“To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”
John Brockman, Publisher and Editor
Foreword: David Brooks, Columnist, New York Times
Every era has its intellectual hotspots. The most influential thinkers in our own era live at the nexus of the cognitive sciences, evolutionary psychology, and information technology. John Brockman gathers members of this network for summits. He arranges symposia and encourages online conversations. Through Edge he has multiplied the talents of everyone involved.
The disciplinary structure in the universities is an important foundation. It enforces methodological rigor. But it doesn’t really correlate with reality. Why do we have one field, psychology, concerning the inner life and another field, sociology, concerning the outer life, when the distinction between the two is porous and maybe insignificant? If there’s going to be a vibrant intellectual life, somebody has to drag researchers out of their ghettos, and Brockman has done that through Edge.
The explicit purpose of this book is to give us better tools to think about the world. Nicholas Christakis is one of several scholars to emphasize that many things in the world have properties not present in their parts. They cannot be understood simply by taking them apart.
Most of the essays in the book consist of thinking about how we think. If you lead an organization, or have the sort of job that demands that you think about the world, these tools are like the magic hammers. They will help you, now and through your life, to see the world better, and to see your own biases more accurately. You have to observe the interactions of the whole.
Several of the essays in this book emphasize that we see the world in deeply imperfect ways, and that our knowledge is partial. They have respect for the scientific method and the group enterprise precisely because the stock of our own individual reason is small.
Preface: John Brockman, Publisher and Editor
In 1981 I founded the Reality Club. Through 1996, the club held meetings in Chinese restaurants, artists’ lofts, the boardrooms of investment banking firms, ballroom, museums, and living rooms, among other venues. The Reality Club was an attempt to gather together those people exploring themes of the postindustrial age.
In 1997, the Reality Club went online, rebranded as Edge. The ideas presented on Edge are speculative; they represent the frontiers in such areas as evolutionary biology, genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, and physics. Emerging out of these contributions is a new natural philosophy, new ways of understanding physical systems, new ways of thinking that call into question many of our basic assumptions.
The Edge Question 2011
What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit?
Here the term “scientific” is to be understood in a broad sense, – as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be human behaviour, corporate behavior, the fate of the planet, or the future of the universe. A scientific concept may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or any other analytical enterprise, as long as it is a rigorous tool that can be summed up succinctly but has broad application to understanding the world.