Brilliant!

[ Sat. Apr. 7. 2007 ]

Michael Wright enjoys a eureka moment at the edge of knowledge, as scientists ponder the imponderable

Here is a good-news story: a website that will expand your mind. Edge.org is a forum for science, philosophy and culture that maps the boundary fence over which today’s big thinkers, standing on tiptoes, are peering. Well-known scientists and assorted eggheads can post their opinions on hotly debated topics of the moment — from the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, discussing why science has more in common with literature than we might think, to the leading geneticist and human-genome maverick J Craig Venter on why he wants to create life.

Some of the presentations are available to watch as QuickTime movies, if you prefer not to read, and keen thinkers can have a bimonthly e-mail of the latest discussions delivered to their inbox.

Each year, John Brockman, the site’s American editor, also sends a big, open-ended question to all the notable thinkers he knows, then publishes their responses online. This year’s little teaser — “What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?” — prompted 60,000 words in reply, on subjects including particle physics, consciousness, arti- ficial intelligence, global warming and tedious sophistry.

I like the belief of Alun Anderson, the editor-in-chief of New Scientist, that cockroaches are conscious, but cannot comment on the theoretical physicist who denies that black holes destroy information or the computer scientist who believes the continuum hypothesis is false.

Visiting Edge will make pseudo- scientists feel cleverer, and the rest of us more than usually stupid, as we discover, with a jolt of pleasure, how little we really know about the world.

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