But they do like to talk about beauty, a lot, at least when mass media are listening. Edge.org, a gathering point for celebrity scientists and public intellectuals, spent the whole of 2012 mulling over a question proposed by Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker: “What is your favourite elegant, deep or beautiful explanation?” The 194 submissions, which included quantum theory and Einstein’s explanation of gravity, were recently published by Harper Perennial under the title This Explains Everything.
In 2006, Philip E. Tetlock published a landmark book called "Expert Political Judgment." While his findings obviously don't apply to me, Tetlock demonstrated that pundits and experts are terrible at making predictions. …
… Tetlock is now recruiting for Year 3. (You can match wits against the world by visiting http:www.goodjudgmentproject.com.) He believes that this kind of process may help depolarize politics. If you take Republicans and Democrats and ask them to make a series of narrow predictions, they'll have to put aside their grand notions and think clearly about the imminently falsifiable.
However, Tetlock found two distinguishable groups of thinkers among the experts: hedgehogs and foxes.
...These findings taught Tetlock, the author of Expert Political Judgment, a few lessons about pundits. They "were hard pressed to do better than chance, were overconfident, and were reluctant to change their minds in response to new evidence. That combination doesn't exactly make for a flattering portrait of the punditocracy," he recently told Edge.org.
We sometimes tend to think of ideas and feelings that our intuition shooting, intrinsically superior to feelings that are based on reason and logic. Intuition - the 'underbelly' - is deified as the noble savage of mind, those intrepid short shrift to the pedantry of reason.
Especially artists, who often operate intuitively, are prone to this belief. By a number of experiences I have become skeptical.
This piece is taken from the book "This explains everything. John Brockman, founder of the website edge.org , prepares an annual demand of a selection of the most interesting scientists and artists in the world.
"...if it bleeds it leads, if it bleeds then sells. The good news is not news. Even the best of all, that we live in a more peaceful era of all time. If it seems otherwise, we change the lenses. Assume the long perspective and realize that the extraordinary disasters today are nothing compared to ordinary pandemonium yesterday.
"Professor, why did you decide to write a book so counterintuitive?"
"Working on previous texts I had accumulated data in the dramatic reduction of violent deaths by non-state players today, as well as other advances such as the end of slavery and the abolition of corporal punishment. So when Edge.org asked me 'what I was optimistic about?, I said 'the decline of violence'. Other scholars commented, adding various other evidence in favor. It convinced me that it was not yet a well-known story."
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 ...
For every successful “Big Data” case study listed in Harvard Business Review, Fortune or the like, there are thousands of many failures. It’s a problem of cherry-picking “success stories,” or assuming that most companies are harvesting extreme insights from Big Data Analytics projects, when in fact there is a figurative graveyard of big data failures that we never see.
“Big Data” is a hot topic. There are blogs, articles, analyst briefs and practitioner guides on how to do “Big Data Analytics” correctly. And case studies produced by academics and vendors alike seem to portray that everyone is having success with Big Data analytics (i.e. uncovering insights and making lots of money).
In an Edge.org article, author and trader Nassim Taleb highlights the problem of observation bias or cherry-picking success stories while ignoring the “graveyard” of failures. It’s easy to pick out the attributes of so-called “winners," while ignoring that failures likely shared similar traits. ...
Some fifteen years John Brockman, a restless promoter of culture, an intellectual entrepreneur, organizes a strange Christmas party. Brockman, who said that it is one of the great intellectual enzymes of our time, does not meet his family for dinner Turkey or opening gifts from Santaclos. It invites some of the brightest minds in the world to virtually meet at edge.org, your Internet homepage, to answer a provocative question. The party is the conversation that is woven from the responses. The annual celebration of edge is a bridge between two cultures that are ignored. Arts and Sciences sharing the delicacy of a good question. Among his regular guests can be found to Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Craig Venter, Brian Eno, Daniel Dennet, Samuel Harris. Yes, little diversity. Many English men or Americans — but, in the end, a group with things to say.
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.
...Up to now, the focus on the power and implications of Big Datatechnology has been involved social media, business decision-making and online privacy. Those are big subjects in their own right. So it’s not surprising that the notion of a data-driven society has not been much considered.
But someone who has was host of the meeting: Alex Pentland, a computational social scientist at the Media Lab. He put his intellectual stake in the ground last year in a presentation posted on Edge.org, "Reinventing Society in the Wake of Big Data."
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. ...
10. THIS EXPLAINS EVERYHING: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works John Brockman (Harper Perennial; $15.99)
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.
In a review published early last year in The Observer, the cultural entrepreneur John Brockman had his friend artist James Lee Byars had shared with him a sort of epiphany that changed his life. Byars believed that "to achieve a satisfactory level of knowledge would be crazy to go to Widener Library at Harvard and read six million books. Instead, they should be locked up in a room at the 100 brightest minds in the world and have them ask each other the things we were wondering themselves. "
The experiment did not work exactly as I imagined Byars, but that room Brockman built virtually in 1996 to create Edge.org, a site that brings together more than 600 scientists, artists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, and other intellectuals who share their knowledge free with the world, in order to "reach the boundaries (edge) of knowledge." One of the most interesting ways to share in this forum is through the question posed annually. In 2010, the question was "how the Internet is changing the way you think? ". In 2011, the question was "What scientific concept would improve your thinking?". And the most recent question was "what is your explanation profound, beautiful or elegant favorite?". ... If you review some of the more than 190 answers posted online find, among others, a physicist who explains why his favorite is "why we live in a world understandable" and a psychologist who vote for the "sexual conflict theory "along with many others, from the most general to the most specialized. Certainly, reading material for several months.
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.
They're two different brains. I started as an academic, and I thought that was all I was ever going to be. As for the media career, it was all just a complete accident. I was at Berkeley, and there was a fight over the ban of affirmative action. I thought that affirmative action—the way they had done it—had become obsolete. Not wrong, but enough time had passed and it was time to base affirmative action on socioeconomics. Saying that in the late 1990s in Berkeley and Oakland—you were not supposed to say that as a young black professor. I wrote an essay on the website edge.org, and the publisher of my linguistics book suggested that I expand it into a book. At first I said no: Why would anybody care what some linguist thinks about race issues? But I wrote it [Losing the Race] because I felt very passionate about the issue, and I just love writing.
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.
...This year, in advance of President Obama's speech, we're looking at the difficult questions the president will likely ignore on Tuesday. In 2013, what should weigh on American minds?
That's the question posed by Edge.org in 2013. Every year, Edge poses a question to a group of experts from a variety of fields, and judging from this year's responses, Americans have plenty of concerns.
Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, professor of psychiatry at Duke University, worries that American mental health diagnoses are blindly exported abroad. Lisa Randall, professor of physics at Harvard University and author of "Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions," worries about the waning investment in research and development.
This inspired idea was begun by Brockman on the Edge website, as his annual forum for experts to answer one given question using layman's language. It has led to this fabulous book – a mine of accessible science that is food for mind and soul, in three-page essays apiece.
The question: "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" Answers from a roster of 160 big brains (Matt Ridley, Brian Eno, Richard Dawkins, et al) traverse across the cosmos, deep time and the unconscious. A real must-read.
Stanford professor and neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky chooses to discuss swarm intelligence.
"Observe a single ant," he notes, "and it doesn't make much sense – walking in one direction, suddenly careening in another for no obvious reason, doubling back on itself. Thoroughly unpredictable. The same happens with two ants, with a handful of ants.
"But a colony of ants makes fantastic sense. Specialized jobs, efficient means of exploiting new food sources, complex underground nests with temperature regulated within a few degrees."
What's fascinating about all this, Sapolsky goes on to say, is that "there's no blueprint or central source of command." Rather than "the wisdom of the crowd," the complexity of an ant colony depends on simple behavior algorithms "that consist of a few simple rules for interacting with the local environment and local ants."