyorker.com, wrote, "At rare moments in scientific history, a new window on the universe opens up that changes everything. Today was quite possibly such a day."
But nothing is more prescient than Guth's own talks from two Edge Eastover Farm events, in 2001 ("A Golden Age of Cosmology") and 2002 ("The Inflationary Universe"), and Linde's Edge interview in 2012 ("A Balloon Producing Balloons, Producing Balloons: a Big Fractal"). Continue below for EdgeVideo and texts.
On the road to Munich in January for DLD14, the 10th annual DLD conference (Digital-Life-Day) run by Steffi Czerny and Lukas Kubina for Hubert Burda Media. The theme this year: "Content and Context". It was the fifth time Edge has been asked to participate. (See below for links to our previous DLD co-events.)
This year the Edge conversation was on "information" from the Neandertal DNA sequenced by Svante Pääbo, the founder of the field of ancient DNA, to the multi-particle entanglement states of physicist Anton Zeilinger, which have become essential in fundamental tests of quantum mechanics and in quantum information science, most notably in quantum computation. In addition, Edge's roving editor, Jennifer Jacquet, was present for a session on "Time's Role in the Tragedy of the Commons" in which she developed themes in her work recently presented on Edge.
Information is the foundation of our universe—and life itself. Cultural impresario John Brockman hosts a Third Culture conversation, spanning science and the humanities.
SVANTE PÄÄBO the founder of the field of ancient DNA, is Director, Department of Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig. Among his achievements are the first demonstration of DNA survival in an ancient Egyptian mummy, the first amplification of ancient DNA, the first study of the DNA from the Iceman found in the Alps, and the first retrieval of DNA from a Neanderthal in 1997. Four years ago, he initiated and organized an effort to sequence the entire Neanderthal genome. The first scientific overview of the genome was published in 2009 and was front page news word-wide. He is the author of Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes. Svante Pääbo's Edge Bio Page
ANTON ZEILINGER, a physicist, is Professor of Physics at the Quantum Optics, Quantum Nanophysics, Quantum Information Institute of University of Vienna. He is President of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the author of Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation. Zeilinger is a pioneer in the field of quantum information and of the foundations of quantum mechanics. He realized many important quantum information protocols for the first time, including quantum teleportation of an independent qubit, entanglement swapping (i.e. the teleportation of an entangled state), hyper-dense coding (which was the first entanglement-based protocol ever realized in experiment), entanglement-based quantum cryptography, one-way quantum computation and blind quantum computation. His further contributions to the experimental and conceptual foundations of quantum mechanics include multi-particle entanglement and matter wave interference all the way from neutrons via atoms to macromolecules such as fullerenes. Anton Zeilinger's Edge Bio Page
Jennifer Jacquet: Times Role in the Tragedy of the Commons
How do tensions between individuals and groups play out? Between high-consuming people and low? Between the now and the future? Game theory offers answers.
JENNIFER JACQUET is Clinical Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, NYU, researching shame,cooperation and the tragedy of the commons. She is also Edge's Roving Editor (see interviews with Adam Alter and Joseph Heinrich).
Her work was recently featured on Edge after Nature Climate Change published a study by Jacquet and her colleagues at two Max Planck Institutes on "Delayed Gratification Hurts Cimate Change Cooperation". Jennifer Jacquet's Edge Bio Page
Every year, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman summons some of our eras greatest thinkers and unleashes them on one provocative question, whether its the single most elegant theory of how the world works or the best way to enhance our cognitive toolkit. This year, he sets out on the most ambitious quest yet, a meta-exploration of thought itself: Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction (public library) collects short essays and lecture adaptations from such celebrated and wide-ranging (though not in gender) minds as Daniel Dennett, Jonathan Haidt, Dan Gilbert, andTimothy Wilson, covering subjects as diverse as morality, essentialism, and the adolescent brain.
Thinking is excellent and mind-expanding in its entirety. Complement it with Brockman's This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, one of the best psychology books of 2012.
"For ... readers interested in keeping up with what serious thinkers are thinking about thinking, this book offers nourishing food for thought". —Kirkus Reviews
Contributors: Daniel C. Dennett, Philip Tetlock, Gerd Gigerenzer, Daniel Gilbert, Vilayanur Ramacahndran. Timothy D. Wilson, Sarah-Jane Blakemore, Bruce Hood, Simon Baron-Cohen, Gary Klein, Simon Schnall, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Alva Noë, Daniel L. Everett, Jonathan Haidt, Joshua Greene, Sam Harris, Roy Baumeister, Paul Bloo, Daivd Pizarro, Joshua Knobe, Daniel Kahneman
Think for a moment about a termite colony or an ant colony—amazingly competent in many ways, we can do all sorts of things, treat the whole entity as a sort of cognitive agent and it accomplishes all sorts of quite impressive behavior. But if I ask you, "What is it like to be a termite colony?" most people would say, "It's not like anything." Well, now let's look at a brain, let's look at a human brain—100 billion neurons, roughly speaking, and each one of them is dumber than a termite and they're all sort of semi-independent. If you stop and think about it, they're all direct descendants of free-swimming unicellular organisms that fended for themselves for a billion years on their own. There's a lot of competence, a lot of can-do in their background, in their ancestry. Now they're trapped in the skull and they may well have agendas of their own; they have competences of their own, no two are alike. Now the question is, how is a brain inside a head any more integrated, any more capable of there being something that it's like to be that than a termite colony? What can we do with our brains that the termite colony couldn't do or maybe that many animals couldn't do?
It seems to me that we do actually know some of the answer, and it has to do with mainly what Fiery Cushman was talking about—it's the importance of the cultural niche and the cognitive niche, and in particular I would say you couldn't have the cognitive niche without the cultural niche because it depends on the cultural niche.