"The most stimulating English-language reading to be had from anywhere in the world."
Every year the Edge resulting collection of answers/ideas (previous questions tackled have included What Is Your Dangerous Idea? What Are You Optimistic About? and What Have You Changed Your Mind About, And Why?) seems the most stimulating English-language reading to be had from anywhere in the world. ... I mention all this because what's so refreshing about the essays of the Magnificent 155 is that their worries are, mostly, very big worries. ... I commend them as role models for those Canberrans who waste their Letters to the Editor on their teeny-weeny, First World, bourgeois NIMBY worries. What if Summernats makes some noise? What if a new floodlight pylon alters the view we've grown used to? What if we have to pay for plastic shopping bags? What if arrogant cyclists stray, outrageously into our driving lanes? What if the government leaves the grass unmown and untidy? ... Here, at edge.org, entertainingly discussed, are the sorts of worries that really matter, worries about the whole planet, our whole species, about the wider world beyond our suburbs and our narcissistic suburban selves.
All these kinds of pedestrian worries are horrible enough, but the Edge list makes it clear that we haven't considered all the delicious possibilities out there.
I had no idea, for example, that I needed to be worried about "data disenfranchisement," as David Rowen, the editor of Wired UK, suggests, or the end of what Adam Alter calls "hardship inoculation."
I was amazed at how many smart people (psychologist Susan Blackmore, MIT researcher David Dalrymple, roboticist Rodney A. Brooks) were worried about robotics. While I have wasted far too much time worrying about "men," just as biological anthropologist Helen Fisher did in the survey, and "stress," as aggregator Arianna Huffington responded, I don't think we are talking about the same things.
As is the case every year, Edge.org, the prestigious site disclosure and debate, throws down the gauntlet to his question of the year: what should we care? From his website, whose identity definition reads: "To reach the bank of knowledge of the world, look for more complex and sophisticated minds, reúnalas in a room, and have to question each other the questions that are being raised" - the aristocracy of thought, science, philosophy or art takes stock of the concerns of our time, presenting an assortment of Gordian knots. And there is more shade than is pinched inside the question: we care about the concern. community today lives with the feeling that his days are no longer a blank canvas to fill, not even moral competition coup and epistemological. ...
...We are serious fans of his work. And if his recent comments about the potential risks of greater-than-human artificial intelligence—or lack thereof—are any indication, he's itching to start a giant fight among futurists. ... Sterling made his remarks in the current manifestation of the Edge's annual Big Question. This year, editor John Brockman asked his coterie of experts to tell us what we should be most worried about. In response, Sterling penned a four paragraph article saying that we shouldn't fear the onset of super AI because a "Singularity has no business model."
The musician Brian Eno looks with fear to the fact that intelligent people increasingly distance themselves from politics: "The most intelligent people I know do not want anything to do with politics. ... Avoid politics like the plague [...] We expect you handle it when other people and these people make mistakes we complain. We believe that our responsibility to stop at the ballot box and there are people who come to us even the ballot box." ... Kate Jeffrey, a professor of behavioral neuroscience is concerned that more and more people die in the years ahead: "The extension of the duration of human life is often claimed in the media and is never questioned." ... The tax and astronomer Gregory Benford afraid that human beings become like "mice blocked on the spherical surface of our world, where we will be even more trapped."
... Kevin Kelly thinks we should worry about the "underpopulation bomb" - the first time in human history to experience a diminishing number of young people combined with an increasing number of robots. ... Paul Saffo worries about a coming fight between two extreme classes he calls "engineers" and "druids", basically optimists and pessimists respectively who either want to use technology or ban technology. "Druids fear that robot cars are unsafe; Engineers wonder why humans are allowed to drive at all." Andy Clark says we don't need to worry about Super-AIs ruling the world, unless they get culture first. That's just a sampling of the many references to robots, robotics, and machine intelligence. As it has been in past years, the full set of responses is well worth a read for anyone with an interest in the future of the world.
China at home
John Brockman’s Edge question for 2013 asks more than 150 intellectuals, “What should we be worried about?”... more»
The Edge Question again is not any question, but the question asked annually since 1998 by the bustling New York literary agent John Brockman to a circle of the most prestigious researchers and intellectuals in the world (who are mostly from English-speaking countries). A year ago, the Question was: "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" ...
...There perhaps seems to be a little too much science fiction in the game and too little politics. It is then, in one of the surprises that make Edge, that the pop star Brian Eno presents a response that is one of the shortest and most elegant, but perhaps the most disturbing: "Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague—like Edge avoids it, in fact. ...We expect other people to do it for us, and grumble when they get it wrong. We feel that our responsibility stops at the ballot box, if we even get that far. After that we're as laissez-faire as we can get away with. ... What worries me is that while we're laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing."
This week's question came Annual Edge . The suggested science historian George Dyson: "What should concern us?". The answers make up an interesting catalog of contemporary concerns ...
"Those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world fret too much about minor hazards of everyday life: improbable air crashes, carcinogens in food, and so forth. But we are less secure than we think. We should worry far more about scenarios that have thankfully not yet happened – but which, if they occurred, could cause such world-wide devastation that even once would be too often.
"Much has been written about possible ecological shocks triggered by the collective impact of a growing and more demanding world population on the biosphere, and about the social and political tensions stemming from scarcity of resources or climate change. But even more worrying are the downsides of powerful new technologies: cyber-, bio-, and nano-. We're entering an era when a few individuals could, via error or terror, trigger a societal breakdown with such extreme suddenness that palliative government actions would be overwhelmed....
From "2013: What should we be worried about?" at edge.org
"...fun and inspirational collection of brief essays...that present wonderful explanations of the world around us. The result is 150 brief essays that present wonderful explanations of the world around us. The authors include Richard Dawkins, Eric Kandel, Alan Alda, and Brian Eno; all have something worthwhile to contribute. VERDICT This engaging collection can be read from cover to cover or browsed as interest dictates, but all inquisitive readers will enjoy it. Highly recommended."
This time the Question is: What should concern us? began 2013. It's hot. The economic situation is not easy for most. Is this what disturbs us or ... what may happen to future generations with the world we are creating? Are there concerns concerns? For the unemployed, their situation. For the debtor's account arrives, hungry for what and when is your next course, for some the last iPhone or fashionable shoe. Ultimately, what should concern us? Do you immediately or ... the farthest? Did staff or the collective? What worries the rich, how poor, one country or another?
... This year, that query was "What Should We Be Worried About?", and the idea was to identify new problems arising in science, tech, and culture that haven't yet been widely recognized.
This year's respondents include former presidents of the Royal Society, Nobel prize-winners, famous sci-fi authors, Nassem Nicholas Taleb, Brian Eno, and a bunch of top theoretical physicists, psychologists, and biologists. And the list is long. Like, book-length long. There are some 150 different things that worry 151 of the planet's biggest brains. And I read about them all, so you don't have to: here's the Buzzfeedized version, with the money quote, title, or summary of the fear pulled out of each essay. Obviously, go read the rest if any of the below get you fretting too.
What keeps the smartest folks in the world awake at night? Here goes:
1. The proliferation of Chinese eugenics. – Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist.
2. Black swan events, and the fact that we continue to rely on models that have been proven fraudulent. – Nassem Nicholas Taleb
3. That we will be unable to defeat viruses by learning to push them beyond the error catastrophe threshold. – William McEwan, molecular biology researcher
4. That pseudoscience will gain ground. – Helena Cronin, author, philospher
5. That the age of accelerating technology will overwhelm us with opportunities to be worried. – Dan Sperber, social and cognitive scientist ...
Each year, literary über-agent and big idea wrangler John Brockman of Edge.orgposes a new question to an assortment of scientists, writers, and creative minds, and publishes a selection of the responding essays. This year's question, which came fromGeorge Dyson, is "What *Should* We Be Worried About?"
We worry because we are built to anticipate the future. Nothing can stop us from worrying, but science can teach us how to worry better, and when to stop worrying.
Many people more interesting than me responded—here are the 2013 contributors, and the list includes some amazing minds: Brian Eno, Daniel Dennett, Esther Dyson, George Dyson, David Gelernter, Danny Hillis, Arianna Huffington, Kevin Kelly, Tim O'Reilly, Martin Rees, Bruce Schneier, Bruce Sterling, Sherry Turkle, and Craig Venter, to name just some. And here's an index of all the essays this year.
Following is the full text of my contribution, "Science Has Not Brought Us Closer To Understanding Cancer."
...This year, Brockman’s panelists (myself included) agreed to take on the subject of what we should fear. There’s the fiscal cliff, the continued European economic crisis, the perpetual tensions in the Middle East. But what about the things that may happen in twenty, fifty, or a hundred years? The premise, as the science historian George Dyson put it, is that “people tend to worry too much about things that it doesn’t do any good to worry about, and not to worry enough about things we should be worrying about.” A hundred fifty contributors wrote essays for the project. The result is a recently published collection, “What *Should* We Be Worried About?” available without charge at John Brockman’s edge.org. ...\
The discussion is seeded with contributions from dozens of philosophers, futurists, academics, writers, artists and scientists. They don't warn of topical issues of the day — such as gun control or government debt or whatever is in the headlines right now.
They are thinking a little ahead. ... Such as this from biologist and author Colin Tudge: Science, in short, is in danger of losing its integrity and its intellectual independence—of becoming the handmaiden of big business and the most powerful governments. ... And this from journalist and author David Berreby: What worries me is the ongoing "greying" of the world population, which is uneven globally but widespread. It is not "on the radar" (except for occasional gee-whiz news stories and narrow discussions about particular problems for this or that trade).
The Edge web-site annual question feature is out today, with this year’s question What *Should* We Be Worried About?. I wrote something about the “Nightmare Scenario” that HEP is facing if the LHC finds a Standard Model Higgs and nothing else. ... Others addressed the same issue, with Lisa Randall writing: "In my specific field of particle physics, everyone is worried. I don’t say that lightly. I’ve been to two conferences within the last week where the future was a major topic of discussion and I’m at another one where it’s on the agenda." ... Amanda Gefter sees no reason to worry. Particle theorists will just move to making progress without experiment, through studying paradoxes of the current theory, with her final example for optimism the recent debate over the “firewall paradox”. ... Carlo Rovelli’s contribution explains one problem with this: humans are very good at convincing themselves they have found some wonderful explanation of something (e.g. some resolution of a paradox, like the supposed SUSY solution to the hierarchy problem), when reality actually involves something quite a bit more subtle and unexpected . . . [58 comments]
Just when we were patting ourselves on the back for eluding the end of the world and avoiding the fiscal cliff, the folks at The Edge have let loose a flood of new things to worry about. ... Every year Edge.org poses an Annual Question to dozens of scholars, scientists, writers, artists and thinkers. The respondents this year include the reasonably famous, such as Arianna Huffington, Steven Pinker, Brian Eno, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and 13.7's own Stuart Kauffman, as well as the not so famous (like me). ... The 2013 question is: "What should we be worried about?" Respondents were urged to raise worries that aren't already on the public radar, or to dispel those that are....
Among the other responses, I noticed a number with the post-rational theme that we ought to worry about the ways we worry—because of the way our minds are organized, these writers think, we can't fret about the right things, even as we wear ourselves into a frazzle about the wrong ones.
For instance, Dan Sperber worries that we generally worry in ways that are futile but wasteful of our limited time and energy.
Another "meta" theme this year is the unexamined consequences of the human race's process of taming itself. For instance, Scott Atran worries that the rich variety of human experience is turning into one homogenized global beige, the way that the planet's rich diversity of edible plants has been crowded out by a few monocultures. And Nicholas Humphrey worries about the ease with which people now access any knowledge they seek.
I was also struck by Alison Gopnik's worry about our misplaced notions of childrearing, which causes people to worry about inconsequential things (which way the stroller faces, which form of "sleep training" to use) while missing the consequential ones (like the fact that so many American children grow up in poverty, thus missing out on the "long, protected, stable childhood" that best serves a developing human being). That one ties together the threads of misplaced anxiety, reliance on technology, and the effects of today's experiences on tomorrow's people. It also is one of those mind-altering posts which causes you wonder "how could I have not seen that?"
All in all, it's a stimulating collection. Well worth a look.
A (ambitious) recipe practiced by Brockman since 1996, after a period of contacts, meetings and dialogues with the guru of the "new knowledge", the most advanced frontiers of science, technology, philosophy, when brought together in a virtual room a hundred the likes of Murray Gell-Mann, Freeman Dyson, Martin Rees, Niles Eldredge, Paul Davies, John Barrow, Jared Diamond — to name but a few - asking them the question: "What questions are you asking youirself?".
This led to edge.org and soon the "room" has become an apartment and then a palace from which pass the best brains that Brockman is able to intercept and willingly agree to talk to each other and to the public the content of these dialogues . Cornerstone of the initiative - and that is the common thread of what would otherwise be (and in part) only a juxtaposition of extravagant opinions - are precisely the questions that initial took the form of "annual question," which launches Brockman beginning of each year and that over the months you will find answers, more or less agree, the new intellectuals of the third culture.
Just yesterday, on time in advance via Twitter, has been entrusted to the web application of 2013: "What should we be worried about?", Pointing out that the answers must indicate the "scientific reasons" concerns and confirming our impression that the type and the tone of these questions would be discussed.
Insomniacs will have plenty of fodder to fuel their sleeplessness after reading What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night.
...Fifty years ago, nuclear annihilation might have topped the list. War is a bit player here, with a cheery nod from Steven Pinker, who basically tells us there’s not much to worry about (but offers prescient speculation about an aging Putin bent on regaining a former Soviet republic or two).
No, what we should be worrying about is superstition, fundamentalism, anti-scientific bias, the dumbing-down of just about everything–including ourselves–and the pervasive, addictive presence of the Internet.
But I found comfort in the 21-word, haiku-like entry from screenwriter and former Monty Python troupe member Terry Gilliam: "I’ve given up worrying. I merely float on a tsunami of acceptance of anything life throws at me...and marvel stupidly." And probably sleeps at night.
How pocket supercomputers warp our perception of time.
I'm kind of a worrier, so naturally I picked up this book called What Should We Be Worried About? Editor John Brockman, the curator of Edge.org, asked a bunch of really smart people—scientists, writers, journalists, tech gurus, folks like that—to write essays about what keeps them up at night. It's that simple.
My wife commented that perhaps this wasn't the sort of book I should be reading, but as a curmudgeon, I had to disagree. It's actually sort of validating to read about all these other people's worries. Plus, the writers keep 'em short—too short, in the case of Terry Gilliam—and the breadth of the worriers clues you in to a wide range of worries you never even knew you needed to worry about. How awesome is that?
THE PATIENCE DEFICIT
By Nicholas G. Carr
I'm concerned about time—the way we're warping it and it's warping us. Human beings, like other animals, seem to have remarkably accurate internal clocks. Take away our wristwatches and our cell phones and we can still make pretty good estimates about time intervals. But that faculty can also be easily distorted. Our perception of time is subjective; it changes with our circumstances and our experiences. When things are happening quickly all around us, delays that would otherwise seem brief begin to seem interminable. Seconds stretch out. Minutes go on forever. "Our sense of time," observed William James in his 1890 masterworkThe Principles of Psychology, "seems subject to the law of contrast." ...
... It's not clear whether a technology-induced loss of patience persists even when we're not using the technology. But I would hypothesize (based on what I see in myself and others) that our sense of time is indeed changing in a lasting way. Digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts—and perhaps more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli. Because our experience of time is so important to our experience of life, it strikes me that these kinds of technology-induced changes in our perceptions can have broad consequences.
A man would not be human if he did not care would reveal himself.But what if scientists worried?
Annually John Brockman, founder of the famous discussion platform allows Edge.org , a question for a selection of the most interesting scientists, authors and artists in the world. The responses are then collected and published in book form. This time, Brockman asked the question: "Where should we should be worried about?"
The result can be read in the book recently published 153 x caffeine for your mind. Include Nicholas Carr (The shallow), Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker (The Blank Slate), Brian Eno (musician and producer of U2), Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Black Swan) and 148 others to answer question posed by John Brockman. They talk briefly and powerfully about the concerns that keep them busy, such as more and more people are becoming increasingly stress the consequences of a major Internet outage, and that we have ceased to explore the space ...
What should we be worried about? Real Scenarios that keep scientists up at night. This is the title of the new book edited by the literary agent John Brockman, founder of the website Edge.org, a discussion forum that includes novelist Ian McEwan, musician Brian Eno, physicists Frank Wilczek and Freeman Dyson, as well as yours truly, 13.7's Tania Lombrozo, and a couple of hundred of other academics and intellectuals. Every year, Brockman asks this group a "question." Answers in the form of short essays are compiled in paperback volumes with the intention of providing food for thought, as well as showcasing some of the cutting-edge ideas in science and technology and how they shape our culture. This is year, nothing less than 150 answers were published, of which I provide a meager sample here.
I was fascinated by this book from the moment I picked it up at Barnes & Noble. I had heard of a few of the writers Brockman tapped for this volume, but I was unfamiliar with most of the names listed in the table of contents. Moreover, I could not find any rhyme or reason to the authors selected to present their various perspectives on what should, in fact, be on our radar screens when it comes to what we should be distressing about. Although everyone arguably has some connection to science, I found it impossible to identify a common thread characterizing all of the contributors.
Most of the selections run only two to three pages, which made the book particularly easy to digest in a series of short sittings. Over the week it took me to get through all of the vignettes, I probably spent no more than an hour reading the book at any one time. Still, many of the ideas resonated with me on several levels. I found myself thinking about what I had read as I was involved in other activities throughout the day. For example, I spent my entire run one afternoon reflecting on the chapter by Martin Rees, “We are in denial about catastrophic risks.” Rees is an emeritus professor of cosmology and astrophysics at the University of Cambridge.
The darkest fears of the leading lights and rising stars of science, brought together by the Edge's John Brockman, could keep us all awake at night
WARNING: read the subtitle of this book first. Its editor, cultural impresario John Brockman, may well have you struggling to get your shut-eye as he sets out to keep us on our toes.
The trick this time lies in the tone of a book of answers to questions that Brockman poses annually to science's great and good on his Edge website. It's really not all good news.
In 2007, Edge asked what we were optimistic about. Six years later, the tone sounds like a pessimistic rejoinder: what shouldwe be worried about? But with Brockman it's rarely simple. He invited people to share a scientific worry that might not be on the popular radar, or one they think should drop off the radar. ...
At the end of the exercise, Brockman's crew has left us with a net balance of new fears. But they also introduce us to some big ideas. As psychologist Daniel Goleman puts it: "Effective worrying focuses our attention on a genuine threat and leads to anticipating solutions." Or perhaps biologist Craig Venter is onto something when he writes, hopefully tongue in cheek: "As a scientist, an optimist, an atheist, and an alpha male, I don't worry."
A cross-disciplinary kaleidoscope of intelligent concerns for the self and the species.
In his famous and wonderfully heartening letter of fatherly advice, F. Scott Fitzgerald gave his young daughter Scottie a list of things to worry and not worry about in life. Among the unworriables, he named popular opinion, the past, the future, triumph, and failure "unless it comes through your own fault." Among the worry-worthy, courage, cleanliness, and efficiency. What Fitzgerald touched on, of course, is the quintessential anxiety of the human condition, which drives us to worry about things big and small, mundane and monumental, often confusing the two classes. It was this "worryability" that young Italo Calvino resolved to shake from his life. A wonderful 1934 book classified all of our worries in five general categories that endure with astounding prescience and precision, but we still struggle to identify the things truly worth worrying about — and, implicitly, working to resolve — versus those that only strain our psychoemotional capacity with thedeathly grip of anxiety.
In What Should We Be Worried About? (public library), intellectual jockey and Edge founder John Brockman tackles this issue with his annual question — which has previously answered such conundrums as the single most elegant theory of how the world works (2012) and the best way to make ourselves smarter (2011) — and asks some of our era’s greatest thinkers in science, psychology, technology, philosophy, and more to each contribute one valid "worry" about our shared future. Rather than alarmist anxiety-slinging, however, the ethos of the project is quite the opposite — to put in perspective the things we worry about but shouldn’t, whether by our own volition or thanks to ample media manipulation, and contrast them with issues of actual concern, at which we ought to aim our collective attention and efforts in order to ensure humanity’s progress and survival. . . .
. . .What Should We Be Worried About? is an awakening read in its entirety. For more of Brockman’s editorial-curatorial mastery, revisit the Edge Questions compendiums from 2013 and 2012, and see Nobel-winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman on the marvels and flaws of our intuition.
"What Should We Be Worried About?" is the title of a new 2014 book edited by John Brockman, in which 153 scientists, professors and leading thinkers write two- and three-page essays in response to the book title.
One essay highlights an issue that will worry governments increasingly in the future. The issue is the current unsustainable expectation of infinite economic growth.
The essay title is a question: "A World Without Growth?" by financial risk expert Satyajit Das. To paraphrase, all modern societies, whether capitalist, socialist or communist, depend on continuing economic growth as a universal solution for all political, social and economic problems, which includes improving living standards and reducing poverty.
Also, growth is now expected to solve the problems over overindebted individuals, businesses and nations.
Over the past 30 years, globalization and debt-driven consumption across the planet became the tool of generating economic growth. That planetwide growth is destroying the Earth's environment and using up finite resources, especially water.
Those factors, plus unsustainable debt levels rising in all nations, threatens to end an unprecedented 200 years of growth and expansion. ...
We care about the Third World War, aging, drug use but also about himself - zabrinjavanja. In the book "What Should We Be Worried About 'series of celebrity scientist reveals his greatest concerns and answers the question of how to prevent them.
What should we be worried? That's the question John Brockman, founder Edge.org ('smartest' global sites, according to a review in The Guardian) set by the world's most influential scientists including Steven Pinker, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Frank Wilczek, Seth Lloyd, Alison Gopnik, Nassim Nicholas Taleb Helen Fisher, Lawrence Krauss, Susan Blackmore and many others.
He asked them to discover what they are most concerned, with special emphasis on scenarios that have not yet appeared on the global radar.
The greatest minds of our time in the field of neuroscience, economics, philosophy, physics, psychology, biology and many other areas of its proposed 150 ideas that will bring a revolution in the understanding of the modern world.
Question: "What should worry us in the future?" Answered 150 of the most respected people for their research or their remarkable intelligence. And how many people, so many answers about what people should pursue in the future.
List of people interviewed includes winners of Nobel prize, authors of science fiction and a lot of scholars in psychology, physics or biology. Below is a short list of the most interesting answers ...
If you, without any reference, enter Edge inadvertently, you might think that you have come upon a useful digital magazine. It will be a mistake. Edge is not a magazine but a conversation, probably the most useful space at the moment for anyone who wants to peer into the flowering of the most advanced human thought. In Edge, there is no stable of contributors who write eye-catching articles on different topics that have come to be called culture; There is a surprising territory where one finds, in rigorous disarray, the vanguard of scientific knowledge, at this technological and humanistic moment.
That which has come to be called the third culture.
....Edge is the opposite of Twitter: there is only room for those who have something to say, things that say they are solidly argued and, of course, there is no way to synthesize anything in 140 characters.
Stop by there....Edge is an online salon that has preserved millions of words that trace the most fascinating cultural conversation of the last fifteen years. Cultural, of course, in the best sense of the word. The seventeen Edge Questions formulated as of today have resulted in a total of over two thousand responses, and provide one of the most complete ready-to-wear knowledge bases, ideal for incorporation into the wardrobe of our particular wisdom.
It's not useful nor does it make sense to summarize. You have to go and read it daily, to have intellectual food for a few months because each of these reflections is a micro-essay on a specific topic that opens doors to reflection and study in all fields of human knowledge.
We all have worries. But as trained observers, scientists learn things that can affect us all. So what troubles them, should also trouble us. From viral pandemics to the limits of empirical knowledge, find out what science scenarios give researchers insomnia.
But also, we discover which scary scenarios that preoccupy the public don’t worry the scientists at all. Despite the rumors, you needn’t fear that the Large Hadron Collider will produce black holes that could swallow the Earth.
It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!
- David Quammen – Science journalist, contributing writer for National Geographic Magazine, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic
- Sandra Faber – Astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz
- Paul Saffo – Technology forecaster based in the Silicon Valley
- Seth Shostak – Senior astronomer, SETI Institute, host,Big Picture Science
- Elisa Quintana – Research scientist, SETI Institute
- Lawrence Krauss – Theoretical physicist, Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University
Inspiration for this episode comes from the book, What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night edited by John Brockman.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT?
I've really come to look forward to these annual collections from contributors to Edge.org, the multi-disciplinary science website. Every year editor John Brockman throws out a question to scientists of any discipline to address. The responses are short essays you can snack on like brain-stretching popcorn.
This year the responses are ones that may keep you up at night, so be warned. All of the contributors address the question of what the real threats to our planet and way of life are, as opposed to the false fears that distract us too easily. The topics range all over the scientific map; the likelihood of war, advances in medicine and health care, population growth and distribution, the advance of the virtual, global economics...you get the idea.
Anxiety is not only the most common mental problem in the United States, it verges on a national obsession. Last year, New York Magazine declared it the signature diagnosis of our time with Xanax as its pharmacological mascot, taking over from depression and Prozac in the 1990s. The New York Times devotes an entire ongoing series to probing the anxious mind. And the online forum the Edge asks as its key question for 2013: "what should we be worried about?" All this worrying represents our own apocalyptic myopia. Before we know it, we're not just worrying about love, death, sickness, children, money—we're worrying about the worrying itself.
...for the polemical technology author Evgeny Morozov, the best answer was the word "smart" itself. ... All this smart awesomeness will make our environment more plastic and more programmable," Morozov argued. ... In this, Morozov’s critique overlaps with a second significant contemporary word: "fragility." As Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains in his 2012 book Antifragile, a "fragile" system is easily broken by unexpected shocks or irregularities. Global finance was one such system at the time of the 2008 crisis, with its locked-in assumptions about risk and cascading series of bad debts. Antifragility ... describes a system that is able to thrive on uncertainty, and that will not be brought crashing down by circumstances its designers did not anticipate.
Each December for the past 15 years, John Brockman, a literary agent, search among business cards to invite the best scientists and writers discuss what occasion of scientific concepts can improve the cognitive ability of humanity. The topic we discussed in December last year is "What do we have to worry about in 2013?" ...
The crisis of the Internet
Does not need to fear that any young person is inventing nuclear weapons in some neighborhood low, because this work needs a lot of financial resources and it is difficult to do it without being noticed by people. However, if this young man has a laptop with access to the Internet, you can devote a few hours every day to take advantage of electronic defects in the world, and hardly anyone notices. In addition, the cost is very low, also the risk of being punished after being caught.
Edge.org is a website that is definitely worth reading, and rightly enjoys being known as "The world's smartest website." It has a great form of online debate in which world experts, the most meritorious scientists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, are invited to answer a question. The get the year off to a good start, Edge asked the question: "What *Should* We Be Worried About". The answers are often quite abstract, drifting in the direction of loose discussion of broader, long-term problems. Some, however, relate to current problem that sooner or later will catch up to us.
…A long, but extremely nutritious and useful reading, which I recommend to all.
News & Events
9/5/2014 —Penn State Brandywine will host its first Common Read event of the academic year—a panel discussion titled, "What Is Brandywine Worried About"—on Thursday, Sept. 11, at 11:30 a.m. in the Vairo Library Amphitheatre. Students, faculty and staff are invited to this thought-provoking dialogue, which mirrors the theme of this year’s Common Read book, "What Should We Be Worried About?"
The event will feature six panelists, including Brandywine faculty, staff and students, who will discuss topics that concern each of them in today's world. Topics will range from educational issues to scientific reasoning and beyond.
"What Should We Be Worried About?," edited by John Brockman, is a collection of short essays revealing the planet’s most hidden threats. The essays are written by some of the world’s most influential scientists who were asked to disclose unknown situations that worry them. The result was a book that changes the way people view biology, economics, neuroscience, philosophy, physics, psychology, war, technology and much more.
The campus Common Read was created to provide an opportunity for the entire Brandywine community to participate in knowledgeable conversation about a shared text, allowing the campus to develop a dialogue focused on one central idea or question.
In the event of inclement weather, the panel discussion will be held in the Tomezsko Building, room 103. For more information about this year’s Common Read selection, visit Penn State Brandywine’s Common Read webpage.
Not a perfect mechanism, but fear remains a useful sense: without such a system, our life would have been a complete disaster. Where does this mania to underestimate the fear, prudence or caution if they have their positive side?
Fear is no longer fashionable. Self-help books are populated with tips so that we finish with our fears and go out of the comfort zone. The feeling that is promoted in today's society is that of the omnipresence of the internal control: the location should not matter to us, the crucial point is the attitude. And therefore it is that nothing and no one believes us apprehension. It seems that trying to feel secure and avoiding events that we assume vulnerable was a bad psychological strategy. But is it true that the caution is a tactic that we cancel? . . .
. . .Amid this discrediting of prudence and caution, the question that the stimulating publication Edge recently launched the brightest minds on the planet is striking. Every year, this digital magazine poses the question that respond dozens of influential intellectuals. The 2013 question was: "What should we be worried about?" ("Why should we be concerned?"). Most striking was not the demand for scientists and communicators identified social concerns, but the fact that you asked for them with that resounding "must". Because none of the respondents answered "no worry about nothing", so we can assume that, for these brilliant minds, harboring fears it is not nonsense.
In fact, a review by answers shows us, updated, the entire spectrum of disappointments that have proven many humans Adaptive throughout history. It is, of course, the apprehension that makes us the loneliness: the psychologist David M. Buss, for example, causes the alarm that the shortage of desirable couples increased in the future human brutality. There is also who points out the fear by the loss of vital sense. Dave Winer, the pioneer in the world of blogs, worried that we no longer have desire to survive and the anthropologist Christine Finn that we finish to completely lose touch with the physical world. …
Edge.org, the online soapbox for scientists and other intellectuals, has published the answers to its latest annual question - What should we be worried about? …
At the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore believes we should be concerned about the effect of environmental factors on the development of the adolescent brain, something she says we know little about. She highlighted the possible adverse effects of excessive gaming and social networking, and the UNICEF estimate that 40 per cent of teenagers worldwide lack access to secondary education. 'Adolescence represents a time of brain development when teaching and training should be particularly beneficial. I worry about the lost opportunity of denying the world's teenagers access to education,' she said.
Computer scientist David Gelernter answering the 2013 annual question of Edge.org, "What should we be worried about?"
If we have a million photos, we tend to value each one less than if we only had ten. The internet forces a general devaluation of the written word: a global deflation in the average word's value on many axes. As each word tends to get less reading-time and attention and to be worth less money at the consumer end, it naturally tends to absorb less writing-time and editorial attention on the production side. Gradually, as the time invested by the average writer and the average reader in the average sentence falls, society's ability to communicate in writing decays. ...
The biologist and paleontologist Scott D. Sampson was the only one to get the scoop on natural disasters and man's aggression in the environment, and only Giulio Boccaletti drew attention to the alarming decrease of water resources of the planet. Jonathan Gottschall cited violence in fiction. No more than two participants proved worried about economic growth tied to financial speculation. Detail: one, Satyajit Das, is a financier. ...
The population explosion never forgotten gained new contours with eugenics (less and better children) practiced in post-Mao China as part of its hegemonic ambitions. China, insists psychologist Geoffrey Miller, not only wants to become the greatest military power, economic, industrial, commercial and cultural 21st century, but also the most biopoderosa with beings healthier and intellectually gifted Earth. Miller, however, confesses to be less concerned with dreams of grandeur of the Chinese than with a Western reaction fueled by ideological prejudices, xenophobia and panic bioethics.
Around the same time, I was checking out responses to a question that science-book agent John Brockman just posted Edge.org: “What should we be worried about?” Brockman has been posing questions like this to his stable of professional eggheads, or Edgeheads, annually since 1998. Reading over responses to Brockman’s question, I was struck by how many Edgeheads are fretting over the future of particle physics in particular and pure science in general. Here are edited excerpts from Edge.org: ...
What should we worry about? Scan the headlines, and the answers seem obvious. We should worry about Congress and the debt ceiling, about gun violence and climate change, about terrorism, the euro, schools, taxes, entitlement programs and Kim Kardashian's sunburn.
But how confident are we that we're worried about the right things? History shows that our concerns are often misguided or conditioned on outdated assumptions. Ask 100 motorists the colors of a "yield" sign, and most will say yellow and black, even though they've been red and white since 1971. But if we still believe in yellow and black despite all evidence to the contrary, what other assumptions will lead us astray? Our endless fretting over Y2K didn't stop terrorists armed with box cutters.
So, what really should we worry about? It's the official question John Brockman posed this year to his jury of top intellectuals. Brockman isthe über literary agent, cultural impresario and best friend to the world's smartest people. He runs edge.org, a science/arts salon with lofty ambitions: "To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together; and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves."
These are people who, presumably, don't sweat the small stuff. Brockman's question drew 150 short essays from among the salon's 660 vetted contributors. Concerns about runaway viruses and Chinese eugenics made the cut, as did a handful of glib commentaries about the perils of worrying. But the overarching theme was easy to spot:
We should worry about the interplay between humans and technology. ...
Edge.org is a website where really smart people write about subjects that make most people's heads hurt. I check it out whenever I need to feel particularly stupid.
...This year's subject was suggested by the technology historian George Dyson: "What should we be worried about?"
Dyson's premise: "[P]eople tend to worry too much about things that it doesn't do any good to worry about, and not to worry enough about things we should be worrying about." This sounded good to me. My hobbies include worrying, moping and brooding. As I previously have confessed, I spend way too much time obsessing about grizzly bear attacks. ... I figured the Edge.org piece could help me spend my leisure hours more effectively.... I figured wrong. ... First off, some 150 really smart people contributed things to worry about. Their essays ran to 168 printed pages. I got through maybe 50 of them before going catatonic. ...
Seriously. Writing in the recently published book What Should We Be Worried About?, senior astronomer Dr Seth Shostak admits this "sounds like shabby science fiction, but even if the probability of disaster is low, the stakes are high." ...
The telescope, that allows us to see far in space and thus back in time, giving us an unprecedented understanding of our own existence, is a far superior tool
Reese regards the internet as the greatest human invention of all time. In barely two decades, it has become so essential to our lives and work that one cannot imagine doing almost anything without it. Indeed, in a book that comes out this week, a collection of essays titled What Should We Be Worried About? by a hundred or so prime thinkers of the world, philosopher Daniel Dennett and historian of science and technology George Dyson consider the possible breakdown of the internet as the issue that they are most worried about. ...