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Duck Sex, Aesthetic Evolution, and the Origin of Beauty

Conversation:
[9.3.14]
Topic:

The way nature is—the nature of flowers, the nature of birdsong and bird plumages—implies that subjective experiences are fundamentally important in biology. That the world looks the way it does and is the way it is because of their vital importance as sources of selection in organic diversity, and as a result we need to structure evolutionary biology to recognize the aesthetic, recognize the subjective experience. 

RICHARD PRUM is an evolutionary ornithologist at Yale University, where he is the Curator of Ornithology and Head Curator of Vertebrate Zoology in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. 

Richard Prum's Edge Bio Page

 

LATITUDES OF ACCEPTANCE

Conversation:
[8.22.14]
Topic:

I'll tell you about my new favorite idea, which like all new favorite ideas, is really an old idea. This one, from the 1960s, was used only in a couple of studies. It's called "latitude of acceptance". If I want to persuade you, what I need to do is pitch my arguments so that they're in the range of a bubble around your current belief; it's not too far from your current belief, but it's within this bubble. If your belief is that you're really, really anti-guns, let's say, and I want to move you a bit, if I come along and say, "here's the pro-gun position," you're actually going to move further away. Okay? It's outside the bubble of things that I can consider as reasonable.
 
We all have these latitudes around our beliefs, our values, our attitudes, which teams are ok to root for, and so on, and these bubbles move. They flex. When you're drunk, or when you've had a good meal, or when you're with people you care about versus strangers, these bubbles flex and move in different ways. Getting two groups to work together is about trying to get them to a place where their bubbles overlap, not their ideas, not their beliefs, but the bubbles that surround their ideas. Once you do that, you don't try to get them to go to the other position, you try to get them to see there's some common ground that you don't share, but that you think would not be a crazy position to hold.

MATTHEW D. LIEBERMAN is a professor of psychology at UCLA. He is the author of Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.

Matthew D. Lieberman's Edge Bio Page

 

Expanded Curation

Conversation:
[7.2.14]
Topic:

One of the things that Julia Peyton-Jones and I try to do with the Serpentine Gallery Marathons, on which we've collaborated with Edge many times, is to provide a format that isn't like a normal conference: it takes place over 24 or 48 hours. And it happens in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, so this creates a connection between art and architecture. And then one connects to all the other disciplines through the invited speakers. It's a kind of knowledge festival. The marathon is a hybrid. It's a group show, because artists are doing performances, but they're given time and not space. But it's also a conference because there are lectures and presentations. This year's Marathon, which takes place at The Serpentine Gallery the weekend of October 18-20, will be about "Extinction". 

HANS ULRICH OBRIST is the co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London. He is the editor of A Brief History of CuratingFormulas for Now and the author of several books including, Hans Ulrich Obrist: Sharp Tongues, Loose Lips, Open Eyes, Ears to the Ground,  A Brief History of New Music, and Ways of Curating.

Hans Ulrich Obrist's Edge Bio Page

 

Writing In The 21st Century

Conversation:
[6.9.14]
Topic:

What are the arts but products of the human mind which resonate with our aesthetic and emotional faculties? What are social issues, but ways in which humans try to coordinate their behavior and come to working arrangements that benefit everyone? There's no aspect of life that cannot be illuminated by a better understanding of the mind from scientific psychology. And for me the most recent example is the process of writing itself. 

STEVEN PINKER is the Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style (September). Steven Pinker's Edge Bio page

 
 

This Thing For Which We Have No Name

Conversation:
[5.12.14]
Topic:

"No one ever got fired for buying IBM" is a wonderful example of understanding loss aversion. The advertising and marketing industry kind of knew this stuff mattered, but where we were disgracefully bad is that no one really attempted to sit down and codify it. When I discovered Nudge—Predictably Irrational—was another one, when I started discovering there was a whole field of literature about this thing for which we have no name—these powerful forces which no one properly understood—that was incredibly exciting. The effect of these changes can be an order of magnitude. This is the important thing.  ...

...Markets actually work because they're adaptive and they're responsive to new information. Bad things get killed, good things get promoted. But most of the time what you'll find in business is no one has the faintest idea of why the things that work actually work. What's very useful here is that finally a group of academics with money, time, and high intelligence were finally sitting down to codify and make sense of things, which we'd been aware of for years but which, to our shame, we'd never attempted to actually try and systematize.

RORY SUTHERLAND is Executive Creative Director and Vice-Chairman, OgilvyOne London; Vice-Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather UK; Columnist, The Spectator. 

Rory Sutherland's Edge Bio page.

 

The Paradox of Wu-Wei

Conversation:
[5.2.14]
Topic:

One way to look at the trajectory of Chinese thought is that it's driven by this tension I call "the paradox of wu-wei." Wu-wei is effortless action or spontaneity. They all want you to be wu-wei, but none of them think you are right now. You've got to try to be wu-wei, but how do you try not to try? How do you try to be spontaneous? I call it the paradox of wu-wei, and I argue it's at the center of all their theorizing about other things. There are theories about human nature, there are theories about self-cultivation, there are theories about government. These are all ways of grappling with this central tension that's driving a lot of the theorizing."

EDWARD SLINGERLAND is Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity. Educated at Princeton, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, he is an internationally renowned expert in Chinese thought, comparative religion, and cognitive science. In addition to over twenty academic journal articles in a range of fields, he has written several scholarly books, including What Science Offers the Humanities and a translation of the Analects of Confucius. Edward Slingerland's Edge Bio Page.

 

A GOLDEN AGE OF COSMOLOGY

Conversation:
[3.17.14]
Topic:

Even though cosmology doesn't have that much to do with information It certainly does have to do with revolution and phase transitions, in fact phase transitions in both the literal and the figurative sense of the word.
 

 

THE INFLATIONARY UNIVERSE: ALAN GUTH

Conversation:
[3.17.14]
Topic:

Inflationary theory itself is a twist on the conventional Big Bang theory. The shortcoming that inflation is intended to fill in is the basic fact that although the Big Bang theory is called the Big Bang theory it is, in fact, not really a theory of a bang at all; it never was.

 

 

A BALLOON PRODUCING BALLOONS, PRODUCING BALLOONS:A BIG FRACTAL

Conversation:
[3.17.14]
Topic:

Think about it this way: previously we thought that our universe was like a spherical balloon. In the new picture, it's like a balloon producing balloons, producing balloons. This is a big fractal. The Greeks were thinking about our universe as an ideal sphere, because this was the best image they had at their disposal. The 20th century idea is a fractal, the beauty of a fractal. Now, you have these fractals. We ask, how many different types of these elements of fractals are there, which are irreducible to each other? And the number will be exponentially large, and in the simplest models it is about 10 to the degree 10, to the degree 10, to the degree 7. It actually may be much more than that, even though nobody can see all of these universes at once.

 

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