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.
The new knowledge arises from a fair question. This is demonstrated by the experience of Edge, THE INTELLECTUAL PROJECT CREATED BY JOHN BROCKMAN, which has become an extraordinary interdisciplinary community of scientists and scholars who gather each year around a problem formulated in a masterly way by the editors so that always manages to bring to light unexpected ideas.
..Also in Edge, Ryan Phelan talks of her work at Revive and Restore – "de-extincting" species, while trying to take all the daunting ethical and technical issues into account.
Note: There is hardly any project more interesting than Edge itself, which has the goals "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." Check it out yourself at www.edge.org
#1 THIS WILL MAKE YOU SMARTER ... a formidable anthology of short essays by 151 of our time’s biggest thinkers on subjects as diverse as the power of networks, cognitive humility, the paradoxes of daydreaming, information flow, collective intelligence, and a dizzying, mind-expanding range in between. Together, they construct a powerful toolkit of meta-cognition — a new way to think about thinking itself. ... The true gift of This Will Make You Smarter—of Brockman—is in acting as a potent rupture in the filter bubble of our curiosity, cross-pollinating ideas across a multitude of disciplines to broaden our intellectual comfort zones and, in the process, spark a deeper, richer, more dimensional understanding not only of science, but of life itself.
This experiment came to an end at the start of December - but here for your reading pleasure are the most enjoyed features of 2012 as digested by you, our readers: [list includes] Technology - John Brockman: the man who runs the world's smartest website
Humans are born with genes that reward us with intense pleasure when we punish traitors. Punishing traitors is the group’s way of enforcing cooperation. We evolved cooperation by evolving a congenital delight in punishing sinners. See Dyson Edge Conversation (http://bit.ly/QKdg9m)
THIS BOOK WILL MAKE YOU SMARTER (Planeta) The editor John Brockman has assembled some of the most influential thinkers of the time and pose a question: What scientific concept would help us improve our cognitive abilities? The book collects the response of such interesting characters as Richard Dawkins, Martin Selingman, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker and Craig Venter. Just for that collection of names, and worth it.
Over the last several years, I’ve become familiar with the work of Thomas W. Malone and the Center for Collective Intelligence, the lab he directs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The center is studying, and trying to make the most of, the human species’ fast-growing capacity to think outside the box — with the box in this case being an individual’s skull and cerebral cortex.
Malone discussed his goals, work and background in a session recorded and transcribed by Edge.org, the Web site developed by the literary agent and intellectual impressario John Brockman as something of an online science salon.
[The book] gives exactly what it promises: intelligence. Assembled by intellectual impressario John Brockman, we find "a set of molds generally applicable conceptual" abstraction that revolutionize the structure of our perception, concepts that vent topical storm, false clichés and archetypes.
The cream of the international scientific intelligentsia ...We will not find here the intellectual vision of letters (and if there are philosophers, they have a deep scientific background.) Here you can read the most influential thinkers of cognitive science, evolutionary psychology and information technology. That is, fields of knowledge that are experiencing a breakthrough in the twentieth and twenty-first and already incorporated all fields of knowledge, even the lliterary... A kaleidoscope of wisdom. A puzzle spinal activity at its best from authors I read for years and have been able to learn more things than I ever have imagined.
The responses of the researchers can identify trends that will shape the science in the coming years. This year marks a major trend: the importance of cooperation. Since the 1960s have biologists and social scientists disputed stubborn that among animals and human altruism admit, writes about the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia: "Any form of altruism has been explained away as a disguised form of egoism, the natural end of Selection serve. "Only slowly set by the realization that this" biological reductionism "was false, so Haidt.
Here is one about online identity. Here is one on Atlantic.com commenting on Nicholas Carr's article, 'Is Google Making Us Stupid?' ... The conversations on edge.org are generally very high quality..."
After returning the lost wallet, we conclude that we're honest. In reality, many pressures shape our behaviour..."
In spite of his serious expression, his friends and acquaintances say that he is a man of enviable rhetoric, able to hold the attention of anyone. Brockman is the name behind the Edge (edge.org), the virtual forum that brings together big names of Global Science — such as Craig Venter, one of the greatest, who is responsible for sequencing the human genome, Steven Pinker, the Canadian psychologist named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world, and Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist, famous for his defense of atheism.