Edge in the News

Jonathan Haidt, The New York Times [2.7.11]



SAN ANTONIO — Some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.
Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”
It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

Alan Alda, Testing [2.1.11]








Deutschlandradio Kaltur [1.30.11]

Nobel Prize Medal: Awarded for research, which has brought humanity the greatest benefit. 

Max Brockman (ed.) The Future Makers - The Nobel Prize winners of tomorrow and what they are researching, "S. Fischer

By Ulrich Woelk

The science in the 20th Century revolutionary progress. What awaits us in the 21st Century? In outlining the collection "The Future Makers" young researcher award-winning their respective scientific ambitions, projects and expectations.

Politically, the reputation of the 20th Ruined century: two world wars, totalitarian ideologies numerous, cruel dictatorships, genocide — the list of bloody disaster and wrong this time is long. More surprising that there is a parallel to other equally long list of successes and victories.

Never before namely that science has been so great and revolutionary progress in the past century: relativity and quantum mechanics, the deciphering of the genome, the discovery of the subconscious, the Big Bang theory and incompleteness, penicillin, microelectronics, moon landing. The 20th Century has brought the fulfillment of the Faustian desire for complete knowledge within reach — so, so close that we can ask ourselves: What now? What comes after the century of scientific revolutions and breakthroughs?

In outlining the collection "The Future Makers" young researcher award-winning their respective scientific ambitions, projects and expectations. The publisher of this highly informative research anthology is the New York literary agent Max Brockman. He writes of its authors:

"Your employment with bold new ideas and their efforts to the frontiers of knowledge further and further delay, are an inspiration."

And that's true. Even the titles of the essays reveal that the young researchers from the scientific thinking of their fathers and grandfathers have a long way. "Are we inherently moral?" Consider, examine and "The development of the social brain in adolescence" or the "indispensability of the imagination," or ask, "How are people descended from the trees and why they is no one followed ?

EL MUNDO [1.23.11]

[Google translation:] As every year since 1998, the online magazine Edge (www.edge.org) has once again raised a great question to the best minds on the planet. And once again, this virtual forum of debate offers us all a wonderful opportunity to savor the thoughts of many top scientists and thinkers of the world.

This year, the question posed by Edge was: "What scientific concept improve our cognitive tools?". I ask readers of Eureka to take away everything they can from the 164 replies received. They will find many pearls of wisdom in this ocean of knowledge.

Among the illustrious figures who have participated in this high caliber survey, which has increased in prestige every year, the highlight is the biggest superstar of modern science, Craig Venter. ...

... Your response, like almost everything the father of the human genome and artificial life, says and does, not leave anyone indifferent: "We are not alone in the Universe." Venter believes that any discovery would have greater impact on mankind than the discovery of life outside our Solar System: "If we find that there are many, perhaps millions of origins of life, and therefore that life is present throughout the universe This will profoundly affect all humans." ...

...Edge has again shown that there is nothing like a asking a good question to the best brains.

BARRON'S [1.21.11]

Human psychology can work against investors trying to make the best financial decisions, notes Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx.

In a commentary this morning, he suggests that clients consider ways to "sharpen the rational part" of their investment psychology. Colas writes:

"Human nature, as it turns out, is a veritable minefield of biases and distortions that push rational thought through emotional screens to the point where clearheaded thinking can mutate into irrational outcomes."

One of the most cited mantras of investing is to "think and think differently," the piece adds. Along those lines, Colas points to early investors who were insightful enough to put money into such companies as IBM (IBM) and Apple (AAPL) before they became giants of technology.

He believes investors should ask themselves: What scientific concept would improve everyone's cognitive toolkit?

Colas notes that's a question which has also been raised by the Edge Foundation, a think-tank run by John Brockman. Members of the foundation range from music producer Brian Eno to Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Nicholas Taleb, author of the "The Black Swan."

http://www.cagesideseats.com/2011/1/21/1948687/pro-wrestling-gets-brainy-kayfabe... [1.21.11]

We all know the world of Professional Wrestling is low brow and can appeal to the lowest common denominator. Each time Wrasslin' gets brought up in discussing MMA I can almost hear Luke Thomas doing his best mocking yokel impression while chastising people for making continual connections between the two before feeling the need to inform us of his penchant for The Classics as his preferred means of recreational entertainment. Something like that.

So it may come as some surprise that a clear cut example of Pro Wrestling terminology finds itself the centre of a recently published scientific essay. In this instance I'm referring to the term 'Kayfabe' which coincidentally enough I used in the headline of a recent article. ....

...With that out of the way, here's the Science part. Edge Foundation, Inc. is a non-profit virtual think tank and claims its informal membership to include "some of the most interesting minds of the world" and has been featured and referenced by the likes of American Scientist, New Scientist, The BBC, The Times, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and Wired. Each year Edge poses a question in an attempt to get various thinkers from various backgrounds around the world to chime in with their own answers and interpretations. Questions have varied from philosophical ("What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" 2005), technological ("What is the most important invention in the last two thousand years ... and why?" - 1999) and cultural ("How is the Internet changing the way you think?" - 2010).

This year's question is psychological with "What Scientific Concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?"....

...And as I alluded to, 'Kayfabe' formed the basis of one of the responses.

Eric Weinstein - Mathematician and Economist (PhD Mathematics at Harvard) and Principal of the Natron Group in Manhattan - writes:

The sophisticated "scientific concept" with the greatest potential to enhance human understanding may be argued to come not from the halls of academe, but rather from the unlikely research environment of professional wrestling. ...



Each year, the Edge Foundation asks dozens of big-picture thinkers to answer a single question, in a short essay. This year’s question, proposed by the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, is: “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” Or, to paraphrase, how might people alter the way they interpret the information they take in about the world, to better comprehend it?

A great question, as usual. But interestingly ambiguous: Who, exactly, is is the “everybody” in the phrase “everybody’s toolkit”?



Every January the cognoscenti know to look out for the annual question posed by literary agent and self-styled intellectual impresario John Brockman on his Edge "salon" website. The trick, of course, is to get the question just right so that the great and good - and the wannabes - feel compelled to play what is often the smartest game in town.

One of my favourites was the deceptively simple tease: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" (2005), which provided diverse snapshots of individual intellectuals at work and of emerging trends.

With this year's question, though, Brockman gets really tricksy: "What scientific concept would improve everyone's cognitive toolkit?"


DIE ZEIT [1.20.11]

[Google translation]..."Truth is only a model", writes Neil Gershenfeld, an MIT physicist. He finds that you should write down all the behind the ears, and lay people. In everyday life are shaped too much controversy about politics or lifestyle of the conviction to be right. Since one wishes for the humility of the researcher who knows he does not produce truth, but only models of reality that can quickly be back passé. "What scientific concept is in everyone's mental tool box?", had asked the thinker Club Edge.org. As suggested before Gershenfeld skepticism about truth.

Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing [1.17.11]

The term 'scientific"is to be understood in a broad sense as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great people in history, or the structure of DNA. A "scientific concept" may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or "in a phrase") but has broad application to understanding the world.

Guardian.co.uk [1.17.11]

e dial up researchers investigating climate change in Antarctica; plus, internet guru Clay Shirky explains his answer to this year's Edge Question 

Presented by Alok Jha and produced by Andy Duckworth 

Robin McKie and Nell Boase are in the studio to discuss this year's Edge Question: What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?

The founder of edge.org John Brockman tells us how they dreamed up the idea of picking the brains of the world's leading thinkers, and one of the brains, social media expert Clay Shirky, explains his answer to this year's question.

The founder of edge.org John Brockman tells us how they dreamed up the idea of picking the brains of the world's leading thinkers, and one of the brains. ...

David Rowan, WIRED.CO.UK [1.16.11]

This year, Brockman asked: "What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" He took as his starting point James Flynn's notion of "shorthand abstractions" -- "concepts drawn from science that have become part of the language and make people smarter by providing widely applicable templates ('market', 'placebo', 'random sample', 'naturalistic fallacy', are a few of his examples)". If we have a shorthand linguistic means of expressing the notion, Flynn suggested, we can use it as an element in thinking and debate. "This is the most challenging question we've put forth to date," Brockman said. Daniel Kahneman, the father of behavioural economics, said: "It is my favourite question ever. You will get great responses and actually move the culture forward."

On Saturday Brockman published this year's submissions, more than 150 answers from the likes of Craig Venter, Brian Eno and Steven Pinker (mostly men, it has to be said, with contributors such as Alison Gopnik and Lisa Randall making up a small female minority). A number of Wired contributors have sent in answers this year, writers such as Jonah Lehrer, David Eagleman and Matt Ridley. Some journalists and editors were also invited to add their thoughts, which is how I submitted a proposal for "personal data mining" as part of the symposium.

So what concepts did the contributors suggest that we need? The answers included:

THE ATLANTIC [1.16.11]

Paul Kedrosky has a wonderful piece for the deep-thinking site Edge.org about shifting baseline syndrome. It explains precisely why thinking that we're living in some anomalous "new normal" is a little silly. We're always living in a new normal, and the cognitive challenge is to remember that things haven't always been this way, nor will they remain this way.

In 1995 fisheries scientist Daniel Pauly coined a phrase for this troubling ecological obliviousness -- he called it "shifting baseline syndrome". Here is how Pauly first described the syndrome: "Each generation of fisheries scientist accepts as baseline the stock situation that occurred at the beginning of their careers, and uses this to evaluate changes. When the next generation starts its career, the stocks have further declined, but it is the stocks at that time that serve as a new baseline. The result obviously is a gradual shift of the baseline, a gradual accommodation of the creeping disappearance of resource species..."

It is blindness, stupidity, intergeneration data obliviousness. Most scientific disciplines have long timelines of data, but many ecological disciplines don't. We are forced to rely on second-hand and anecdotal information -- we don't have enough data to know what is normal, so we convince ourselves that this is normal.