All Videos

MAPPING THE NEANDERTHAL GENOME

Conversation:
[7.4.09]
Topic:

"When I started out in '84/'85, intent on studying the genomes of ancient civilizations, I was, as is often the case in this kind of situation, driven by delusions of grandeur. I thought that I would be able to easily study the ancient genomes. I dreamt of addressing questions in Egyptology. For example, how do historico-political events that we read about impact the population? When Alexander the Great comes to Egypt, what is the influence on the population? Is it just a political change? The Arab Conquest: does that mean that a large part of the population is replaced? Or is it mainly a cultural change? There's no way we can answer this question from historical records. But my dream was to address questions like this. Then, after some initial success, I realized the real limitations on what I wanted to do."

 

THE PHYSICS THAT WE KNOW

Conversation:
[6.27.09]
Topic:

"We have decided, as a scientific endeavor, to extrapolate as much as we can from our knowledge of the individual processes that we can measure: evaporation from the ocean, the formation of a cloud, rainfall coming from a cloud, changes in wind patterns as a function of the pressure field, changes in the jet stream. What we have tried to do is encapsulate those small-scale processes, put them together, and see if we can predict the emerging properties of that fundamental complex system."

 

THE SIMPLIFIER

Conversation:
[6.15.09]
Topic:

"We discovered a new vein of research — the relation between physical and social or psychological concepts — that we came to by taking evolutionary principles seriously and applying them to psychology. We weren't using evolutionary psychology, which has largely been focused on mating and reproduction. Our focus, rather, was in terms of evolutionary biology and the basic principles of natural selection: and that field makes clear that humans must have had these kinds of mechanisms or these processes to guide our behavior prior to evolution or emergence of consciousness."

 

CHIMERAS OF EXPERIENCE

Conversation:
[5.21.09]
Topic:

"The paradox of modern neuroscience is that the one reality you can't describe as it is presently conceived is the only reality we'll ever know, which is the subjective first person view of things. Even if you can find the circuit of cells that gives rise to that, and you can construct a good causal demonstration that you knock out these circuit of cells, and you create a zombie; even if you do that... and I know Dennett could dismantle this argument very, very quickly ... there's still a mystery that persists, and this is the old brain-body, mind-body problem, and we don't simply feel like three pounds of meat."

 

LORD OF THE CLOUD

Conversation:
[4.23.09]
Topic:

"The central idea we were working on was this idea of de-localized information — information for which I didn't care what computer it was stored on. It didn't depend on any particular computer. I didn't know the identities of other computers in the ensemble that I was working on. I just knew myself and the cybersphere, or sometimes we called it the tuplesphere, or just a bunch of information floating around. We used the analogy — we talked about helium balloons. We used a million ways to try and explain this idea."
 

 

PRESSING QUESTIONS FOR OUR CENTURY

Conversation:
[4.14.09]
Topic:

"Science is the greatest achievement of human history so far. I say that as a huge admirer of the Renaissance and Renaissance art, music and literature, but the world-transforming power of science and the tremendous insights that we've gained show that this is an enterprise, a wonderful collective enterprise, that is a great achievement of humanity. How are we going to make more people party to that? That's a pressing question for our century."

 

THE END OF UNIVERSAL RATIONALITY

Conversation:
[3.29.09]
Topic:

"We have a lot of sophisticated analyses that try, with great precision, to predict and describe existing systems in terms of an assumption of universal rationality and a sub-assumption that what that rationality tries to do is maximize returns to the self. Yet we live in a world where that's not actually what we experience. The big question now is how we cover that distance between what we know very intuitively in our social relations, and what we can actually build with."

 

IS THERE A HIGGS?

Conversation:
[3.4.09]
Topic:

"In a very pure sense you build the accelerator you need when you know what the question is."

 

ART AND HUMAN REALITY

Conversation:
[2.22.09]
Topic:

"Darwinian aesthetics is not some kind of ironclad doctrine that is supposed to replace a heavy postructuralism with something just as oppressive. What surprises me about the resistance to the application of Darwin to psychology, is the vociferous way in which people want to dismiss it, not even to consider it. Is this a holdover from Marxism or religious doctrines? I don't know. Stephen Jay Gould was one of those people who had the idea that evolution was allowed to explain everything about me, my fingernails, my pancreas, the way my body is designed—except that it could have nothing to say about anything above the neck. About human psychology, nothing could be explained in evolutionary terms: we just somehow developed a big brain with its spandrels and all, and that's it."

 

CHANGING LIFESTYLE CHANGES GENE EXPRESSION

Conversation:
[12.3.08]
Topic:

"These findings may capture people's imagination—so often, people think there is not much they can do, what I call genetic nihilism. But even if your mother and your father and your sister and brother and aunts and uncles all died from heart disease, it doesn't mean that you need to. It just means that you are more likely to be genetically predisposed. If you are willing to make big enough changes, there is no reason you need ever develop heart disease, except in relatively rare cases."

 

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