Edge in the News

The Newyork Times Magazine [1.20.07]

...You might think scientists would be the optimistic exception here. Science, after all, furnishes the model for progress, based as it is on the gradual and irreversible growth of knowledge. At the end of last year, Edge.org, an influential scientific salon, posed the questions "What are you optimistic about? Why?" to a wide range of thinkers. Some 160 responses have now been posted at the Web site. As you might expect, there is a certain amount of agenda-battling, and more than a whiff of optimism bias. A mathematician is optimistic that we will finally get mathematics education right, a psychiatrist is optimistic that we will find more effective drugs to block pessimism (although he is pessimistic that we will use the, wisely). But when the scientific thinkers look beyond their own specializations to the big picture, they continue to find cause for cheer - foreseeing an end to war, for example, or the simultaneous solution of our global warming and energy problems. The most general grounds for optimism offered by these thinkers, though, is that big-picture pessimism so often proves to be unfounded. The perennial belief that our best days are behind us is, it seems, perennially wrong.

Such reflections may or may not ease our tendency toward global pessimism. But what about our contrary tendency to be optimistic - indeed, excessively so - in our local outlook? Is that something we should, in the interests of cold reason, try to disabuse ourselves of? Optimism bias no doubt causes a good deal of mischief, leading us to underestimate the time and trouble of the projects we undertake. But the mere fact that it is so widespread in our species suggests it might have some adaptive value. perhaps if we calculated our odds in a more cleareyed way, we wouldn't be able to get out of bed in the morning. ...

THE NEWYORK TIMES MAGAZINE [1.20.07]

Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Put so starkly, the question has a fatuous ring. Unless you are in the grip of a bipolar disorder, you are probably optimistic about some things and pessimistic about others. Optimism tends to reign when people are imagining how their own plans will turn out. Research shows that we systematically exaggerate our chances of success, believing ourselves to be more competent and more in control than we actually are. Some 80 percent of drivers, for example, think they are better at the wheel than the typical motorist and thus less likely to have an accident. We live in a Lake Woebegon of the mind, it seems, where all the children are above average. Such “optimism bias,” as psychologists have labeled it, is hardly confined to our personal lives. In fact, as Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel laureate in economics, and Jonathan Renshon argue in the current issue of Foreign Policy, it may help explain why hawkishness so often prevails at the national level. Wasn’t the Iraq war expected by proponents to be “fairly easy” (John McCain) or “a cakewalk” (Kenneth Adelman)?

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Joel Meyerowitz/Edwynn Houk Gallery

 

But when it comes to the still bigger picture — the fate of civilization, of the planet, of the cosmos — pessimism has historically been the rule. A sense that things are heading downhill is common to nearly every culture, as Arthur Herman observes in “The Idea of Decline in Western History.” The golden age always lies in the past, never in the future. It’s not hard to find a psychological explanation for this big-picture gloominess. As we age, we become aware of our powers diminishing; we dwell on the happy episodes from our past and forget the wretched ones; moving toward the grave, we are consumed by nostalgia and foreboding. What could be more natural than to project this mixture of attitudes onto history at large?

The very idea of progress, a novelty of the Enlightenment that has been in fashion only fitfully since, can grow wearisome. “Progress might have been all right once,” Ogden Nash said, “but it has gone on too long.”

You might think scientists would be the optimistic exception here. Science, after all, furnishes the model for progress, based as it is on the gradual and irreversible growth of knowledge. At the end of last year, Edge.org, an influential scientific salon, posed the questions “What are you optimistic about? Why?” to a wide range of thinkers. Some 160 responses have now been posted at the Web site. As you might expect, there is a certain amount of agenda-battling, and more than a whiff of optimism bias. A mathematician is optimistic that we will finally get mathematics education right; a psychiatrist is optimistic that we will find more effective drugs to block pessimism (although he is pessimistic that we will use them wisely). But when the scientific thinkers look beyond their own specializations to the big picture, they continue to find cause for cheer — foreseeing an end to war, for example, or the simultaneous solution of our global-warming and energy problems. The most general grounds for optimism offered by these thinkers, though, is that big-picture pessimism so often proves to be unfounded. The perennial belief that our best days are behind us is, it seems, perennially wrong.

Such reflections may or may not ease our tendency toward global pessimism. But what about our contrary tendency to be optimistic — indeed, excessively so — in our local outlook? Is that something we should, in the interests of cold reason, try to disabuse ourselves of? Optimism bias no doubt causes a good deal of mischief, leading us to underestimate the time and trouble of the projects we undertake. But the mere fact that it is so widespread in our species suggests it might have some adaptive value. Perhaps if we calculated our odds in a more cleareyed way, we wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

A couple of decades ago, the psychologist Shelley Taylor proposed that “positive illusions” like excessive optimism were critical to mental health. People who saw their abilities and chances realistically, she noted, tended to be in a state of depression. (Other psychologists, taking a closer look at the data, countered that depressives actually show more optimism bias than nondepressives: given the way things turn out for them, they are not pessimistic enough.) And there is new evidence that optimism may in some ways be self-fulfilling. In a recently published study, researchers in the Netherlands found that optimistic people — those who assented to statements like “I often feel that life is full of promises” — tend to live longer than pessimists. Perhaps, it has been speculated, optimism confers a survival advantage by helping people cope with adversity.

But pessimism still appears to have its advantages. Another recently published paper observes that over the last three decades, the people of Denmark have consistently scored higher on life-satisfaction than any other Western nation. Why? Because, say the authors, the Danes are perennial pessimists, always reporting low expectations for the year to come. They then find themselves pleasantly surprised when things turn out rather better than expected.

Americans, too, are lowering their expectations, at least in one respect. According to the Census Bureau’s 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States, most college freshmen in 1970 said their primary goal was to develop a meaningful life philosophy. In 2005, by contrast, most freshmen said their primary goal was to be comfortably rich — a more modest one, it would seem, given the relative frequency of wealth and wisdom.

As for the minority still seeking a philosophy of life, the Viennese satirist Karl Kraus came up with a formula nearly a century ago that remains the perfect blend of optimism and pessimism: Things are hopeless but not serious.

Weekend america [1.19.07]

Edgie's Chris Anderson of TED and Robert Provine of University of Maryland as the proponents of optimism on program concerning Optimism and the Doomsday Clock

The Guardian [1.19.07]

What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, edited by John Brockman (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

The results of the 2005 Question at edge.org, posed by Steven Pinker, are in. Apart from an exasperating section about "memes" (are they still fashionable?) and a few Eeyorish dullards, it's a titillating compilation. Physicist Freeman Dyson predicts that home biotech kits will become common; others posit that democracy may be a blip and "on its way out", that "heroism" is just as banal as evil, and that it will be proven that free will does not exist. There are also far-out but thought-provoking notions: that, given the decadent temptations of virtual reality, the only civilisations of any species that survive to colonise the galaxy will be puritan fundamentalists; or that the internet may already be aware of itself. I particularly enjoyed cognitive scientist Donald D Hoffman's gnomic pronouncement that "a spoon is like a headache", and mathematician Rudy Rucker's robust defence of panpsychism, the idea that "every object has a mind. Stars, hills, chairs, rocks, scraps of paper, flakes of skin, molecules". Careful what you do with this newspaper after you've read it.

THE AGE — MELBOURNE [1.19.07]

THE WORD WENT OUT TO some of the world's leading scientists and thinkers: just what is your dangerous idea? Ideas defined as dangerous not because they're assumed to be false but because they might be true. Spanning multi-disciplinary topics including biology, genetics, neuroscience, psychology and physics, this volume is full of provocative, speculative and plain mischievous arguments. Ask people to play devil's advocate and the results are fascinating. Maybe we're all marionettes dancing on genetic strings; maybe we have no souls or perhaps we may all even "house homicidal circuits within our brains". One bright spark even posits that the very notion of disseminating dangerous ideas (even in a safe, playful medium such as this one) is itself dangerous because ideas can be powerful forces. ...

WEEKEND AMERICA [1.19.07]

 
It's time to set our watches again. The Doomsday Clock moved two minutes closer to midnight this week. This is of course just a symbolic clock that's wound every now and then by board members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. In 1947 the BAS started using the clock to measure how close we are to global nuclear annihilation. The closer the minute hand gets to midnight, the more doomed we are. And as of Wednesday, it's 11:55. We asked Weekend America's Sean Cole to look into how doomed we are and if there's anyone who might be able to offer a second opinion.

THE GUARDIAN [1.19.07]

In a sly joke, the deity who invented music made sure that the mathematical proportions of "pure" acoustic intervals don't quite add up properly. So in order to play harmonically rich music in different keys, you have to skew the tuning in one way or another. Our current method is called "equal temperament", which is what modern pianos have, and in which the major thirds are sharp and the fifths are flat. Lots of people think that Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was propaganda for equal temperament, and that everyone settled on it soon thereafter. But, as Duffin's scholarly and enjoyably pugnacious book shows, that's not the case: Bach used a different temperament, which slightly favoured some keys over others. Equal temperament was not universally adopted until the 20th century, and Duffin thinks it should still not be the default. He offers cute capsule biographies of major thinkers in the tuning debates and arguments, based on score markings and other evidence, about what composers such as Haydn or Beethoven would have expected. He even imports early records into a software program to analyse the pitches and find out how people were tuning their violins. Most controversial is his argument that string players should play leading notes flatter than in equal temperament (in order to favour harmonic consonance over melodic shape), rather than sharper, as they have traditionally done. None the less, his fine book should make any contemporary musician think differently about tuning.

The Original Accident, by Paul Virilio (Polity, £14.99)

To invent the train, says Virilio, is to invent the train wreck. Our society is predicated on the industrial accident, which only recently leapfrogged the natural disaster in destructive power. From this spiky proposition, Virilio, the ludic French "dromologist" (student of speed), careers off on a kind of intellectual rollercoaster that takes in Aristotle, Chernobyl, the twin towers, genetic engineering, the privatisation of police forces, cosmology, Rabelais, killer asteroids, and a wonderful short story by Ursula Le Guin, written from the point of view of a tree. Virilio's breakneck pattern-recognition method is apt to spark new thoughts in some readers' heads, even if his images are sometimes hostages to pedantry: "If knowledge can be shown as a sphere whose volume is endlessly expanding," Virilio writes, "the area of contact with the unknown is growing out of all proportion." Does it matter that the surface-area-to-volume ratio actually shrinks, not expands, when a sphere grows? I leave it to you to decide.

What Is Your Dangerous Idea?, edited by John Brockman (Simon & Schuster, £12.99)

The results of the 2005 Question at edge.org, posed by Steven Pinker, are in. Apart from an exasperating section about "memes" (are they still fashionable?) and a few Eeyorish dullards, it's a titillating compilation. Physicist Freeman Dyson predicts that home biotech kits will become common; others posit that democracy may be a blip and "on its way out", that "heroism" is just as banal as evil, and that it will be proven that free will does not exist. There are also far-out but thought-provoking notions: that, given the decadent temptations of virtual reality, the only civilisations of any species that survive to colonise the galaxy will be puritan fundamentalists; or that the internet may already be aware of itself. I particularly enjoyed cognitive scientist Donald D Hoffman's gnomic pronouncement that "a spoon is like a headache", and mathematician Rudy Rucker's robust defence of panpsychism, the idea that "every object has a mind. Stars, hills, chairs, rocks, scraps of paper, flakes of skin, molecules". Careful what you do with this newspaper after you've read it.

Science [1.10.07]

Qubits for dollars. Quantum computing guru David Deutsch is the first recipient of the $95,000 Edge of Computation Science Prize for researchers whose computerrelated ideas touch on broader questions about life, the universe, and everything. 

The 52-year-old Deutsch, at the University of Oxford,U.K., provided the first blueprints for a universal quantum computer in 1985, bringing to life an earlier suggestion from physicist Richard Feynman.Quantum computation,which theoretically is exponentially faster than classical computing, could potentially speed up calculations that currently hamper fields such as physics, biology, and nanotechnology. 

"Deutsch clearly deserved the prize because of his seminal role in creating and furthering quantum computation", says physicist and computer scientist Seth Lloyd of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who was a judge. But it's an unusual reward that transcends disciplines; other nominees were from fields of computational biology, software development, and communications, he notes."I'll be very interested to see who wins it next," says Lloyd.

The prize is funded by philanthropist Jeffrey Epstein.

Reforma [1.9.07]

El foro virtual Edge propone buscar razones, no simplemente deseos, para el optimismo. Edge es un club que reúne, segén ellos mismos, algunas de las mentes más interesantes del mundo. Su propósito es estimular discusiones en las fronteras del conocimiento. La intención es llegar al borde del conocimiento mundial, acercándose a las mentes más complejas y refinadas, juntarlas en un foro y hacerlos que se pregunten las preguntas que ellos mismos se hacen. La fundación actúa, de este modo, como surtidora de problemas y alojamiento de réplicas. Cada ano se constituye como Centro Mundial de Preguntas.

The Times [1.9.07]

Multiverse enthusiasts have in turn accused the unification theorists of promissory triumphalism because nobody has yet demonstrated a credible unique theory, let alone predicted the values of any Goldilocks parameters. This acrimonious wrangling reveals deep divisions concerning the ultimate goal of science, the nature of physical reality and the place of conscious observers in the grand scheme of things. It raises far-reaching and unresolved problems, such as what is life and what is the universe? Over the past couple of decades, physicists, cosmologists, biologists and other scientists have discussed these foundational questions of science at a growing number of conferences and workshops, or expressed their opinions informally through websites such as www.edge.org or the Los Alamos electronic archive.

REFORMA [1.9.07]

El foro virtual Edge propone buscar razones, no simplemente deseos, para el optimismo. Edge es un club que reúne, segén ellos mismos, algunas de las mentes más interesantes del mundo. Su prop"sito es estimular discusiones en las fronteras del conocimiento. La intenci"n es llegar al borde del conocimiento mundial, acercándose a las mentes más complejas y refinadas, juntarlas en un foro y hacerlos que se pregunten las preguntas que ellos mismos se hacen. La fundaci"n actúa, de este modo, como surtidora de problemas y alojamiento de réplicas. Cada ano se constituye como Centro Mundial de Preguntas. ...

LE MONDE [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Quant à Howard Rheingold, dans une phrase qui fait penser à l’ambigüité de ses “Smart Mobs”, il fonde son optimisme sur le fait que “les outils de la production et de la distribution culturelle sont dans les poches de ceux qui ont 14 ans.” Sa confiance n’est pas aveugle mais il préfère les “digital natives” qui produisent, aux vieux qui se contentaient de recevoir l’information.

Mon optimisme à moi se situe à l’intersection des technologies de l’information et d’une nouvelle culture de la participation sociale qui est en train de s’inventer un peu partout dans le monde. A mesure qu’ils s’en servent un nombre croissant de personnes et d’organisations (souvent informelles et transitoires) de tous ordres se rendent compte du potentiel perturbateur des technologies de l’information. Ils commencent à s’en servir, à se les approprier et grignottent ainsi du terrain face aux pouvoirs traditionnels. Aucune promesse de paradis là-dedans mais, dans le meilleur des cas, l’identification – à temps – de nouveaux espaces d’affrontements que nous pouvons donc encore espérer configurer.

Et vous… Dans quel domaine êtes-vous optimiste? Et pourquoi?

BLOG: SCIAM OBSERVATIONS [1.7.07]

The affair called to mind a certain meme that I had mentally buried (in the Digg user's sense) but am now forced to revisit with a more open mind. In the November Discover, tech ponderer Jaron Lanier expressed his dismay over the increasing prevalence of "wisdom of crowds" approaches to aggregating information online. See especially Wikipedia and Digg as instances of this phenomenon, also called Web 2.0. Lanier must consider that term itself a masterpiece of framing; he sees a growing glorification of online wisdom-aggregation, and has dubbed the trend Digital Maoism. ...

Anyway, this sort of asymmetrical flamewar doesn't seem to be Lanier's main objection to Digital Maoism. A while back at the Edge.org, on which big brains convene to butt heads, Lanier's argument was abbreviated thusly:

The problem is [not Wikipedia itself but] in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy.  ...

THE GUARDIAN [1.7.07]

Welcome in the New Year with the Guardian's science team as they ask what we can be optimistic about in 2007. Thinkers such as the Darwinian philosopher Dan Dennett and psychologist Steven Pinker are looking forward respectively to the end of religion and war in 2007 - or at least, the beginning of the end. Hear more predictions from web guru and editor of Edge magazine John Brockman.

The UK's new science minister has revived interest in potentially sending a British man or woman into space, something that has been off the political radar for a generation. Host Alok Jha asks space doctor and would-be astronaut Kevin Fong why now is the time for Britain to join the space race.

Madonna wants to "neutralise radiation" and Cherie Blair's lifestyle guru Carol Caplin advises "unclogging" the lymph system to avoid breast cancer. We talk to science author Simon Singh about the damage pseudo-scientific claims from celebrities can do.

And finally, regular podders Ian Sample and James Randerson welcome Simon Raynor from London Zoo to discuss whether animals can really be gay. And check out bonus New Year

The Guardian [1.7.07]

Welcome in the New Year with the Guardian's science team as they ask what we can be optimistic about in 2007. Thinkers such as the Darwinian philosopher Dan Dennett and psychologist Steven Pinker are looking forward respectively to the end of religion and war in 2007—or at least, the beginning of the end. Hear more predictions from web guru and editor of Edge magazine John Brockman.

Jaron Lanier, Scientific american [1.7.07]

The affair called to mind a certain meme that I had mentally buried (in the Digg user's sense) but am now forced to revisit with a more open mind. In the November Discover, tech ponderer Jaron Lanier expressed his dismay over the increasing prevalence of "wisdom of crowds" approaches to aggregating information online. See especially Wikipedia and Digg as instances of this phenomenon, also called Web 2.0. Lanier must consider that term itself a masterpiece of framing; he sees a growing glorification of online wisdom-aggregation, and has dubbed the trend Digital Maoism. ...

Anyway, this sort of asymmetrical flamewar doesn't seem to be Lanier's main objection to Digital Maoism. A while back at the Edge.org, on which big brains convene to butt heads, Lanier's argument was abbreviated thusly:

The problem is [not Wikipedia itself but] in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy.

LE MONDE [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Quant à Howard Rheingold, dans une phrase qui fait penser à l’ambigüité de ses “Smart Mobs”, il fonde son optimisme sur le fait que “les outils de la production et de la distribution culturelle sont dans les poches de ceux qui ont 14 ans.” Sa confiance n’est pas aveugle mais il préfère les “digital natives” qui produisent, aux vieux qui se contentaient de recevoir l’information.

Mon optimisme à moi se situe à l’intersection des technologies de l’information et d’une nouvelle culture de la participation sociale qui est en train de s’inventer un peu partout dans le monde. A mesure qu’ils s’en servent un nombre croissant de personnes et d’organisations (souvent informelles et transitoires) de tous ordres se rendent compte du potentiel perturbateur des technologies de l’information. Ils commencent à s’en servir, à se les approprier et grignottent ainsi du terrain face aux pouvoirs traditionnels. Aucune promesse de paradis là-dedans mais, dans le meilleur des cas, l’identification – à temps – de nouveaux espaces d’affrontements que nous pouvons donc encore espérer configurer.

Et vous… Dans quel domaine êtes-vous optimiste? Et pourquoi?

Le Monde [1.7.07]

C’est la double question posée par John Brockman, éditeur de Edge à plus de 160 “penseurs de la troisième culture, ces savants et autres penseurs du monde empirique qui, par leur travail ou leurs écrits prennent la place des intellectuels traditionnels en rendant visibles les sens profonds de nos vies, en redéfinissant autant qui nous sommes que ce que nous sommes”.

Ça change des unes constamment catastrophiques de nos médias habituels.

Quelques exemples:

Brian Eno estime que la réalité du réchauffement global est de plus en plus acceptée et que cela pourrait donner lieu à un premier cas de gouvernance globale. D’où sa principale source d’optimisme: “le pouvoir croissant des gens. Le monde bouge, communique, se connecte et fusionne en des blocs d’influence qui transfèreront une partie du pouvoir des gouvernements nationaux prisonniers de leurs horizons à court terme dans des groupes plus vaques, plus globaux et plus consensuels. Quelque chose comme une vraie démocratie (et une bonne dose de chaos dans l’intérim) pourrait être à l’horizon”.

Xeni Jardin de BoingBoing, est optimiste après avoir suivi les travaux de la Forensic Anthropology Foundation du Guatemala, un groupe qui se consacre à identifier les morts assassinés par la dictature en s’appuyant sur des logiciels open source, des ordinateurs recyclés et l’aide de laboratoires américains pour l’analyse de l’ADN. “Quant au moins une personne croit que la vérité ça compte, il y a de l’espoir,” conclue-t-elle.

Centre Daily [1.6.07]

...Into my season of gloom, a ray of hope arrived the other day via the Internet, benefit of the Web site called Edge.

As I understand it, Edge is an electronic gathering place for scientists, artists and other creative thinkers. Most of them are out traveling on the far reaches of the high-tech superhighway, sending us their postcards from a few years in the future. ...

Chris Anderson, who is the curator for an intellectual gathering called the TED Conference, makes a similar point. He says that the number of armed conflicts has declined worldwide by 40 percent in the past decade.

If the world seems ever more threatening, it is because we are wired to respond more strongly to threats than we are to good news. Besides, good news such as scientific discovery and economic progress is largely under-reported in the media, while disaster and doom are hugely over-reported.

I was cheered by the optimism of a science writer who thinks that we will soon have a technological breakthrough that will make solar energy dirt cheap long before the big energy crunch arrives. He's not sure which of the many bright ideas he has written about will be the one that works, but he has faith in the scientists who are pushing at the boundaries of the technology. ...

The Edge contributors fanned the flame of optimism in me in the season of darkness.

Los Angels Times [1.6.07]

EVERY YEAR SINCE 1996, the online salon Edge has e-mailed a question to scientists and thinkers about the state of the world. This year's question was: "What are you optimistic about?" Below are excerpts of some of the responses. For full responses (and those of other contributors), go to http://www.edge.org .

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