[ Thu. Jan. 13. 2011 ]

Qual será o conceito científico que, se toda a gente o dominasse, poderia representar um salto imenso na capacidade que as pessoas têm de perceber e participar activamente nos assuntos do mundo?

This is, in essence, the question that John Brockman, the American literary agent and director of the site, presented in late December to a constellation of world famous scientists. The results were published online this morning.

The question was formulated more precisely as follows: "What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit?"

Since this question is not as direct and explicit as some of its predecessors (the question last year, for example, was "How the Internet is changing the way we think?") Edge is quick to contextualize it.

The point is that, according to James Flynn, an expert on human intelligence from the University of Otago, New Zealand, there are words and short phrases — such as "market", "natural selection", etc.. — Which constitute "conceptual abbreviations" (shorthand abstractions, or SHA) that actually represent a constellation of such abstract concepts as complex and that "although extremely brief, have immense utility to perceive the world."

The idea is that the SHA, according to Flynn, "penetrated the cognitive repertoire of educated people, expanding their intellectual capabilities to become available in the form of cognitive units that can be used as elements of reasoning and debate." In other words, an economist, when he speaks of "market" or a biomedical specialist when he thinks of a "control group" or a statistician when he speaks of "random sample", knows very well that there's no need to lose time to reprocess these concepts each time you use them.

By Friday evening 115 people, scientists from various fields of knowledge, had already responded to the challenge. Some answers are extensive and very complex. Others do not respond exactly the question. But there are, as always, approaches to suit all tastes and most are interesting enough to make it worth going to have a look.