Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Edge Question of the Year

It's that time. The question posed to our EDGE science and cultural leaders this year was-


Be warned. You cannot read just one.

Sam Harris was once of a "nature knows best" mentality and has changed. He states- "Like many people, I once trusted in the wisdom of Nature. I imagined that there were real boundaries between the natural and the artificial, between one species and another, and thought that, with the advent of genetic engineering, we would be tinkering with life at our peril. I now believe that this romantic view of Nature is a stultifying and dangerous mythology."

Neuroscientist Marco Iacoboni has lost faith in the idea that people are becoming more rational.

Theoretical physicist Sean Carroll is upset that so much modern science skepticism proceeds from ignorance and not expertise.

William Calvin, professor of medicine says Greenland ice melt data changed his opinion about the urgency of global warming.

Carolyn Porco no longer believes that the obvious benefit of science and reason for dissecting truth from fiction can stand alone in a society of superstition without constant effort and defending.

Biologist Brian Goodwin Believes that pan-sentience may be necessary to account for qualia.

Philosopher Helena Cronin now believes that the preponderance of males populating the highest outlier levels of I.Q. can only be explained by sex differences and not bias.

Chris Anderson editor of wired magazine went from climate change skeptic to "carbon zealot" in 2006 after looking at the overwhelming evidence for himself.

Freeman Dyson no longer believes that the dropping of two nukes on Japan is what brought the war to an end.

Mark Pagel, evolutionary biologist now thinks that Humans are more genetically different from each other than previously thought, and these differences can be behaviorally significant.

Archaeologist Timothy Taylor is no longer the cultural relativist he once was and is more and more choosing to see the past through modern eyes.

Social psychologist david Myers has revamped his whole view over the years and has decided- we are not born blank slates, The unconscious mind dwarfs the conscious mind, sex orientation is not a hoice, among other things.

Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky thinks reductionism can't explain many problems in neuroscience, and if you want to be a healthy primate, strive to be high ranking.

Researcher Helen Fisher found worldwide that divorce was most common after 4 years of marriage. 4 years is also the usual length of time between pregnancy in our ancestor's hunter gatherer societies, thus supporting her idea of "serial monogamy" amongst primates.

Laurence Smith, professor of geology says that 2007 gave us tremendous climate change data, and long story short, we're pretty much fucked.

Molecular biologist Lee Silver has lost faith in humanity's ability to overcome superstition.

Associate professor Scott Sampson finally concedes that an asteroid killed the dinosaurs after being a doubter.

Wired editor Kevin Kelly thought Wikipedia would never work due to human nature, and concedes he was wrong.

Computer scientist Robert Schank thinks AI can't make a machine resemble human mental complexity in his lifetime or even his grandson's lifetime.

John Horgan now believes the mind/body problem can be solved.

And Many more.....

After going through all the responses I can see there are several themes to this years question:

1) Many people are downcast over the inability of science and reason to win out over superstition despite overwhelming evidence.

2) Consciousness and brain function cannot be understood through reductionism.

3.) The science community has gotten past political correctness on moral and gender issues.

4.) Climate change is really serious and action must be taken now, end of discussion.


upinVermont said...


I saw that blurb by Harris. For the first time I thought that Sam might possibly have his thumb up his derrière. Ya know, he was probably all flattered that he's one of the intellectual big boys now (that somebody cares about his opinion); but he didn't have a whole lot to say. Still, you know, you gotta' say somethin' so that you look like one of the cogniscenti.

Sam, whatever dude, go back to what you do best, skewering dogma. If I want another air-headed blurb like that, I'll check with a high school sophomore.

Aaron said...

All in good fun of course. I gave up mother earthism about the same time I gave up chiropractic philosophy (they are identical). Lee Silvers book "challenging nature" hammers it home. "Mother Earth" is a bitch! Oh ya, I think that might have been an exact quote from Silver's book.