Edge in the News

SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG — Munich [1.7.08]

Eines der anregendsten intellektuellen Spiele findet sich jedes Jahr im Januar auf der Website Edge.org, wenn Wissenschaftler und Künstler im "World Question Center" auf die Frage des Jahres antworten. 2007 prügelte man mit Vehemenz auf die Religionen ein, und so klingt schon die Frage für 2008 wie ein erneuter Generalangriff auf die Seligen: "Welche Ihrer Meinungen haben Sie einmal geändert?" Ist die Religion doch der Ort der göttlichen Wahrheit, die sich nicht begründen muss und nicht bezweifelt werden kann. Wenn er einer Partei angehöre, hatte der Agnostiker Camus auch gesagt, dann der des Zweifels. Keine Konfrontation sollte mehr gescheut werden. Die letzte Heimat der Unverzweifelten bleibt dagegen der Glaube. Was Edge angeht, wird diese Erwartung jedoch enttäuscht. ...

TEMPOS DEL MUNDO (Buenos Aires) [1.7.08]

BUENOS AIRES, jan. 8 (UPI) — On the occasion of the new year, the most sublime thinkers of the world have recognized that, from time to time, they are obliged to rectify their views.

When addressing topics as diverse as evolution man, the laws of physics and differences sex, a group of scientists and philosophers, among Which includes Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Paul Davies and Richard Wrangham, have confessed, all of them Without exception, they have changed their minds, reports Madrimasd.org.

This exhibition of scientific modesty has occurred As a result of the questions, coinciding with New year, annually raised the website edge.org, which has obtained responses from more than 120 of the most Important thinkers in the world.

A recurring theme in the answers is that what distinguishes science from other forms of knowledge and faith is that new ideas based on quickly replace old ones when they are based on evidence produced by tests. Accordingly, in the intellectual scope there is nothing of shameful in recognizing that one has changed positions.

[Spanish Original ...]

Die Partei der Zweifler; Bei der Frage des Jahres im Onlinemagazin Edge machen sich Wissenschaftler Gedanken Ÿber ihre eigene Fehlbarkeit
SÜDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG — Munich [1.7.08]

Eines der anregendsten intellektuellen Spiele findet sich jedes Jahr im Januar auf der Website Edge.org, wenn Wissenschaftler und Künstler im "World Question Center" auf die Frage des Jahres antworten. 2007 prügelte man mit Vehemenz auf die Religionen ein, und so klingt schon die Frage für 2008 wie ein erneuter Generalangriff auf die Seligen: "Welche Ihrer Meinungen haben Sie einmal geändert?" Ist die Religion doch der Ort der göttlichen Wahrheit, die sich nicht begründen muss und nicht bezweifelt werden kann. Wenn er einer Partei angehöre, hatte der Agnostiker Camus auch gesagt, dann der des Zweifels. Keine Konfrontation sollte mehr gescheut werden. Die letzte Heimat der Unverzweifelten bleibt dagegen der Glaube. Was Edge angeht, wird diese Erwartung jedoch enttäuscht. ...

Read the full article →

IL GIORNALE (Milan) [1.5.08]

What is the coolest online forum, one where scientists and great minds from all over the world exchange opinions and ideas, and the one that keeps the scientific debate alive? Almost certainly it’s edge.org, an American website whose most ardent supporters include, to quote some of the best known, Richard Dawkins, the famous and controversial evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene; Brian Eno, the visionary music producer; psychologist Steven Pinker; and physicists like Alan Guth or Gino Segré, who are changing the present vision of the universe. This where you’ll run into debates that count, thanks also to a device that has started a cultural trend: every year edge.org asks an artful question that the big brains who haunt its electronic pages are invited to answer. This year’s question is: What have you changed your mind about? Why?

The mea culpa flocked in in great numbers and from prestigious sources, (more than a hundred in a few days), revealing that the greatest minds are changing their opinions on a lot of subjects, from the expansion of the universe to evolution, from the meaning of science to the workings of the human brain through the value of the Roman Empire in front of the barbarians.

THE NEWS & OBSERVER — Raleigh-Durham [1.5.08]

... As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to Web site editor John Brockman's impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and clarity.

In explaining why they have cast aside old assumptions, the respondents' short essays tackle an array of subjects, including the nature of consciousness, the existence of the soul, the course of evolution and whether reason will ultimately triumph over superstition.

Two of the most interesting answers may signal a cease-fire in the gender wars.

In 2005, Harvard President Lawrence *. Summers was assailed for suggesting that innate differences might explain why there are few top women scientists. Now Diane F. Halpern, a psychology professor at Claremont Mc-Kenna College and a self-described "feminist," says Summers was onto something.

"There are real, and in some cases sizable, sex differences with respect to cognitive abilities," she writes.

Her views are echoed by Helena Cronin, a philosopher at the London School of Economics.

"Females," she writes, "are much of a muchness, clustering around the mean." With men, "the variance — the difference between the most and the least, the best and the worst — can be vast." Translation: There may be fewer female geniuses in certain fields, but there are also fewer female morons...

...

IL GIORNALE (Genoa) [1.5.08]

Qual è il forum on line più cool su cui si scambiano pareri e idee scienziati e cervelloni di tutto il mondo, quello che mantiene vivo il dibattito scientifico? Quasi sicuramente Edge.org, sito britannico che ha tra i supporter più accesi, tanto per citare qualcuno tra i notissimi, Richard Dawkins, il famoso e discusso zoologo autore de Il gene egoista, Brian Eno, produttore visionario di musica contemporanea, lo psicologo Steven Pinker, oppure fisici come Alan Guth (uno di quelli che sta cambiando l’attuale visione della storia dell’universo) o Gino Segrè. Da lì passano molti dei dibattiti che contano, merito anche di un escamotage, con le caratteristiche del tormentone colto: ogni anno Edge.org pone un quesito malizioso a cui gli intellettualoni, che compulsano le sue pagine elettroniche, sono chiamati a rispondere. Quello di quest’anno è: «Su che cosa avete cambiato idea? E perché».
Un modo garbato di spingere i ricercatori, che lo utilizzano e sostengono, ad ammettere i propri errori a partire da un motto: «Quando pensare modifica la tua opinione è filosofia, quando è dio che ti fa cambiare idea è fede, quando i fatti ti fanno vedere le cose in maniera diversa questa è scienza».
I quesiti posti negli anni precedenti si erano già spinti sul filo della provocazione (nel 2006 la domanda era stata «qual è l’idea più pericolosa in circolazione?»), ma non avevano mai coinvolto così sul personale intellettuali e ricercatori. Forse per questo i mea culpa sono arrivati numerosissimi e prestigiosi (siamo già oltre il centinaio in pochi giorni), rivelando che le migliori teste pensanti stanno cambiando parere su un sacco di cose, dall’espansione dell’universo all’evoluzione, dal senso della scienza al funzionamento del cervello umano, passando per il valore dell’Impero romano rispetto alle civiltà barbariche. E in alcuni casi il «contrordine compagni scienziati» bordeggia tra lo stupefacente e l’iconoclastia.
Per fare qualche esempio, un antropologo come Richard Wrangham, noto per le sue teorie sulle origini della violenza tra gli umani (ha scritto Demonic Males: apes and the origins of human violence) ripensa le sue idee: «Pensavo che alla base dell’evoluzione umana ci fosse l’uccidere e mangiare carne, adesso penso che ci sia il fatto di cucinare il cibo. Che questo ci abbia differenziato dai primati». Invece un biologo evoluzionista di fama come Mark Pagel ha cambiato idea sul concetto di razza, che secondo lui non deve più essere un tabù, anche nella sua applicazione nei confronti dell’essere umano. A convincerlo di questo fatto sono stati gli ultimi studi sul genoma della nostra specie: «Ci accomuna il 99,5 per cento del patrimonio genetico, non il 99,9 come si credeva in passato... se pensiamo che con lo scimpanzé la somiglianza è del 98,5 per cento... Questo non significa affatto che un gruppo etnico sia superiore all’altro, ma solo che ha senso discutere di differenze genetiche tra le popolazioni».
Come si vede, tesi espresse con moderazione ma comunque dirompenti, visto il putiferio provocato da espressioni meno felici, ma basate sugli stessi dati, di un premio Nobel come James Dewey Watson (scopritore del DNA e recentemente aggredito, a ragione, dai media inglesi per una serie di dichiarazioni razziste di dubbio gusto e attendibilità).

Pagina  1 - 2  | Successiva 

THE NEWS & OBSERVER — Raleigh-Durham [1.5.08]

... As in the past, these world-class thinkers have responded to Web site editor John Brockman's impossibly open-ended questions with erudition, imagination and clarity.

In explaining why they have cast aside old assumptions, the respondents' short essays tackle an array of subjects, including the nature of consciousness, the existence of the soul, the course of evolution and whether reason will ultimately triumph over superstition.

Two of the most interesting answers may signal a cease-fire in the gender wars.

In 2005, Harvard President Lawrence *. Summers was assailed for suggesting that innate differences might explain why there are few top women scientists. Now Diane F. Halpern, a psychology professor at Claremont Mc-Kenna College and a self-described "feminist," says Summers was onto something.

"There are real, and in some cases sizable, sex differences with respect to cognitive abilities," she writes.

Her views are echoed by Helena Cronin, a philosopher at the London School of Economics.

"Females," she writes, "are much of a muchness, clustering around the mean." With men, "the variance — the difference between the most and the least, the best and the worst — can be vast." Translation: There may be fewer female geniuses in certain fields, but there are also fewer female morons...

THE GLOBE AND MAIL [1.4.08]

Margaret Wente Comment Column; Second Thoughts

If you want to start your year with a jolt of fresh thinking, I have just the thing. Each year around this time, a Web-based outfit called theEdge Foundation asks a few dozen of the world's brightest scientific brains one big question. This year's question: What have you changed your mind about?

The answers address a fabulous array of issues, including the existence of God, the evolution of mankind, climate change and the nature of the universe. Some of the most provocative responses deal with the bonanza of new evidence from the fast-evolving fields of genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. This is the intellectual equivalent of a New Year's dip in the lake - bracing, possibly shriek-inducing, and bound to wake you up. For the full menu, go to www.edge.org. Meantime, here's a taste. ...

...

BLOGGINGHEADS TV [1.4.08]

 

• Edge.org’s annual question
• George’s answer to the Edge question
• John’s answer to the Edge question

 


John Horgan & George Johnson

John and George’s New Year resolutions; John softens his pessimism about neuroscience ; The soccer club theory of terrorism; The trouble with relying on experts; How George got hooked on garage-band science; Happiness is a burning bridge.

George Johnson, BLOGGINGHEADS TV [1.4.08]

John and George’s New Year resolutions; John softens his pessimism about neuroscience ; The soccer club theory of terrorism; The trouble with relying on experts; How George got hooked on garage-band science; Happiness is a burning bridge.

John Horgan, BLOGGINGHEADS TV [1.4.08]

John and George’s New Year resolutions; John softens his pessimism about neuroscience ; The soccer club theory of terrorism; The trouble with relying on experts; How George got hooked on garage-band science; Happiness is a burning bridge.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL [1.4.08]

Margaret Wente Comment Column; Second Thoughts

If you want to start your year with a jolt of fresh thinking, I have just the thing. Each year around this time, a Web-based outfit called the Edge Foundation asks a few dozen of the world's brightest scientific brains one big question. This year's question: What have you changed your mind about?

The answers address a fabulous array of issues, including the existence of God, the evolution of mankind, climate change and the nature of the universe. Some of the most provocative responses deal with the bonanza of new evidence from the fast-evolving fields of genetics, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. This is the intellectual equivalent of a New Year's dip in the lake - bracing, possibly shriek-inducing, and bound to wake you up. For the full menu, go to www.edge.org. Meantime, here's a taste. ...

Daniel Gilbert, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL [1.4.08]

CULTURE
Change of Mind Could Spur A Hardening of the Heart
• EDGE -- JAN. 4

When scientists and other prominent intellectuals change their mind about important things, their new outlook often is gloomier.

That, at least, is the theme of responses to a survey conducted by online science-and-culture publication the Edge, which asked some influential thinkers: "What have you changed your mind about? Why?" ... d

...Fittingly, Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert says he has changed his mind about the benefits of changing one's mind. In 2002, a study showed him that people are more satisfied with irrevocable decisions than with ones they can reverse. Acting on the data, he proposed to his now-wife. "It turned out that the data were right: I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL [1.4.08]

CULTURE
Change of Mind Could Spur A Hardening of the Heart
• EDGE -- JAN. 4

When scientists and other prominent intellectuals change their mind about important things, their new outlook often is gloomier. That, at least, is the theme of responses to a survey conducted by online science-and-culture publication the Edge, which asked some influential thinkers: "What have you changed your mind about? Why?"
 

...Fittingly, Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert says he has changed his mind about the benefits of changing one's mind. In 2002, a study showed him that people are more satisfied with irrevocable decisions than with ones they can reverse. Acting on the data, he proposed to his now-wife. "It turned out that the data were right: I love my wife more than I loved my girlfriend."

...

TORONTO STAR [1.4.08]

Ralph Waldo Emerson called consistency the hobgoblin of little minds, yet we live in a world where 'flip-floppers' are treated with contempt. An ambitious new survey of top thinkers, however, serves as a reminder of how healthy it is to change one's mind

Sandro Contenta
Staff Reporter

...Challenging this complacency is a project by the Edge Foundation, a group promoting discussion and inquiry into issues of our time. To kick off the New Year, the group put this statement and question to many of the world's leading scientists and thinkers:

"When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy. When God changes your mind, that's faith. When facts change your mind, that's science. What have you changed your mind about?"

Answers, posted on the website www.edge.org, came from 164 people, many of them physicists, philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists. They ring like scientific odes to uncertainty, humility and doubt; passionate pleas for critical thought in a world threatened by blind convictions. In short, they're calls for more people who can change their minds. ...

TORONTO STAR [1.4.08]

A few years ago, while working in Yemen, I was invited by a tribal leader to his daughter's wedding in the remote mountain village of Asnaf.

Festivities began outdoors with a rowdy dance of men waving traditional daggers and Kalashnikovs. Women and men then ate in separate buildings, according to customs of segregation that had long ago passed into the unquestioned realms of knowledge and truth.

Substituting for after-dinner drinks were big bushy bundles of mildly narcotic khat leaves, plopped on the floor as the plates were cleared away. After two hours of chewing, eyes got glazed and the conversation a little weird.

"It's a fact – the Earth is flat," insisted a Bedouin sheikh, who carried himself with a noble demeanour.

The statement focused attention in what had become a rather lethargic group. A man with a fist-sized ball of khat stretching his cheek responded with ridicule: "The end of the Earth is your village."

Debate was lively, but the sheikh would not be moved. When a colleague, a Western journalist, argued through a translator that astronauts had looked down from space and seen the Earth as a big blue ball, the sheikh's grimace suggested an old canard had yet again invaded his sensibilities.

"Let's drop it," he said, reaching for more khat.

Flat Earthers are a tiny and insignificant lot. But their blind and deaf reaction to reason and evidence is widespread. Politicians seem especially afflicted, including those without the isolation of a Yemeni village as a possible excuse.

So fearful are politicians of the "flip-flop" label, they wear their obstinacy like a badge of honour. When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's popularity was being battered by the Iraq war and public service reforms, he proudly told British voters: "I've not got a reverse gear."

It's easy to see this attitude as endemic. So many of us are set in our ways, sure of our religions and ideologies, comfortably numb in our flat-Earth moment.

Challenging this complacency is a project by the Edge Foundation, a group promoting discussion and inquiry into issues of our time. To kick off the New Year, the group put this statement and question to many of the world's leading scientists and thinkers:

"When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy. When God changes your mind, that's faith. When facts change your mind, that's science. What have you changed your mind about?"

Answers, posted on the website www.edge.org, came from 164 people, many of them physicists, philosophers, psychologists and anthropologists. They ring like scientific odes to uncertainty, humility and doubt; passionate pleas for critical thought in a world threatened by blind convictions. In short, they're calls for more people who can change their minds.

Global warming, partly from the devouring of fossil fuels, emerges as the most pressing challenge and notes of urgency and alarm permeate some responses. Physicist and Nobel laureate Leon Lederman adds to that dire prognosis the dangers posed by 7,000 nuclear weapons in the U.S. alone, the spread of religious fundamentalism, an "endless" war in Iraq, and a "mindless" war on terrorism, used as an excuse to restrict freedoms.

He used to think the main duty of scientists was to conduct science. Now he urges them to political action.

"We need to elect people who can think critically," he says, calling on scientists to run for political office.

Colorado scientist Carolyn Porco, heading a team studying pictures of planets from the Cassini project, fears a return of "dark ages" when scientific inquiry – the separating of truth from falsehood through verifiable observations – was shunned and scientists jailed.

"When the truth becomes problematic, when intellectual honesty clashes with political expediency, when voices of reason are silenced to mere whisper, when fear alloys with ignorance to promote might over intelligence, integrity, and wisdom, the very practice of science can find itself imperiled. At that point, can darkness be far behind?"

Some responses suggest explanations for the general inability to change course while speeding toward a cliff. Harvard biologist Marc Hauser and Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, for example, both confess to now accepting the so-called Handicap Principle in evolution.

First proposed by Israeli zoologist Amotz Zahavi, the theory says natural selection favours those who suggest superior fitness by genuinely risking their lives. In the animal kingdom, it improves a male's chances of mating.

Hauser described watching female pigeons disregarding male suitors on a sidewalk and focusing on an apparently suicidal male pigeon strutting in the road.

"The females were oriented toward this male, as opposed to the conservative guys on the sidewalk, because he was playing with danger, showing off, proving that even in the face of heavy traffic, he could fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee, jabbing and jiving like the great Muhammad Ali," Hauser says.

The theory raises a perhaps pertinent question: Is the plunder of natural resources, the polluting of the planet and the penchant for war a human version of the macho pigeon strut? What's certain, at least from what scientists tell us, is that there's little we can be certain about. What seem like truths today might be lies tomorrow. Even our senses can't be trusted.

"Physical reality has turned out to be very different from how it seems, and I feel that most of our notions about it have turned out to be illusions," says MIT physicist Max Tegmark.

"The world looks like it has impenetrably solid and stationary objects, but all except a quadrillionth of the volume of a rock is empty space between particles in restless schizophrenic vibration. The world feels like a three-dimensional stage where events unfold over time, but Einstein's work suggests that change is an illusion," he adds.

The laws of physics, as Arizona University physicist Paul Davies says he now realizes, are not "fixed and absolute" but "intrinsically fuzzy and flexible." You wonder if you can be sure about anything.

Physicist Laurence Krauss, who like many in his field once thought the universe was "geometrically flat," is now convinced of an accelerating universe that "will carry away almost everything we now see, so that in the far future our galaxy will exist alone in a dark, and seemingly endless void."

More reason for skepticism and doubt comes from psychologists and neurologists, who note how little we even understand ourselves.

Neurobiologist Leo Chalupa, of the University of California, says all 100 billion neurons in the brain are in a constant process of breakdown and renewal. "Your brain is different than the one you had a year or even a month ago," he says, before adding the key question: "So how is the constancy of one's persona maintained?"

Neuroscientist Joseph Ledoux, of New York University, changed his mind about memory. Experiments have shown that "each time a memory is used, it has to be restored as a new memory in order to be accessible later," he says.

"The old memory is either not there or is inaccessible. In short, your memory about something is only as good as your last memory about it," Ledoux adds.

The overall portrait is of physical and conscious reality, including our sense of self, constantly reviewed and reconstituted – a process in stark contrast to the intransigence of dogma and ideology. It also belies the rote learning and encouraged passivity that dominates the school system at the expense of critical thought.

A note of optimism is introduced by Temple University mathematician John Allen Paulos, who cites the work of Nobel Prize-winning game theorist Robert Aumann.

Aumann's so-called Agreement Theorem stipulates that individuals form rational responses to bits of information, which gradually become common knowledge that forces beliefs to change and coincide in the long run.

But Paulos adds two notes of caution: In the long run, we'll all be dead, and Aumann is silent about the possible convergence of irrational responses.

In other words, it's unclear whether we'll evolve into life-preserving critical thinkers or doomed versions of flat Earthers.

WASHINGTON POST [1.3.08]

RFQ: What Have You Changed Your Mind About? (Plus: Last Chance on the Coin Contest)

...University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt says he used to consider sports and fraternities to be the height of American celebration of stupidity. "Primitive tribalism, I thought. Initiation rites, alcohol, sports, sexism, and baseball caps turn decent boys into knuckleheads. I'd have gladly voted to ban fraternities, ROTC, and most sports teams from my university." But Haidt has changed his mind: "I had too individualistic a view of human nature. I began to see us not just as chimpanzees with symbolic lives but also as bees without hives. When we made the transition over the last 200 years from tight communities (Gemeinschaft) to free and mobile societies (Gesellschaft), we escaped from bonds that were sometimes oppressive, yes, but into a world so free that it left many of us gasping for connection, purpose, and meaning. I began to think about the many ways that people, particularly young people, have found to combat this isolation. Rave parties and the Burning Man festival are spectacular examples of new ways to satisfy the ancient longing for communitas. But suddenly sports teams, fraternities, and even the military made a lot more sense." ...

WASHINGTON POST [1.3.08]

John Brockman has been making people notice his ideas for the better part of half a century, going back to the Happenings of the 60s. He's a publicity hound--a literary agent, he once promoted a movie starring The Monkees. More recently, he's created an online salon of ideas, including an annual New Year's question he poses to a long list of the planet's philosophers, thinkers and academics. This year's question:

"What Have You Changed Your Mind About?" Which also becomes the Random Friday Question here on the big blog.

Flexible, optimistic people live longer, the scientists tell us, so--are the world's leading thinkers ready and willing to admit that they've changed their views about big things?

Stewart Brand, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog way back when and the early online community The Well more recently, has decided that his early passion for building preservation was dead wrong. "Good old stuff sucks," he writes. "Sticking with the fine old whatevers is like wearing 100% cotton in the mountains; it's just stupid.
Give me 100% not-cotton clothing, genetically modified food (from a farmers' market, preferably), this-year's laptop, cutting-edge dentistry and drugs."

Brockman surveys a whole lot of scientists and math types whose idea of changing their mind is to adapt to new findings and slightly shift a particular perspective or line of inquiry. This is not in the spirit of the question and I won't bore you with those folks' self-righteous, pedantic responses. There are also quite a few folks who describe their movement from faith to agnosticism or atheism, or vice versa, which is surely change of a sort, but one that probably tells us more about the author's personal, emotional state of mind than about an intellectual journey.

But every once in a while, one of Brockman's correspondents is honest and rigorous enough to admit to a real change:

University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt says he used to consider sports and fraternities to be the height of American celebration of stupidity. "Primitive tribalism, I thought. Initiation rites, alcohol, sports, sexism, and baseball caps turn decent boys into knuckleheads. I'd have gladly voted to ban fraternities, ROTC, and most sports teams from my university." But Haidt has changed his mind: "I had too individualistic a view of human nature. I began to see us not just as chimpanzees with symbolic lives but also as bees without hives. When we made the transition over the last 200 years from tight communities (Gemeinschaft) to free and mobile societies (Gesellschaft), we escaped from bonds that were sometimes oppressive, yes, but into a world so free that it left many of us gasping for connection, purpose, and meaning. I began to think about the many ways that people, particularly young people, have found to combat this isolation. Rave parties and the Burning Man festival are spectacular examples of new ways to satisfy the ancient longing for communitas. But suddenly sports teams, fraternities, and even the military made a lot more sense."

A friend of Carl Sagan's writes about his own flip from the search for intelligent life elsewhere in the universe to his conviction that We Are Alone. Internet advocate Douglas Rushkoff says he has given up on his notion that the Web would change the world and alter human consciousness and has now reluctantly concluded that "cyberspace has become just another place to do business. The question is no longer how browsing the Internet changes the way we look at the world; it's which browser we'll be using to buy and sell stuff in the same old world." And TV writer Karl Sabbagh concludes that no, experts really are no wiser than the rest of us: "The people I know who are wise are not necessarily knowledgeable; the people I know who are knowledgeable are not necessarily wise. Most of us confuse expertise with judgment."

In some cases, the change of mind is a reinterpretation of events. The physicist Freeman Dyson took a new look at the end of World War II and decided that history was wrong: The dropping of the atomic bombs did not end the war. He lays out a pretty compelling case based on new historical studies and concludes that demolishing that myth might make the road to eliminating nuclear weapons a bit smoother. Not likely, but still, a splendid thought exercise.

All this change can make for bewildering and disturbing reading: A mathematician concludes that robots can see God. A philosopher loses trust, faith and belief in modern medicine. An evolutionary biologist reluctantly comes to see that there really are more differences among races than we would like to think.

I've changed my mind about many things in recent years. Here are just two of them: I used to think that slower was better than faster. I now believe the opposite. And this: For many years, I favored fat over salt. I have now switched sides.

What have you changed your mind about?

(And while you're thinking creatively, please remember to jump in on our D.C. quarter contest: You propose the image that ought to be on the new coin that will belatedly add the District to the U.S. Mint's 50-states quarters program. Our crack staff of judges will choose the most creative and persuasive proposal. The winner's image will be given to an artist who will produce a reasonably professional rendering of your idea for the folks over at the Mint--and you will win a very nice version of that artistic rendition.

(Here's how to play: Send your entries, in word description or, if you're really ambitious, in image, to tellus@washingtonpost.com We'll collect your entries through January 6th and report back to you soon thereafter.)

NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE [1.2.08]

Plato Had a Bad Year [John Derbyshire]

For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words, this is hard to beat. ... What a feast of egg-head opinionating!

If there's a common tendency running through many of these pieces, it is the fast-rising waters of naturalism, released by a half-century of discoveries in genetics, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, submerging every other way of looking at the human world.

We are part of nature, a twig on the tree of life. If we are to have any understanding of ourselves, we must start from that. Final answers to ancient questions are beginning to come in. You may not be happy about the answers; but not being happy about them will be like not being happy about Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle.

NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE [1.2.08]

Pop-math author par excellence Keith Devlin drops Platonism.

In doing so, Keith edges a bit closer than I’d like to the social-contruction arguments of Reuben Hersh. I seriously doubt that “other cognitive creatures in another part of the universe might have different mathematics.” I don’t think, when we eventually get to the Lesser Magellanic Cloud, we shall find that two plus two equals five over there, or that the angles of plane triangles add up to 190 degrees. In any case, according to Martin Seligman (see below) there’ll be no-one there to discuss the matter with.

Still, the anti-Platonism is surely correct. The beginning of mathematics is abstraction — forming those stable mental structures we call “concepts” from repeated observations of the world around us. Abstraction, and math, then advance by forming hierarchies of concepts, the concepts at each level dealing with the concepts at the lower as if they were objects in the physical world. That is, as Keith points out, the only way we are equipped to treat them. The fact that we can only think about concepts as if they were objects, does not mean they are objects, though. Score one for Nietzsche. Still, anyone who seizes on this as an excuse to teach “feminist math” or “African math” should be tarred, feathered, and run out of town on a rail.

Devlin’s piece is one of many brief contributions to science webzine Edge.org‘s Annual Question round robin: “What Have You Changed Your Mind About? Why?” addressed to notable intellectuals, with a bias towards the human sciences. For an exceptionally high quotient of interesting ideas to words, this is hard to beat. Try, according to your own interests:

What a feast of egg-head opinionating!

If there’s a common tendency running through many of these pieces, it is the fast-rising waters of naturalism, released by a half-century of discoveries in genetics, evolutionary biology, and neuroscience, submerging every other way of looking at the human world.

We are part of nature, a twig on the tree of life. If we are to have any understanding of ourselves, we must start from that. Final answers to ancient questions are beginning to come in. You may not be happy about the answers; but not being happy about them will be like not being happy aboutHeisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Sing it, Bobby:

Come gather ‘round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the minds they are a-changin’.

Pages