Edge in the News

NATIONAL REVIEW [9.11.08]

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has a long piece titled “What Makes People Vote Republican” onEdge.org. Don’t be put off by the whiffs of liberal-intellectual snobbery in Haidt’s opening remarks. He has interesting things to say; and the follow-up discussion is very good. Snobbery-wise, Roger Schank takes the palm at the end of those follow-ups:

The Haidt article is interesting, as are the responses to it, but these pieces are written by intellectuals who live in an environment where reasoned argument is prized. I live in Florida.

THE NEW YORK TIMES [9.10.08]

“You can stand on my wagon, if you want.”

I tend, when I’m not in big crowds, to forget that I’m short. In Republican crowds, I find, I feel particularly small.

And dark. And unsmiling. And uncoiffed, unmade-up and inappropriately dressed.

For the McCain/Palin rally in Fairfax, Va., on Wednesday, the organizers had asked people to wear red. I – unthinkingly – had dressed in blue, which was somewhat isolating.

I was isolated, too, because, unable to find the press area in the crowd of about 15,000, I was out with the “real” people. Which meant that I could hear everything from the podium and from the onlookers around me, but could see nothing, not, at least, until the mom beside me stopped struggling to balance atop her Little Tikes wagon with two toddlers in her arms and another screaming at her feet, and offered me a go at the view.

(“It’s Sarah. Sarah’s going to be the vice president,” she had told the little girls, clad in their matching polka dot dresses. “Sarah Palin.”)

She was a nice woman. She told me history was in the making. She told me where to get lunch. She handed me back my reporter’s notebook when one of her almost-two-year-old twins, fixing me with a dark look of mistrust, took it away. “Liberal media, eh?” her solemn eyes glared. “Well, watch what you say about my mommy and Our Sarah.”

Do not think for a moment that I was being paranoid.

Fred Thompson had warmed up the crowd, his familiar old district attorney’s voice restored to full bombast, and he’d been in fine form, denouncing – to loud boos from the crowd — the “lawyers and scandal mongers and representatives of cable networks” (boos from the crowd) who were at that very moment descending upon Alaska looking for dirt on their Sarah.

“I hope they brought their own Brie and Chablis with them,” he’d said, to raucous laughter, as I willed myself to disappear, remembering, with a shudder, that my children had demanded Brie for breakfast only that morning.

I should have been finding this funny. My whole plan, after all, had been to write something funny this week about the whole Sarah Palin phenomenon. I’d arrived at an if-you-can’t-beat-’em-laugh-at-’em kind of a juncture, I suppose.

I’d planned to make attending the McCain/Palin event a silly sort of adventure. I’d invited a friend who has six kids to come with me. I figured funny things were bound to befall us in Palin-Land, where, collectively, we’d have eight children between us (a funny thought in and of itself.) A Harold and Kumar Escape from the Barracuda sort of storyline was the idea – until my friend, done in by one too many sleepless nights, declined to accompany me, and I had to venture off alone.

And, forced to make new friends on the spot, discovered that the Palin Phenomenon is no laughing matter.

Those who think that it is — well, as Thompson warned on Wednesday, “they’ve got another thing coming.”

I made my first friend on the shuttle bus that took us from a nearby mall, where we’d been instructed to park, to the field where the rally was held. She was from Leesburg, Va., an ardent McCain supporter, conservative and self-described “soccer mom,” who grew up in Pennsylvania among girls who went hunting with their Dads.

Sarah Palin, she told me, “just seems like a regular person.”

I did not argue with her. One does not argue when making new friends. And besides, we had so many other things to bond over. We talked about kids with issues. She had a son with A.D.H.D., cousins with Asperger’s and dysgraphia, and a nephew with autism. (“They’re lucky they live in New Jersey. New Jersey’s pretty progressive,” she said.)

We talked about the moral vacuity of modern parenting. “I see extreme spoiling, self-absorption,” she said. “Constant bringing the kids up to love themselves without reflecting on how they affect others.” We talked about the disastrous lack of respect that children now show adults and institutions, and about the ways this lack of respect translates into a very ugly sort of lack of decorum and a lack of basic manners: “This 10-year-old, my daughter’s friend, she comes over and throws down a magazine with John McCain on the cover. ‘Here’s friggin John McCain,’ she says. ‘Let’s see what lies he’s going to tell now.’” She continued: “These 10-year-olds think they’re better than me. That they don’t have to say hello. That they think I’m beneath them.”

You go girl, I was thinking, in so many words, until the talk turned back to politics: “So often these kids that are so incredibly full of themselves, I find their parents are Democrats. The Democrats, they hate ‘us,’ the United States, but they love ‘me,’ that is, themselves,” she said.

I heard a lot more talk that day about the need for respect – and about arrogance and selfishness and about Democrats and liberals who think way too highly of themselves.

Fred Thompson on the liberal media: “This woman is undergoing the most vicious assault … all because she is a threat to the power they expected to inherit and think they’re entitled to.”

Businessman Scott Maclean on the Democratic Party: “Their attitude is: you don’t get it and they don’t expect you to get it because they’re smarter than you – and I hate that.”

I heard, repeatedly, a complaint about sterile individualism, about selfishness and the desire for a revalidated “us” – from John McCain’s boilerplate attack on “me-first Washington” to this curious reflection, from a mother of nine, on the field with eight of her children, on the question of whether she, like Palin, could ever imagine balancing the demands of her large family against a high-profile political career like Sarah’s.

“My daughter asked me, ‘Mom, would you do that if you had the opportunity?,’” she recalled, as the six-year-old in question looked on. “I said ‘I don’t know. Maybe she was born to do that. Maybe that’s the sacrifice she has to make to serve her country.’”

The daughter lifted high her hand-painted, flower-adorned Palin sign.

“She’ll really be a big step forward for women,” the mother said.

No, it wasn’t funny, my morning with the hockey and the soccer moms, the homeschooling moms and the book club moms, the joyful moms who brought their children to see history in the making and spun them on the lawn, dancing, when music played. It was sobering. It was serious. It was an education.

“Palin Power” isn’t just about making hockey moms feel important. It’s not just about giving abortion rights opponents their due. It’s also, in obscure ways, about making yearnings come true — deep, inchoate desires about respect and service, hierarchy and family that have somehow been successfully projected onto the figure of this unlikely woman and have stuck.

For those of us who can’t tap into those yearnings, it seems the Palin faithful are blind – to the contradictions between her stated positions and the truth of the policies she espouses, to the contradictions between her ideology and their interests. But Jonathan Haidt, an associate professor of moral psychology at the University of Virginia, argues in an essay this month, “What Makes People Vote Republican?”, that it’s liberals, in fact, who are dangerously blind.

Haidt has conducted research in which liberals and conservatives were asked to project themselves into the minds of their opponents and answer questions about their moral reasoning. Conservatives, he said, prove quite adept at thinking like liberals, but liberals are consistently incapable of understanding the conservative point of view. “Liberals feel contempt for the conservative moral view, and that is very, very angering. Republicans are good at exploiting that anger,” he told me in a phone interview.

Perhaps that’s why the conservatives can so successfully get under liberals’ skin. And why liberals need to start working harder at breaking through the empathy barrier.

DER SPIEGEL [9.9.08]

Eine große Frage, viele große Antworten. Seit 1998 wird auf der Internet-Seite Edge prominenten Denkern jedes Jahr eine Frage gestellt. SPIEGEL ONLINE präsentiert exklusiv ausgewählte Antworten berühmter Wissenschaftler auf eine der Fragen.

Die Internetzeitschrift " Edge" versammelt in einer legendären Serie Beiträge der renommiertesten Wissenschaftler der Welt - und stellt ihnen unter anderem die Frage: Was halten Sie für wahr, ohne es beweisen zu können? SPIEGEL ONLINE präsentiert ausgewählte Antworten.

Ich möchte hier auf einen Vorschlag zurückgreifen, den ich bereits 1991 gemacht hatte: Eine dritte Kultur, "bestehend aus den Wissenschaftlern und sonstigen empirisch orientierten Denkern, die mit ihrer Forschungsarbeit und ihren begleitenden Schriften die Rolle der traditionellen Intellektuellen übernehmen, den tieferen Sinn unseres Lebens sichtbar zu machen und neu zu definieren, wer und was wir sind". Das rapide Wachstum des Internets erlaubte es 1997, der dritten Kultur eine eigene Heimat im Netz zu schaffen, mit einer Web-Seite namens Edge .

Albert Einstein: 'Große Geister gelangen manchmal zu Einsichten, bevor sie Beweise oder Argumente dafür haben'
Zur Großansicht

AFP

Albert Einstein: "Große Geister gelangen manchmal zu Einsichten, bevor sie Beweise oder Argumente dafür haben"

Edge ist ein Tummelplatz für die Ideen der dritten Kultur und zeigt die neue Gemeinschaft von Intellektuellen im regen Austausch. Die Beteiligten können dort nicht nur eigene Projekte und Ideen vorstellen, sondern auch die anderer Denker der dritten Kultur kommentieren. Das geschieht bewusst im Geist der kritischen Auseinandersetzung, und daraus ergibt sich eine rigorose, unter Hochspannung geführte, scharfe Diskussion über Grundfragen des digitalen Zeitalters, bei der "eine elegante Argumentation" mehr zählt als tröstliche Weisheit.

Edge präsentiert spekulative Ideen, erkundet Neuland auf den Gebieten Evolutionsbiologie, Genetik, Informatik, Neurophysiologie, Psychologie und Physik. Zu den in diesem Rahmen gestellten Grundfragen gehören: Wo liegen die Ursprünge des Universums? Wo die des Lebens? Und wo die des Geistes? Aus der dritten Kultur gehen neben einer neuen Naturphilosophie auch neue Denkweisen hervor, die viele unserer Grundannahmen darüber in Frage stellen, wer wir sind und was es bedeutet, ein Mensch zu sein.

DIE EDGE-FRAGE

SPIEGEL ONLINE präsentiert in einer Serie exklusiv ausgewählte Antworten berühmter Wissenschaftler auf die Frage: Was halten Sie für wahr, ohne es beweisen zu können? Lesen Sie hier alle Antworten...

Eine Sparte von Edge ist The World Question Center, ein 1971 von meinem Mitarbeiter und Freund, dem in Ägypten verstorbenen Künstler James Lee Byars, eingeführtes Projekt der "Begriffskunst". Ich hatte Byars 1969 kennengelernt, als er nach dem Erscheinen meines ersten Buches, "By the Late John Brockman", auf mich zukam. Nicht nur lebten wir beide in der Welt der Kunst, sondern teilten auch das Interesse an Sprache, an den Verwendungsweisen der Frageform und an "den Steins": Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein und Frankenstein. Byars regte mich zur Idee von Edge an und erfand das Motto:

"Um die Grenzen des Wissens auszuloten, muss man die geistvollsten und interessantesten Menschen einladen und in einem Raum versammeln, um sie einander die Fragen stellen zu lassen, die sie sonst nur sich selbst stellen."

DER AUTOR

John Brockman ehemaliger Aktionskünstler, Herausgeber der Internet- Zeitschrift Edgeund Begründer der "Third Culture", leitet eine Literaturagentur in New York und hat bereits zahlreiche Bücher veröffentlicht, unter anderem: "Leben was ist das? Ursprünge, Phänomene und die Zukunft unserer Wirklichkeit" (Januar 2009).

Seiner Ansicht nach wäre es einfach töricht, dadurch zu einer Axiologie des gesellschaftlich vorhandenen Wissens gelangen zu wollen, dass man sich durch ganze Bibliotheken liest. (Er selbst besaß in seinem spärlich eingerichteten Zimmer immer nur vier Bücher gleichzeitig, die er in einer Kiste aufbewahrte und stets nach der Lektüre auswechselte.)

Er plante, die hundert besten Köpfe der Welt zusammen einzuschließen, damit sie "einander die Fragen stellten, die sie selbst beschäftigten". Als Ergebnis schwebte ihm eine Synthese allen Denkens vor. Doch lagen zwischen dem Plan und der Ausführung viele Fallgruben. Byars wählte seine hundert Kandidaten aus, rief sie an und fragte, welche Fragen sie sich stellten. Das Resultat: Siebzig von ihnen legten wortlos auf.

Doch 1997 hatten das Internet und die E-Mail gute Voraussetzungen dafür geschaffen, Byars' großen Plan zu verwirklichen, und das führte zur Einrichtung der Web-Seite Edge. Zu den ersten Einsendern gehörten Freeman Dyson und Murray Gell-Mann, die beide auch schon 1971 auf seiner Bestenliste gestanden hatten.

Für jede der acht Jahresausgaben von Edge habe ich mich selbst der Frageform bedient und Autoren gebeten, auf eine Frage zu antworten, die sich mir oder einem von ihnen mitten in der Nacht stellte. Die Edge-Frage von 2005 hatte der theoretisch ausgerichtete Psychologe Nicholas Humphrey vorgeschlagen:

"Große Geister gelangen manchmal zu Einsichten, bevor sie Beweise oder Argumente dafür haben. (Diderot bezeichnete diese seherische Gabe als den 'esprit de divination'.)

Was halten Sie für wahr, ohne es beweisen zu können?"

Diese Frage öffnete manch einem die Augen (der Sender BBC 4 Radio urteilte, sie wirke "auf phantastische Weise anregend ... stimuliert die denkende Welt wie ein Kokaincocktail"). In den hier gesammelten Antworten liegt der Akzent auf Bewusstsein, auf Erkenntnis, auf Ideen über Wahrheit und Beweis. Wenn ich ihr Gemeinsames benennen müsste, so würde ich sagen, dass sie einen Kommentar dazu bilden, wie wir mit einem Übermaß an Gewissheit umgehen. Wir leben im Zeitalter der Suchkultur, in der Suchmaschinen wie Google uns in eine Zukunft geleiten, in der eine Überfülle an richtigen Antworten mit entsprechend naiven Überzeugungen einhergeht.

Zwar wären wir in dieser Zukunft fähig, die Fragen zu beantworten – aber wären wir auch klug genug, sie zu stellen? Dieses Buch plädiert für ein anderes Vorgehen. Es könnte ja auch völlig in Ordnung sein, sich nicht ganz sicher zu fühlen, sondern nur eine Ahnung zu haben und ihr zu folgen. Wie Richard Dawkins, der britische Evolutionsbiologe, 2005 in einem Interview zur damaligen Edge-Frage sagte: "Es wäre völlig falsch anzunehmen, dass die Wissenschaft bereits alles weiß. Vielmehr tastet sie sich über Ahnungen, Vermutungen und Hypothesen voran, manchmal durch poetische oder gar ästhetische Einsichten inspiriert, und versucht dann, ihre Ideen in Experimenten oder Beobachtungen zu erhärten. Und darin gerade liegt die Schönheit der Wissenschaft – dass sie diese imaginative Phase durchlaufen muss, um anschließend zum Nachprüfen und Beweisen überzugehen."

Im Übrigen zeigt dieses Buch auch, dass Wissenschaftler und andere Intellektuelle über ihren Tellerrand hinausblicken – zwar in ihrem jeweiligen Interessengebiet engagiert bleiben, aber auch, was noch wichtiger ist, gründlich über ein neues Verständnis der Grenzen menschlicher Erkenntnis nachdenken. Sie betrachten Wissenschaft und Technik nicht nur in pragmatischer Hinsicht, sondern auch als ein Mittel, tiefer in die Fragen einzudringen, wer wir sind und auf welche Weise wir zu Erkenntnissen gelangen.

Ich glaube, dass die Männer und Frauen der dritten Kultur die herausragenden Intellektuellen unserer Zeit sind – ohne dies allerdings beweisen zu können.

DER SPIEGEL [9.9.08]

Die Internetzeitschrift " Edge" versammelt in einer legendären Serie Beiträge der renommiertesten Wissenschaftler der Welt - und stellt ihnen unter anderem die Frage: Was halten Sie für wahr, ohne es beweisen zu können? SPIEGEL ONLINE präsentiert ausgewählte Antworten.

Ich möchte hier auf einen Vorschlag zurückgreifen, den ich bereits 1991 gemacht hatte: Eine dritte Kultur, "bestehend aus den Wissenschaftlern und sonstigen empirisch orientierten Denkern, die mit ihrer Forschungsarbeit und ihren begleitenden Schriften die Rolle der traditionellen Intellektuellen übernehmen, den tieferen Sinn unseres Lebens sichtbar zu machen und neu zu definieren, wer und was wir sind". Das rapide Wachstum des Internets erlaubte es 1997, der dritten Kultur eine eigene Heimat im Netz zu schaffen, mit einer Web-Seite namens Edge .

Albert Einstein: 'Große Geister gelangen manchmal zu Einsichten, bevor sie Beweise oder Argumente dafür haben'
Zur Großansicht
AFP

Albert Einstein: "Große Geister gelangen manchmal zu Einsichten, bevor sie Beweise oder Argumente dafür haben"

Edge ist ein Tummelplatz für die Ideen der dritten Kultur und zeigt die neue Gemeinschaft von Intellektuellen im regen Austausch. Die Beteiligten können dort nicht nur eigene Projekte und Ideen vorstellen, sondern auch die anderer Denker der dritten Kultur kommentieren. Das geschieht bewusst im Geist der kritischen Auseinandersetzung, und daraus ergibt sich eine rigorose, unter Hochspannung geführte, scharfe Diskussion über Grundfragen des digitalen Zeitalters, bei der "eine elegante Argumentation" mehr zählt als tröstliche Weisheit.

Edge präsentiert spekulative Ideen, erkundet Neuland auf den Gebieten Evolutionsbiologie, Genetik, Informatik, Neurophysiologie, Psychologie und Physik. Zu den in diesem Rahmen gestellten Grundfragen gehören: Wo liegen die Ursprünge des Universums? Wo die des Lebens? Und wo die des Geistes? Aus der dritten Kultur gehen neben einer neuen Naturphilosophie auch neue Denkweisen hervor, die viele unserer Grundannahmen darüber in Frage stellen, wer wir sind und was es bedeutet, ein Mensch zu sein.

DIE EDGE-FRAGE

SPIEGEL ONLINE präsentiert in einer Serie exklusiv ausgewählte Antworten berühmter Wissenschaftler auf die Frage: Was halten Sie für wahr, ohne es beweisen zu können? Lesen Sie hier alle Antworten...

Eine Sparte von Edge ist The World Question Center, ein 1971 von meinem Mitarbeiter und Freund, dem in Ägypten verstorbenen Künstler James Lee Byars, eingeführtes Projekt der "Begriffskunst". Ich hatte Byars 1969 kennengelernt, als er nach dem Erscheinen meines ersten Buches, "By the Late John Brockman", auf mich zukam. Nicht nur lebten wir beide in der Welt der Kunst, sondern teilten auch das Interesse an Sprache, an den Verwendungsweisen der Frageform und an "den Steins": Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein und Frankenstein. Byars regte mich zur Idee von Edge an und erfand das Motto:

"Um die Grenzen des Wissens auszuloten, muss man die geistvollsten und interessantesten Menschen einladen und in einem Raum versammeln, um sie einander die Fragen stellen zu lassen, die sie sonst nur sich selbst stellen."

DER AUTOR

John Brockman ehemaliger Aktionskünstler, Herausgeber der Internet- Zeitschrift Edgeund Begründer der "Third Culture", leitet eine Literaturagentur in New York und hat bereits zahlreiche Bücher veröffentlicht, unter anderem: "Leben was ist das? Ursprünge, Phänomene und die Zukunft unserer Wirklichkeit" (Januar 2009).

Seiner Ansicht nach wäre es einfach töricht, dadurch zu einer Axiologie des gesellschaftlich vorhandenen Wissens gelangen zu wollen, dass man sich durch ganze Bibliotheken liest. (Er selbst besaß in seinem spärlich eingerichteten Zimmer immer nur vier Bücher gleichzeitig, die er in einer Kiste aufbewahrte und stets nach der Lektüre auswechselte.)

Er plante, die hundert besten Köpfe der Welt zusammen einzuschließen, damit sie "einander die Fragen stellten, die sie selbst beschäftigten". Als Ergebnis schwebte ihm eine Synthese allen Denkens vor. Doch lagen zwischen dem Plan und der Ausführung viele Fallgruben. Byars wählte seine hundert Kandidaten aus, rief sie an und fragte, welche Fragen sie sich stellten. Das Resultat: Siebzig von ihnen legten wortlos auf.

Doch 1997 hatten das Internet und die E-Mail gute Voraussetzungen dafür geschaffen, Byars' großen Plan zu verwirklichen, und das führte zur Einrichtung der Web-Seite Edge. Zu den ersten Einsendern gehörten Freeman Dyson und Murray Gell-Mann, die beide auch schon 1971 auf seiner Bestenliste gestanden hatten.

Für jede der acht Jahresausgaben von Edge habe ich mich selbst der Frageform bedient und Autoren gebeten, auf eine Frage zu antworten, die sich mir oder einem von ihnen mitten in der Nacht stellte. Die Edge-Frage von 2005 hatte der theoretisch ausgerichtete Psychologe Nicholas Humphrey vorgeschlagen:

"Große Geister gelangen manchmal zu Einsichten, bevor sie Beweise oder Argumente dafür haben. (Diderot bezeichnete diese seherische Gabe als den 'esprit de divination'.)

Was halten Sie für wahr, ohne es beweisen zu können?"

Diese Frage öffnete manch einem die Augen (der Sender BBC 4 Radio urteilte, sie wirke "auf phantastische Weise anregend ... stimuliert die denkende Welt wie ein Kokaincocktail"). In den hier gesammelten Antworten liegt der Akzent auf Bewusstsein, auf Erkenntnis, auf Ideen über Wahrheit und Beweis. Wenn ich ihr Gemeinsames benennen müsste, so würde ich sagen, dass sie einen Kommentar dazu bilden, wie wir mit einem Übermaß an Gewissheit umgehen. Wir leben im Zeitalter der Suchkultur, in der Suchmaschinen wie Google uns in eine Zukunft geleiten, in der eine Überfülle an richtigen Antworten mit entsprechend naiven Überzeugungen einhergeht.

Zwar wären wir in dieser Zukunft fähig, die Fragen zu beantworten – aber wären wir auch klug genug, sie zu stellen? Dieses Buch plädiert für ein anderes Vorgehen. Es könnte ja auch völlig in Ordnung sein, sich nicht ganz sicher zu fühlen, sondern nur eine Ahnung zu haben und ihr zu folgen. Wie Richard Dawkins, der britische Evolutionsbiologe, 2005 in einem Interview zur damaligen Edge-Frage sagte: "Es wäre völlig falsch anzunehmen, dass die Wissenschaft bereits alles weiß. Vielmehr tastet sie sich über Ahnungen, Vermutungen und Hypothesen voran, manchmal durch poetische oder gar ästhetische Einsichten inspiriert, und versucht dann, ihre Ideen in Experimenten oder Beobachtungen zu erhärten. Und darin gerade liegt die Schönheit der Wissenschaft – dass sie diese imaginative Phase durchlaufen muss, um anschließend zum Nachprüfen und Beweisen überzugehen."

Im Übrigen zeigt dieses Buch auch, dass Wissenschaftler und andere Intellektuelle über ihren Tellerrand hinausblicken – zwar in ihrem jeweiligen Interessengebiet engagiert bleiben, aber auch, was noch wichtiger ist, gründlich über ein neues Verständnis der Grenzen menschlicher Erkenntnis nachdenken. Sie betrachten Wissenschaft und Technik nicht nur in pragmatischer Hinsicht, sondern auch als ein Mittel, tiefer in die Fragen einzudringen, wer wir sind und auf welche Weise wir zu Erkenntnissen gelangen.

Ich glaube, dass die Männer und Frauen der dritten Kultur die herausragenden Intellektuellen unserer Zeit sind – ohne dies allerdings beweisen zu können.

THE GUARDIAN [9.8.08]

Polls: More support for the idea that McCain's in front, or at least gaining ground on Obama, from ABC News, which has Obama's lead down from eight points to one point at 47%-46% -- and a huge 20-point turnaround among white women in McCain's favour. In key swing states, it's tight, and less obviously positive for McCain.

As governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin charged taxpayers for hundreds of nights she spent at her own home, claiming a per diem expense that was designed to cover business travel. She doesn't seem to have broken any rules — let alone laws — but in light of her boasts about trimming costs, it doesn't look great. [Washington Post]

There's unanimity that Palin's statements about the Bridge to Nowhere are... what do you call that thing where something's not true and you know it? Ah, yes. She also supported building a road to the Bridge to Nowhere, even though the bridge wasn't built: a road to a bridge to nowhere that wasn't even there itself. [NewsweekWashington PostWall Street Journal]

No issue's off the table, ABC News insists, for Charlie Gibson's exclusive Sarah Palin interview, to be broadcast on Thursday and Friday, although obviously questioning her suitability for the role would be sexist. [Associated Press]

Why do people vote Republican? A psychologist investigates. [Edge.org]

Quietly, amid a funding panic, the Obama campaign drops its objections to "the cavalry" — independent 527 groups, the kind that might be able to run a few useful anti-McCain ads over the coming weeks. Then again,there's always Barbra Streisand. [Marc Ambinder]

The local paper in Wasilla is cross with the (London) Times newspaper, which described the town as "unkempt" and "ramshackle". Damn snooty British journalists. [Washington Independent]

Should McCain and Palin hug? Kiss? Slap each other on the back? It's all so complicated. [New York Times]

THE GUARDIAN [8.11.08]

Nature, one of the world's leading science magazines, normally carries obituaries only of Nobel prizewinners and scientists of similar stature, but it made an exception for Sir John Templeton [subs nec], the financier and philanthropist who gave hundreds of millions of dollars to promote the scientific study of religious beliefs. He thought they were true, or at least referred to real facts about the world, and thus could be studied with profit by real scientists. Naturally, this infuriates the Dawkinsian atheists, who, for all their talk of applying reason to religion, want in fact to abolish it and extinguish its memory except as something with which to frighten children. So I was aware that writing the obituary was a controversial undertaking.

I only had one letter back, though, which surprised me, and it was a reasoned and interesting one from which I learned a great deal. A reader in Dallas, Texas, write in to protest because I had said that people who believed the universe was amoral must think of themselves as being on the losing side.

To many nonbelievers, like myself, we are perfectly content with believing that the universe is amoral and without purpose. Believing this way takes nothing away from our fascination with this place or its mysteries, nor does it make us less emotionally 'positive' than others. To me, believing this way feels neither false to the facts nor to be on a losing side. I assume that those who do believe in a purpose-driven, moral universe also don't feel that they are on a losing side.

Obviously you can be moral and still believe that the universe is not on your side: in some sense, morality wouldn't be morality at all if it consisted only in signing up with the big winner. But it seems to me obvious that if you believe that in the long run all good deeds are worthless, this will clearly influence your attitude, and your tendency to defect in moments of crisis.

This is not quite the same thing as saying that the universe is an amoral thing. I don't see that it is possible to make any reliable judgment about the character of the universe as a whole, or whether it is the sort of thing that could be said to be moral or amoral. At a minimum, though, one has to suppose that the universe has room for goodness as a fact. It's not just a delusion, which we are free to shuck when it is convenient.

So I wrote back to say this, and got a response saying that he did not disagree with this, necessarily. What he minded was the constant use of religious language in American political discourse, and the way that this seemed to exclude all atheists from full citizenship. I can't argue with that. It's a commonplace that to call yourself an atheist in the US is to render yourself unelectable. Richard Dawkins' agent, John Brockman, told me once that he would never identify as an atheist, even though he is one. The last 29 years have been terrible for American believers in reason and progress. They have been pushed further and further to the margins of a society where once they could believe themselves the vanguard. The process started with the election of Ronald Reagan, but it was Jimmy Carter before him who made it clear that evangelical Christianity was something that could elect presidents. Carter, a devout, old-fashioned Baptist, believes in the separation of church and state. But his successors as Christians in public life have not been so scrupulous.

What's worse for American atheists on the left is that the only way for the Democrats to fight back against the religious right has been to adopt religious language and codes themselves. Barack Obama is absolutely on the side of God. "I just want all of you to pray that I can be an instrument of God... I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on earth," he said in this campaign, according to my correspondent in Dallas. It's not far from here to the position that no atheist should be president of the US. One can see how this would upset atheists, especially the sort convinced that religion is an affliction of the stupid, which clever people must grow out of.

The question is whether anything can be done about this kind of exclusionism, which would not replace the exclusion of atheists by the exclusion of religious believers. Is it really possible entirely to exclude religion from politics? Obviously, we can exclude theology from politics. But religion is not theology. It is far more about belonging and behaviour than believing; and the awful thing is that belonging matters more to us than behaviour. We want our opponents to be unprincipled fools. Morality, in this sense, is not absolute, but always relative to the moralists: it is a question of sharing our values, and our priorities. It's logically possible that someone working for my destruction and that of my family is good and right, but I will never come round to understanding that emotionally unless I feel, as in wartime, that we are both in the service of some greater good against some greater enemy. Nor should I.

Now, it does not in fact matter whether the atheist is immoral. What drives this kind of exclusion is the perception that in times of crisis only moral people should vote: and "moral" means here those who share the values and interests of our tribe. That is very hard to argue with. If you think that liberal democracy is the highest value, one form of the dilemma is to ask whether we should tolerate parties which are dedicated to its overthrow: the traditional answer has been something like "Yes, providing they don't get too powerful". That is why Germany has laws against various neo-Nazi parties, and why we have considered banning Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In the end, because religion is about belonging, religious allegiance provides a shorthand answer to the desperately important question of whom you can trust. This is a question that the market makes chronic and painful, since everyone in it is always on the lookout for a better deal. In Europe we tend to think, still, that we can trust the state, though this is wearing out (how many people now trust the NHS?). In the US, they don't seem to trust the federal government for anything. That's partly the result of a sustained propaganda campaign from Reagan onwards. So the need for some other way to distinguish the trustworthy from the untrustworthy becomes more urgent, and religion is one of the most effective ways yet discovered to produce a social identity.

It used to be the case that party allegiance, in a democracy, told you who you could trust. But that doesn't seem to work any more. When party politics go post-ideological, we need huge ideologies to tell us who are really friends or foes. And anyone who thinks it peculiarly disgusting or illiberal that these ideologies should be religious in the US might ask how a commitment to "Enlightenment values" feels to a religious believer in Europe.

NEWSWEEK [8.8.08]

MIT robotics professor Rodney Brooks helped bring about a paradigm shift in robotics in the late 1980s when he advocated a move away from top-down programming (which required complete control of the robot's environment) toward a biologically inspired model that helped robots navigate dynamic, constantly changing surroundings on their own. His breakthroughs paved the way for Roomba, the vacuuming robot disc that uses multiple sensors to adapt to different floor types and avoid obstalces in its path. (Brooks is chief technology officer and cofounder of Roomba's parent company, iRobot.) Brooks talked to NEWSWEEK's Katie Baker about the challenges involved in creating robots that can interact in social settings. Excerpts:

NEWSWEEK: Sociologists talk about the importance of culture and sociability in humans, and why [it should be equally important] in robots. Do roboticists consider things such as culture when thinking about how to integrate robots into human lives?
Rodney Brooks: Some of us certainly do, absolutely. My lab has been working on gaze direction. This is the one thing that you and I don't have right now [over the telephone], but if we were doing some task together, working in the same workspace, we would continuously be looking up at each other's eyes, to see what the other one was paying attention to. Certainly that level of integration with a robot has been of great interest to me. And if you're going to have a robot doing really high-level tasks with a person, I think you will want to know where its eyes are pointing, what it's paying attention to. Dogs do that with us and we do that with dogs, it happens all the time. Somehow cats don't seem to bother.

So are there ethical implications involved when you think about developing sociable robots, in terms of how they might change human behavior? 
Well, every technology that we build changes us. There's a great piece on Edge.org by Kevin Kelly, I think it was, talking about how printing changed us, reading changed us. Computers have changed us, and robots will change us, in some way. It doesn't necessarily mean it's bad.

Click here

What are some of the more interesting robots that you've seen, or that you're developing or have developed? 
I think what gets interesting is when robots have an ongoing existence. And Roomba has an ongoing existence, [though] less than [that of] an insect. But the ones that I have in my lab here, that I've scheduled to come out and clean every night, they do it day after day and recharge themselves. And they just sort of live as other entities in the lab and we never see them doing anything, except every so often we go and empty their dirt bins. So they've got an ongoing existence, but at a very, very primitive level. All the robots that you see from Honda and all those places don't even have that level of ongoing-ness. They're demo robots. But up until now, people haven't been building robots to have an ongoing existence, so they're sitting in the world, ready to do their thing when the situation is appropriate. So I think that's where the really interesting things will start to happen.

When you don't have to completely control the robot's environment? 
When it becomes [something that] can have an ongoing existence with people … that is where things get interesting. We've done a few things like that here, starting back with [MIT professor] Cynthia Brezeal and [her sociable robot] Kismet, and in her new lab she's got some fantastic new robots where she's pushing towards that. We've had other robots here in my lab—Mertz, which was trying to recognize people from day to day as their looks change, and know about them. And some of our robots, like Domo, will interact with a person for 10 minutes or so, and [it] has face detectors and things like that. There are other projects in Europe—the RoboCub, which is focused in Genoa [Italy], is building these robots that many labs in Europe now have, which are all about emulating child development.

Obviously, we can tell when something's a robot and when something's a human. But when a robot is too humanlike, do we get concerned? 
Our robots that we've built in my lab and the European robots, [if you] show a picture of that robot—just a static picture—to a kid, they'll tell you, "That's a robot." There's no question in their mind. And nevertheless, when the robots are acting and interacting, they can draw even skeptics into interacting with them—for a few seconds at least—where the person responds in a social way. And some people will go on responding for minutes and minutes. Then there are these super-realistic robots that a couple of different groups, one in Asia and one in the U.S., are building. One of them looks like Albert Einstein, and [the other] looks like this television reporter. And there it gets a little weirder. Because very quickly, you realize that they're not Albert Einstein or they're not the television reporter. But they look so much like it, you get this--some of the researchers in Japan call it the Uncanny Valley, I think. There's this dissonance in your head, because the expectations go so far up when it looks so realistic.

What else is important to understand about the robotics field today? 
There are two typical reporter questions that you haven't asked me, and I'm glad you haven't. [The first] is: but a robot can't do anything it's not programmed to do anyway, so it's totally different from us. And my answer to that is that it's an artificial distinction, I think. Because my belief is that we are machines. And I think modern science treats us as machines. When you have a course in molecular biology, it's all mechanistic, and likewise in neuroscience. So if we are machines, then at least it seems to me, in principle, there could exist machines built out of other stuff, silicon and steel maybe, which are lawfully following the laws of physics and chemistry, just as we are, but could in principle have as much free will and as much soul as we have. Whether we humans are smart enough to build such machines is a different question. Maybe we're just not smart enough. That pisses off the scientists when I say that.

Well don't physicists say that, in a way? That there may be things that our brains are just not configured to understand about the universe? 
Yes. Actually, Patrick Winston, who is a professor here—I used to co-teach his AI [artificial intelligence] course many years ago—he'd always start the first lecture on artificial intelligence with the undergrads here, talking about his pet raccoon he'd had as a kid, growing up in the Midwest. And it was very dexterous with its hands. But, he said, it never occurred to him that that raccoon was going to build a robot replica of itself. The raccoon just isn't smart enough. And maybe there are flying saucers up there, with little green men or green entities from somewhere and they're looking down at my lab and saying "What, he's trying to build robot replicas of himself? Isn't that funny! He'll never make it!"

And you said there was one other [typical reporter] question.… 
When? When are we going to have them in our homes? When, when, when?

WASHINGTON POST [7.12.08]

Jason Calacanis announced on Friday that he was retiring from blogging. There was a very mixed reaction to the news, with most believing it to be a publicity stunt. Jason said in his farewell post that instead of blogging, he would instead be posting to a mailing list made up of his followers, capped at 750 subscribers. That subscriber limit was reached very quickly, and today Jason sent out his first new 'post' to that mailing list, which we have included below.

We expect that moving his posts to a mailing list will not achieve what he has set out for - and that is to have a conversation with the top slice of his readers. Instead, you will likely see his emails re-published, probably on a blog and probably with comments and everything else.

> From: "Jason Calacanis"> Date: July 13, 2008 11:16:15 AM PDT> To: jason@binhost.com> Subject: [Jason] The fallout (from the load out)>> Brentwood, California> Sunday, July 12th 11:10AM PST.> Word Count: 1,588> Jason's List Subscriber Count: 1,095> List: http://tinyurl.com/jasonslist>> Team Jason,>> Wow, it's been an amazing 24 hours since I officially announced my> retirement from blogging (http://tinyurl.com/jasonretires). .... John Brockman explained to me at one time that some> of the most interesting folks he's met have, over time, become less> vocal. He explained, that there was a inverse correlation between your> success and your ability to tell the truth. When I met John I was> nobody and I promised myself I would never, ever censor myself if I> become successful. ... Comments on blogs inevitably implode, and we all accept it> under the belief that "open is better!" Open is not better. Running a> blog is like letting a virtuoso play for 90 minutes are Carnegie Hall,> and then seconds after their performance you run to the back Alley and> grab the most inebriated homeless person drag them on stage and ask> them what they think of the performance they overheard in the Alley.> They then take a piss on the stage and say "F-you" to the people who> just had a wonderful experience for 90 or 92 minutes. That's openness> for you¿ my how far we've come! We've put the wisdom of the deranged> on the same level as the wisdom of the wise.>> You and I now have a direct relationship, and I'm cutting the mailing> list off today so it stays at 1,000 folks. I'll add selectively to> the list, but for now I'm more interested in a deep relationship with> the few of you have chosen to make a commitment with me. Perhaps some> of you will become deep, considered colleagues and friends¿something> that doesn't happen for me in the blogosphere any more.>> Much of my inspiration for doing this comes from what I've seen with> John Brockman's Edge.org email newsletter. When it enters my inbox I'm> inspired and focused. I print it, and I don't print anything. The> people that surround him are epic, and that's my inspiration¿to be> surrounded by exceptional people.>>>...

...

The Independent [7.9.08]

John Brockman, the straw-hatted literary agent who looks after the fortunes of the world's major science writers, has had a smart idea. He's contacted 100-odd scientists, psychologists, evolutionary biologists and laboratory-based thinkers and asked them, "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?" The results, published next month, are provocative, if not exactly scary. It seems the most alarming idea is the possibility that the laws of physics may turn out to be local phenomena - that they hold true only in certain circumstances (like, say, living on Earth, specifically in south London) but might be completely different in a potentially infinite number of different universes - and that the world is (dammit) fundamentally inexplicable to the human brain. This is called "the anthropic principle" and you'll hear it being aired at a pretentious London dinner party, any day now, by the kind of person who used to bang on about Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle....

...My favourite Dangerous Idea, however, comes from Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge psychopatho-logist, who suggests we try a political system based on empathy. He points out that parliaments and congresses across the world base their systems on combat, from waging war to the dirty-tricks campaigns currently enfuming the US airwaves. Isn't it time, he asks, that we tried the principle of empathising? It would mean "keeping in mind the thoughts and feelings of other people" rather than riding roughshod over them. It would mean acquiring completely different politicians and election strategies. Instead of choosing party leaders and prime ministers because of their kick-ass, "effective" leadership traits, we'd choose them for their readiness to understand other people's feelings, to ask genuinely interested questions and respond "flexibly" to different points of view.

The whiff of Sixties hippiedom and Nelson Mandela saintliness are, I'm sure, unconscious. Mr Baron-Cohen is a serious psychologist and his theory deserves sober reflection by political scientists, provided they can stop corps-ing at the image of Prime Minister's Questions as a murmurous chamber of thoughtful, non-adversarial debaters, muttering, "How interesting - I never thought of it that way before," as their leader, no longer forced to behave like a stag at bay, tells the leader of the Opposition, "I wouldn't dream of arguing over this point because I know you're very sensitive to contradiction???" If media journalists joined in, Newsnight would become a Shavian dialogue with no conclusions, and Radio 4's Today a warm and fuzzy group hug in which John Humphrys and John Reid strove to find their common humanity in the maelstrom of ideas. I don't know about dangerous, but Mr Baron-Cohen's idea is certainly radical. If only I could stop thinking it's all a spoof masterminded by Simon's cousin Sacha???

[...continue]

Bussiness Week [7.9.08]

The game designer was one of some thirty paradigm-shifting thinkers and doers who took the stage at this year's Pop!Tech conference
by Jessie Scanlon

A Global Who's Who

Five hundred entrepreneurs, thinkers, designers, educators, and inventors attended this year's conference, which closed Saturday, and which focused on the theme of Dangerous Ideas. ...

While a glance at the Pop!Tech program suggests an eclectic, almost random assortment of interesting people—co-founder of the Global Business Network Stewart Brand and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman...the conference held together surprisingly well, in part because one particular "dangerous idea" kept coming up again and again. ... In the kick-off session, Brian Eno, the British experimental-music pioneer and theorist, presented an idea which shocked society when it was first introduced and which, although now widely accepted, continues to reverberate through culture and business: the theory of evolution.

... Pop!Tech isn't the only one to emphasize community and the power of the network, but it walks the walk more than some. Its focus is less on high-power networking—there's no equivalent of the exclusive "Billionaire's Dinner" that publisher John Brockman hosts for TED muckety-mucks every year—and more on the network. ...

Der Tagesspiegel [6.25.08]

Es gibt Dinge, die lassen sich schlecht mischen: Wasser und Öl zum Beispiel. Oder Natur- und Geisteswissenschaftler. Doch sie nähern sich an.

Natur- und Geisteswissenschaftler kann man mit Gewalt zusammenbringen, aber lässt man sie dann eine Weile in Ruhe, neigen sie dazu, sich zu entmischen und am Ende wieder säuberlich getrennt vorzuliegen. So jedenfalls lautet das weit verbreitete Urteil über die akademische Landschaft in Deutschland.

Es könnte allerdings sein, dass die Widerstände abnehmen. Vor kurzem fand in Nürnberg eine Tagung zum Thema „Neuer Humanismus“ statt. Wissenschaftler und interessierte Laien hatten sich in der Nürnberger Burg versammelt, um zu diskutieren: Über Aufklärung und Atheismus, Epikur und Evolution, Hedonismus und Humanismus. Bemerkenswert dabei: Trotz des „geisteswissenschaftlichen“ Themas waren viele Naturwissenschaftler anwesend.

Eckart Voland zum Beispiel. Er ist Biologe und Professor für Philosophie der Biowissenschaften in Gießen. Er beschreibt sich als „Quereinsteiger in der Philosophie“. Voland hält es für wichtig, dass auch Naturwissenschaftler an ethischen Diskussionen teilnehmen: „Viele gesellschaftliche Entwürfe gehen von falschen Voraussetzungen aus“, sagt er. Bei der Feindesliebe zum Beispiel. Jahrtausendelang wurde sie von der Bibel propagiert, aber Voland hält sie für unvereinbar mit der menschlichen Natur. Der Mensch sei schließlich ein Produkt der Evolution, und Feindesliebe habe in der freien Wildbahn wenig Vorteile.

Ein anderes Problem sieht er im Rückgriff auf dualistisches Denken, in der Tatsache, dass „Evolution immer als nicht mehr zuständig erklärt wird, wenn es um mentale Zustände geht.“ Dabei sei das Gehirn ebenso der Evolution unterworfen wie jedes andere Organ. Sein Fazit: „Der Naturwissenschaftler kann helfen, das Fundament zu beschreiben, auf dem jegliche erfolgreiche Politik stehen muss.“ Sonst bestehe die Gefahr einer „Ethik, die an der Welt vorbeigeht“.

Der Kölner Physiker Bernd Vowinkel hat an der Tagung teilgenommen, „weil halt die neuen Technologien in das althergebrachte Menschenbild eingreifen“. Vowinkel meint Entwicklungen wie Roboter, Gehirnchips, künstliche Intelligenz und Prothesen, die die Leistungsfähigkeit des Menschen erhöhen. „Geistes- und Naturwissenschaften müssen stärker zusammenwachsen“, fordert er.

Damit steht er nicht alleine. Bereits 1959 beklagte der Physiker und Schriftsteller Charles Percy Snow, dass die Geistes- und Naturwissenschaften auseinanderdrifteten. Snow prägte das bis heute aktuelle Wort von den „zwei Kulturen“. Gleichzeitig sagte er eine „dritte Kultur“ voraus, eine gemeinsame Kultur von Geistes- und Naturwissenschaftlern.

Mitte der neunziger Jahre fand der amerikanische Literaturagent John Brockman diese dritte Kultur. Sie sah anders aus als Snow sie sich vorgestellt hatte: Brockman stellte fest, dass Naturwissenschaftler wie der Biologe Richard Dawkins oder der Physiker Roger Penrose sich direkt an die Öffentlichkeit wendeten und eine Erklärfunktion übernahmen, die früher literarisch gebildete Geisteswissenschaftler übernommen hatten. Brockmann nannte dies die dritte Kultur.

Inzwischen nimmt aber auch Snows ursprünglicher Gedanke langsam Realität an. Eine zweite dritte Kultur bahnt sich an. In Deutschland bewegen sich Geisteswissenschaftler und Naturwissenschaftler aufeinander zu. Der Wille beider Seiten zum Verständnis des anderen wächst, trotz praktischer Probleme.

Der Biologe Josef Reichholf sieht in der Kommunikation Defizite. Besonders „das starre Festhalten an Worten, die nur scheinbar gut definiert sind“ erschwere das Gespräch. Auch die Unis seien schuld: „In Deutschland wird bei der Ausbildung des akademischen Nachwuchses nicht fächerübergreifend vorgegangen“, beklagt er. Trotz alledem ist sein Fazit optimistisch: „Positive Ansätze sind vorhanden.“ Kai Kupferschmidt

NEW STATESMAN [6.18.08]

Gloria Origgi on why a second language is the best antidote to intolerance

By rejecting the Lisbon Treaty, Ireland's voters may have thrown the European Union into cri sis, but in a more profound way I am optim istic about Europe. A while ago, I took the train from Paris to Brussels for a meeting at the headquarters of the European Commission. The train was full of people my age - the late thirties - going to Brussels to participate in various EU projects.

I started chatting with my neighbours. Most of the people I spoke with came from more than one cultural background, with two or more nationalities in the family. All of us were at least bilingual, many trilingual or more. My neighbours epitomised the deep cultural change now taking place in Europe. A new generation has grown up, of people born more than a quarter of a century after the end of the Second World War and now moving around Europe to study and work - meeting, dating, marrying and having children with people from other European countries and doing so as a matter of course.

More and more European children are growing up multilingual. They are unlike immigrants born in one culture and having to grow up in another. They are unlike children growing up in a monolingual, monocultural family that happens to be located in a wider multicultural en vironment. For these children, cultural and linguistic diversity is not just a part of the society at large, it is a part of themselves, a novel kind of identity. Multilingualism is becoming an existential condition in Europe, good news for a continent in which national identities have been so powerful and have caused so much tragedy and pain in the past.

This condition also affects our cognitive life. Recent research in developmental psychology shows that bilingual children are quicker to develop an ability to understand the mental states of others. A likely interpretation of these findings is that bilingual children have a more fine-grained ability to understand their social environment and, in particular, a greater awareness that different people may represent reality in different ways. My bilingual six-year-old son makes mistakes in French and Italian but never confuses contexts in which it is more appropriate to use one language than the other.

I believe that European multilingualism will help produce a new generation of children whose tolerance of diverse cultures will be built from within, not learned as a social norm.

All this may be wishful thinking, projecting my own personal trajectory on the future of Europe. But I can't help thinking that being multilingual is the best and cheapest antidote to cultural intolerance, as well as a way of going beyond the empty label of multiculturalism by experiencing a plural culture from within. And, of course, this is not just a European issue.

ART FORUM [5.24.08]

 

Left: Filmmaker Jonas Mekas (above) and artist Marina Abramovic. (Photo: Karl Petersson) Right: Artist Olafur Eliasson withHans-Ulrich Obrist, codirector of exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)



As people arrived from all over the world to attend the opening weekend of the Reykjavik Arts Festival and participate in Hans-Ulrich Obrist and Olafur Eliasson’s “Experiment Marathon Reykjavik,” the mood resembled a summer camp—albeit one attended by Björk, who was on my flight from London, and the country’s president, Olafur Ragnar Grímsson. Festivities kicked off with receptions at both the president’s residence and at Reykjavik city hall, where mayor Ólafur F. Magnússon spoke with guests. Iceland’s intimate social landscape, along with its intimidating physical landscape, brought the eclectic crowd together, and it seemed that whenever someone was mentioned in conversation, they appeared just around the corner.

The marathon began Friday morning at the Reykjavik Art Museum–Hafnarhús and featured a diverse lineup including artificial-intelligence expert Luc Steels, physicist Thorsteinn Sigfússon, artists Tomas Saraceno and Hreinn Fridfinnsson, and architects Neri Oxman and David Adjaye. The most successful presentations were often the most straightforward. For example, Indian artist Abhishek Hazra plotted a sine curve by laughing and crying into crescendos of hysteria. Another highlight was the touching performance Table Piece One, in which filmmaker Jonas Mekas, his son, Sebastian, and actor-filmmaker Benn Northover ate lunch and made toasts to elves and trolls; the whole thing resembled a hall of mirrors as a giant video of Mekas shushing the audience was projected above while the performance was simulcast on a smaller screen to the side.

Left: Brian Eno. (Photo: Karl Petersson) Right: Dorrit Moussaieff with Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, president of Iceland. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) 



That evening Frida Bjork Ingvarsdóttir, culture editor of the daily Morgunbladid, improvised a cozy last-minute dinner at her home, partly in honor of her daughter, Elín Hansdóttir, whose immersive, mazelike installation was featured in the exhibition “Art Against Architecture” opening later that night at the National Gallery of Iceland. Arriving with Obrist and Eliasson, our posse was soon followed by Rebecca Solnit, writer-in-residence at the Library of Water in Stykkishólmur, as well as marathon participants John BrockmanMarina Abramovic, and Carolee Schneemann. On hearing the song “Sveitin Milli Sanda” (The Land Between the Sands), performed by Ellý Vilhjálms in the late 1950s, Abramovic proclaimed that she would use it in her performance the next day.

Later, at the National Gallery, guests lounged and swung on Monica Bonvicini’s leather and chain hammocks. Finnbogi Pétursson’s calming poetic installation used magnifiers to project quivering flames on four walls, while outside in the Tjörnin pond, the evocative Atlantis, a sunken little red house by Tea Mäkipää and Halldór Úlfarsson, squared architecture against nature—and the winner seemed clear.

Afterward, collector Ingunn Wernersdóttir led us to the gritty Hressingarskálinn restaurant, where we were serenaded by a deadpan Icelandic duo’s stiff renditions of classic rock tunes. Between bites of City’s Best hot dogs, designer Gudrun Lilja Gunnlaugsdóttir informed me that in Reykjavik, it’s not unusual to wander into places at random, following the common philosophy that “it is about the journey, not the destination.” Putting that into practice, we later stumbled into a party sponsored by I8 gallery in honor ofErnesto Neto’s exhibition, where we again spotted Björk and reeled to the live music while balancing bags of greasy fish and chips.

Left: Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades's Macy's. Right: Artist Carolee Schneemann and John Brockman. (Photos: Cathryn Drake)



On Saturday, our troupe flew northward by propeller plane to Akureyri (pop. 17,300), the country’s second-largest city. President Grímsson sat in the first row reading his newspaper while his Israeli-born wife, Dorrit Moussaieff, recommended her favorite Icelandic fashion designers. Arriving in the city at midday, we visited the exhibition “Facing China” at the Akureyri Art Museum, then moved on to the lovely Safnasafnid folk-art museum, where contemporary installations by “outsider” artists were juxtaposed with traditional cultural artifacts. From there, we flew on to Egilsstadir, making our way to the Eidar Art Center, where we were greeted by young dancers running about and posing in the grass, then hiked through the mud to Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades’s 2004 installation of a Macy’s in the middle of a field.

After a visit to the Slaughterhouse Culture Centre, we drove through the snow-covered peaks above Lake Lagarfljót, haunted by the legendary Worm monster, to Seydisfjördur, the small-town home of the Skaftfell Centre for Visual Art, founded in memory of former resident Dieter Roth. After being greeted at the door with handshakes and hugs from Gudni Gunnarsson and Lieven Dousselaere of the art collective Skyr Lee Bob, we gawked as dancer Erna Omarsdóttir growled, twitched, and scratched at the walls from within a glass room. Outside, Pétur Kristjánsson used his tractor to “Paint by Numbers,” lining up milk cartons containing various liquid foods on the pavement and running them over to create a splatter pattern, eventually moving on to crushing vacuum cleaners while children danced on the sidelines. “Welcome to Iceland,” a local resident commented.

Left: Artist Abhishek Hazra and Dr. Ruth. (Photo: Cathryn Drake) Right: Carolee Schneemann's performance. (Photo: Karl Petersson)



Bringing together art and science, the experiment marathon seemed like an inspirational DIY manual for life itself. Describing reality as a nonlinear process of input and output in which we ourselves are the instruments, Brockman noted, “You are not creating the world, you are inventing it.” In “Laughing at Leonardo,” filmmaker-composer Tony Conrad made a sort of Vitruvian Man joke using his own body as a stringed musical instrument. Brian Eno led the audience in a sing-along of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and proposed choral singing as the key to civilization: “In a group you stop being me and start being us. I encourage you all to start your own a cappella group and change the world.” He added, “The three keys to happiness and a healthy old age are dancing, singing, and camping.”

In the end, the marathon also demonstrated that experiments can be most interesting when they fail, as when a curious collaboration between Abramovic and Dr. Ruth Westheimer was canceled due to a blowout between the two personalities. After screening a video explaining how she had been rejected by the elderly sex adviser, Abramovic led the audience in breathing exercises, then instructed everyone to hug each other. Hugs may do it for some, but it wasn’t until Sunday night’s closing party at the Blue Lagoon that our group came upon the true secret to Iceland’s famously high happiness rate: relaxing in a volcanic hot pool under the midnight sun.

 

— Cathryn Drake

 

Left: Dancer Erna Omarsdóttir. (Photo: Cecilia Alemani) Right: Sebastian Mekas, Jonas Mekas, and Benn Northover. (Photo: Cathryn Drake)

Left: Thorgerdur Katrín Gunnarsdóttir, Iceland's minister of culture, with the Sugarcubes's Einar Örn Benediktsson. Right: Dagur B. Eggertsson, former mayor of Reykjavík, with Ólafur F. Magnússon, mayor of Reykjavik. (Photos: Björn Blöndal)



Left: Artist Ernesto Neto, collector Francesca von Habsburg, and artist Monica Bonvicini. Right: Monica Bonvicini's installation at the National Gallery of Iceland. (Photos: Cathryn Drake) 



Left: Artists Andrea Maack and Katrin Olina. Right: Amiina and friends perform onstage.

 

BOSTON GLOBE [5.19.08]

Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks's new book, "Gross National Happiness," advances the provocative hypothesis that conservatives are happier than liberals: "Political conservatives take the happiness prize hands down." Why? For one thing, they are more likely to be married, which generally correlates with happiness. (Although having children does not.) Also, they are more likely to be religious, which, Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens/Sam Harris notwithstanding, has its own rewards.

More to the point, conservatives like things the way they are. The status quo is perfectly all right with them, although the status quo ante would be even better. Haven't you noticed that right-wing lunatics like Rush Limbaugh affect a jolly, contented tone, while left-wing lunatics like Al Franken always sound angry? Look at our current president: distanced, out of it, but smugly satisfied with his disengagement. It may be that his last day in office will be the happiest day of his life. Ours, too.

What is it with happiness, anyway? It's like being thin; everybody wants it, no one can have it. Happiness, of course, is the animal that disappears in the pursuit. "Those only are happy," John Stuart Mill wrote, "who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness."

I keep an eye on the nebulous science of happiness, or "hedonometrics," which is not so unlike the nebulous science of political polling, or of bunting with men on second and third and one out. Happiness studies prove to be a full-employment program for economists, psychologists, and psychiatrists offering pabulum for people almost as miserable as they.

So who's happy? Not people in midlife, according to data extrapolated from 500,000 responses to the General Social Survey in America, and from the Eurobarometer across the Atlantic. In a paper posted on the National Bureau of Economic Research website, economists David Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Andrew Oswald of Warwick University report that "well-being reaches a minimum, on both sides of the Atlantic, in people's mid to late 40s." After that, the U-shaped index rises again.

Their paper also shows that, generation after generation, Americans (like Japanese) are becoming more unhappy. De Tocqueville knew as much more than 150 years ago: "So many lucky men, restless in the midst of abundance." With Europeans, it is the opposite; the younger ones enjoy more "well-being" than their parents.

What about the undeserving rich? Research shows that it's better to be middle class than poor. Things get complicated as you move further out on the "swinishly wealthy" axis, because $100 million doesn't buy a hundred times the pleasure of $1 million. Best-selling happiness monger ("Stumbling on Happiness") Daniel Gilbert compares accumulating wealth to eating pancakes. "The first one is delicious, the second one is good, the third OK," he told Harvard magazine. "By the fifth pancake you're at a point when an infinite number more pancakes will not satisfy you to any degree. But no one stops earning money or striving for more money."

The hedonometricians even came up with the notion of a "hedonic set point," or baseline. This is like the body weight set point, meaning that if you weigh 175 pounds now, you will probably weigh about that much for the rest of your life. Hedonically speaking: This is about as happy as you will ever be.

Harvard psychologist Nancy Etcoff has asserted that this happiness baseline notion is wrong: "Personality is much less stable than body weight, and happiness levels are even less stable than personality." So, there is an upside: A certain number of people can become more happy. But wait! "For every person who shows a substantial lasting increase in happiness, two people show a decrease," Etcoff wrote on a website called edge.org.

Suddenly, this is an ethical dilemma. For me to be happier, both you and your friend have to bum out. Of course, your being unhappy might raise my spirits. Speaking of which, I think I'll have that second Negra Modelo.

I'm OK, but you two are not. I am happy with that.

On this subject

I know, I am becoming like a broken record on the subject of Justin Cartwright. But his 2004 novel, "The Promise of Happiness," is very good. Stewart O'Nan can pull this off, too, writing about intimacy and family dynamics in a non-syrupy fashion. Hie thee to the library, or to the internets. I think you'll be happy that you did.

ART REVIEW [5.14.08]

Descending through the clouds over Iceland, the land looks like cauliflower, or something growing in a giant petri dish. Driving from the airport, which is basically out in the wilderness a dozen or so miles from Reykjavik, the interminable rockiness of the earth becomes obvious: rock everywhere, volcanic black gnawed and gnarly masses smeared with a thin film of moss, stretching back to the horizon in incredible sliding perspective (as you drive by), before it's stopped short by a wall of squat, tempting mountains. I'm here for the Reykjavik Art Festival, which began last night, and my knee-jerk thought riding through the countryside was: how does culture, let alone a thriving triennial of visual art (this is the second after Bjorn Roth (son of Dieter) and Jessica Morgan's effort in 2005) get a toe-hold here in the midst of such overwhelming, isolating and intimidating nature?

Easy. At the packed opening reception for the festival, hosted by the Reykjavik Art Museum (a mixture of brutalist concrete and steel-and-glass elegance), Hans Urlich Obrist speculated that Iceland is possibly the only country in the world where the president and his wife would come to a performance by Emily Wardill, the emerging London-based film artist. President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson – a big supporter of the arts – was indeed one of those watching in the small auditorium as Wardill kicked off the crowning event of the festival, Obrist and Olafur Eliasson's Experiment Marathon. This is a new iteration of the exhilarating event – a series of presentations, performances and interactions – that was first tried out in the Serpentine pavilion during Frieze last year. (And Obrist revealed that this summer's marathon at the Serpentine will be a Manifesto Marathon – for an era without manifestos – inside Frank Gehry's pavilion.)...

..."Try saying your brain is a computer in the 1970s, and you'd get a lot of flak. Now it's old hat", said cultural entrepreneur and founder ofedge.orgJohn Brockman in an on-stage interview with Obrist. "Who we are is a changing game." Let's hope art can keep up. At the end of the short interview, Brockman quoted James Lee Byars, who is perhaps the father of this kind of polyphonous, multi-disciplinary thinking in the contemporary artworld with his World Question Center (1968): "It's Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein and Frankenstein" – you need all four in order to think; a man can't live on art alone.

Brian Eno, up next, demonstrated how man can't live alone either. Singing helps, and we don't do enough of it. Eno has been campaigning for a compulsory five minutes of singing in English schools every day, and it looks like he's succeeding. With a small group of volunteers leading us on stage, Eno soon got everyone in the audience (which was overflowing today) happily singing 'I can't help falling in love with you' a cappella. It was a joyous, silly, profound moment. ...

...

Talent and Patents: The sciences fight for intellectual jurisdiction
SUEDDEUSTSCHE ZEITUNG [5.8.08]

...This is not the first intellectual iconoclasm of a practical science. In the early nineties, the so-called Third Culture arose under the patronage of New York literary agent John Brockman. Since then, in bestsellers and in the online magazine Edge.org, scientists have begun to conquer the realm that traditionally belonged to philosophy and theology. With enormous success, Steven Pinker destroyed the great myths of the Enlightenment with his book The Blank Slate, Daniel Dennett reduced free will to biological processes, and Richard Dawkins supported the core beliefs of millions with his onslaught against religious faith in The God Delusion. ...

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AllInTheMind [5.6.08]

 

As the world wages war over geographical, religious and historical turf - a growing number of big note scientists want religious faith put under the microscope. Uber philosopher of mind and popular provocateur, Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, is one of them. He joins Natasha Mitchell to discuss his latest controversial offering, Breaking the Spell. Be provoked...

Presented by Natasha Mitchell 

[...click to listen to or download audio]

Neue Zürcher Zeitung — Switzerland [4.21.08]

Wer erinnert sich noch an die «dritte Kultur»? Das Schlagwort, das der amerikanische Literaturagent John Brockman vor bald anderthalb Jahrzehnten zum Markenzeichen zu promovieren versuchte, war eine Mogelpackung. Es knüpfte an die von C. P. Snow 1959 in Umlauf gebrachte Rede von den zwei intellektuellen Kulturen an, die einander fremd und verständnislos gegenüberstünden. Die Kluft zwischen der literarisch-geisteswissenschaftlichen und der technisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Denkungsart, so suggerierte das heute kaum noch benutzte Etikett, werde von einer dritten überbrückt.

Dialoge, Blickwechsel

Doch die vorgeblich dritte hatte entschieden mehr mit der naturwissenschaftlichen als mit der geisteswissenschaftlichen Weise gemein, Mensch und Welt, Natur und Gesellschaft in den Blick zu nehmen. Alles in allem lief das Unternehmen darauf hinaus, einem in der Tendenz naturalistischen Weltverständnis im intellektuellen Diskurs und in der öffentlichen Meinungsbildung mehr Geltung zu verschaffen. Das lässt sich auch an dem Web-Journal «Edge» ablesen, das – einer anspruchsvollen Wissenschaftspopularisierung verpflichtet – von der Kampagne von einst noch übrig geblieben ist (www.edge.org). Manche Anzeichen, nicht zuletzt der um sich greifende Hirn-Talk, sprechen dafür, dass der Naturalismus in vielerlei Spielarten tatsächlich zu einer Weltanschauung von erheblicher Schubkraft geworden ist.

Auf dem weiten, von Erdspalten durchbrochenen Feld der Zwei-bis-drei-Kulturen-Debatte bewegt sich auch ein neues Projekt aus dem Hause Suhrkamp. Der Frankfurter Verlag hat eine Buchreihe aus der Taufe gehoben, die sich (in Partnerschaft mit «Spiegel online») erklärtermassen von der «Deutungshoheit» herausfordern lassen will, die die Naturwissenschaften im intellektuellen Raum mittlerweile erlangt hätten. Die Reihe trägt den Namen des einstigen, vor wenigen Jahren verstorbenen Verlegers. Zwar hat Siegfried Unseld sich persönlich nicht mit Erkundungsgängen auf jenem weiten Feld der zwei oder mehr Kulturen hervorgetan, doch immerhin ein Faible für Goethe gehabt. Als Fingerzeig auf eine goetheanische, auf eine ganzheitliche Natur-und-Geist-Wissenschaft der «dritten» Art wird man dies aber nicht missverstehen wollen. Es ist, wie Ulla Unseld-Berkéwicz in der Vorschau zum ersten Programm der «edition unseld» andeutet, eher um Dialoge und Blickwechsel zwischen Natur- und Geisteswissenschaften sowie darum zu tun, das «Für und Wider einer naturalistischen Weltsicht» zu erörtern.

Die ersten acht Bände der neuen Edition sind seit gestern auf dem Markt. Ausser dem handlichen Format und der Bezeichnung der Reihe erinnert äusserlich wenig an die vor fünfundvierzig Jahren begründete «edition suhrkamp». Auch die von Band zu Band wechselnden bunten Farben tun es nicht, denn sie fächern sich nicht im Spektrum des Regenbogens auf. Was indes die Themen und Gehalte angeht, so wären einige der jeweils zehn Euro kostenden booklets ohne weiteres in der altehrwürdigen und gleichwohl immer wieder auf die Kammhöhen der Zeit strebenden «edition suhrkamp» gut aufgehoben – und die restlichen passten womöglich in Suhrkamps Wissenschaftstaschenbücher («stw»). Gegen Aufmerksamkeitserzeugung durch Reihenvermehrung ist, andererseits, wenig einzuwenden.

Die «eu»-Nummer eins trägt ein Gedankengang der in Pittsburgh arbeitenden Wissenschaftsphilosophin Sandra Mitchell. Dessen Titel ist, wie es sich ziemt, anfänglich und programmatisch ausgefallen: «Komplexitäten. Warum wir erst anfangen, die Welt zu verstehen». Die Autorin wirbt für einen «integrativen Pluralismus» der Perspektiven und Prinzipien. Freilich hat sie kein «Anything goes» im Sinn. Wissenschaftliche Erklärungen und Theorien sind für Mitchell, wenn gut belegt, nach wie vor «repräsentative Abbilder der Welt». Die Philosophin hält lediglich die – in den Wissenschaften allerdings gängige – Annahme für verfehlt, es könne nur die eine und einzig wahre Erklärung geben. Depressionen beispielsweise seien nur als «komplexe Kombination aus biochemischen, neurologischen, psychischen und körperlichen Zuständen» begreifbar. Deutlicher als die Antwort auf die Frage, wie das Zusammenspiel verschiedener Erklärungsmodelle im Einzelnen aussehe, konturiert sich der antireduktionistische Impetus, der den wissenschaftlichen Willen zur Komplexität befeuert.

Beschränkungen der Forschungsfreiheit

In der theoretischen Physik, die nach elementaren und elementarsten Teilchen sowie nach den Grundkräften fahndet, die die Welt zusammenhalten, hat der Reduktionismus naturgemäss nach wie vor eine Heimstatt. Eine antireduktionistische Gegenbewegung macht sich indes seit einiger Zeit bemerkbar. Robert B. Laughlin hat sich mit seinem «Abschied von der Weltformel» (dt. Piper 2007) an deren Spitze gestellt. Der in Stanford lehrende Nobelpreisträger ist in der «edition unseld» jedoch mit einem anderen Thema vertreten. Er schlägt sich in seinem Essay «Das Verbrechen der Vernunft» mit den Beschränkungen herum, die die sogenannte Wissensgesellschaft dem Wissenserwerb und der Wissensverwertung auferlegt – um der Sicherheit oder um der ökonomischen Verwertbarkeit willen. Es geht also um Forschungs- und Informationsfreiheit, um geistiges Eigentum, Patent- und Urheberrecht; und manches geht – eine eigene Form der Komplexitätssteigerung – auch durcheinander.

Weniger komplex, konzentrierter nämlich ist das Gespräch geartet, das der Frankfurter Neurophysiologe Wolf Singer und Matthieu Ricard, einstmals Molekularbiologe, seit langem aber buddhistischer Mönch, führen. Es entspricht dem Dialog-Auftrag der neuen Edition am ehesten. Die «kontemplative Wissenschaft» der Meditation und die analytische der Hirnforschung sind bei der Erkundung ihrer Gemeinsamkeiten und ihrer Unterschiede allerdings bisweilen so konzentriert, dass sie auf der Stelle treten.

Der Münchner Zoologe und Ökologe Josef H. Reichholf prangert falsche Vorstellungen von «natürlichen» Gleichgewichten an, die in unseren Köpfen herumspukten. In der Natur herrschten allenfalls Fliessgleichgewichte, in denen sich Ungleichgewichte zeitweise stabilisierten. Sein munteres Plädoyer für eine «Ökologie der Zukunft» operiert mit methodisch wenig kontrollierten Verschränkungen sozialer und ökologischer Perspektiven; auch das mag eine Möglichkeit sein, die Kluft zwischen den Denkkulturen zu schliessen: «Die Natur braucht Ungleichgewichte, damit Neues entstehen kann. Die Gesellschaft auch!»

Noch skizzenhafter und spekulativer präsentiert sich eine maschinenstürmerische «Streitschrift» von Dietmar Dath, dem vielseitigen Autor und ehemaligen «FAZ»-Redaktor. Deren diagnostischer Kernsatz lautet: «Wir leben, wie wir leben, nur, weil es Maschinen gibt, aber wir leben gleichzeitig so, als könnten wir dem, was sie tun, keine Richtung geben.» Ob die Richtung aber tatsächlich mit der Reaktivierung eines – im Vagen bleibenden – sozialistischen Gedankenguts gefunden und gegeben werden kann? – Auch der Pariser Kulturwissenschafter Bernard Stiegler, der offenbar Wert darauf legt, dass seine Leser wissen, dass er von 1978 bis 1983 wegen bewaffneten Raubüberfalls im Gefängnis sass, nimmt fatale Auswirkungen der Technologie ins Visier und registriert – gleichfalls ein wenig altmodisch erscheinend – den «Verlust der Aufklärung durch Technik und Medien». Triebgesteuerte, unkonzentrierte, ichschwache, unmündige Wesen würden durch den Kurzschluss von psychischem und elektronischem Apparat gezüchtet.

Die Überraschung: Descartes

Erfreulicheres weiss von der Mensch-Maschinen-Schnittstelle Rolf Landua vom Europäischen Laboratorium für Elementarteilchenphysik (Cern) in Genf zu berichten. Einem Besucher erläutert er in seinem fiktiven Dialog «Am Rand der Dimensionen», zwar vermöge kein Einzelner den Grossapparat eines Beschleunigers zu überschauen, aber das Kollektiv – und nur es – sei «in der Lage, ein solches Gerät zu verstehen und richtig zu nutzen». Die wissenschaftliche Grossforschung, so spekuliert der Physiker – und der Leser fühlt sich an Teilhard de Chardin erinnert –, markiere vielleicht so etwas wie «den Beginn der nächsten Stufe» der kosmischen «Bewusstseinsentwicklung». Dass sogar Gott im Cern Platz finden kann, wundert darum nicht.

Auch das Haus der Edition Unseld hat viele Zimmer. Der Passepartout, der sie dem Leser allesamt öffnete, ist am Portal allerdings nicht hinterlegt worden; man muss ihn erst noch finden. In einem Gelass unterm Dach hat der Dichter und Essayist Durs Grünbein sein Schreibpult aufgestellt und drei «lockere Meditationen» zu Descartes zu Papier gebracht. Auf mitunter überraschende Weise bricht er dem Gedanken Bahn, ausgerechnet mit diesem Renatus Cartesius, dem unter Naturfreunden schlecht beleumundeten Philosophen des Leib-Seele-Dualismus, lasse sich die «Kulturdichotomie» zwischen Poesie und Wissenschaft «spielerisch» aufheben.

Nicht alle der acht ersten Bände der «edition unseld» zeugen von einem souveränen spielerischen Intellekt, nicht alle sind ausgegoren, keiner ist unentbehrlich – und doch hat ein jeder Kontakt mit dem, was an der Zeit wäre.

Los Angeles Times [4.11.08]

apster in 1999. MySpace in 2004. YouTube in 2006. Experts from the tech community look ahead to the innovations that will change how we work, play and communicate in 2007...

All computing, all the time

JOHN BROCKMAN 
John Brockman is publisher and editor of Edge (edge.org)

WE WILL SEE migration of social applications as user-generated content moves to the WiFi environment. YouTube, MySpace and multi-user games will be available on hand-held devices, wherever you go. People will carry their digital assets much like their bacteria. Israeli tech guru Yossi Vardi calls it "continuous computing."

The nanotechnology world foreseen by K. Eric Drexler arrives in the form of MEMS, or microelectronic mechanical systems. Very inexpensive moving parts will be mass-produced like a semiconductor. But unlike semiconductors, they move. Useful for anything that employs moving parts. 

Synthetic Biology pioneer George Church of Harvard University expects $3,000 personal genomics kits in stores.

"Pop Atheism" might include popular atheist TV and movie characters, professional athletes, political figures, etc. Look for the first billion-dollar IPO for the Web service that gets atheists together for "rituals," dating and political and business networking.

Rod Brooks, director of MIT's computer lab, is looking at new Web services aimed at the baby boomer age group, who realize that, in terms of IT use, they've been passed by, missing out on IM, text-messaging, MySpace, etc. 

But don't put much stock in predictions. Consider that YouTube/ /MySpace/ Napster didn't change the real world for most people very much. MySpace became TheirSpace and YouTube became TheirTube faster than you can say "2006." 

Web Secrets 6 - Edge.org
WEB CAMPAIGN [4.10.08]

This is where big brains hang out online. Its membership includes 'some of the most interesting minds in the world' debating intellectual, philosophical and artistic issues. Sounds heavy, but it's always full of wise words to steal.

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