It’s a new year, which means it’s time for the Edge.org to pose its annual question to some of the world’s finest minds. The 2013 edition asks the question, “What Should We Be Worried About?”. And the replies — 152 in total — feature thoughts by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Daniel Dennett, Sherry Turkle, Lawrence Krauss, and Esther Dyson, plus the ones excerpted below. If you’re willing to go down the rabbit hole, you can access the complete collection of responses here.
What I fear most is that we will lack the will and the foresight to face the world’s problems squarely, but will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance. Consider how in 375 AD, after a dream in which he was whipped for being “a Ciceronian” rather than a Christian, Saint Jerome resolved no more to read the classical authors and to restrict himself only to Christian texts, how the Christians of Alexandria murdered the philosopher and mathematician Hypatia in 415, and realize that, at least in part, the so-called dark ages were not something imposed from without, a breakdown of civilization due to barbarian invasions, but a choice, a turning away from knowledge and discovery into a kind of religious fundamentalism. [Read the rest here.]
–Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc.
Death is what makes this cyclical renewal and steady advance in organisms possible. Discovered by living things millions of years ago, aging and death permit a species to grow and flourish. Because natural selection ensures that the child-who-survives-to-reproduce is better than the parent (albeit infinitesimally so, for that is how evolution works), it is better for many species that the parent step out of the way and allow its (superior) child to succeed in its place…. So important is death that we have, wired into our genes, a self-destruct senescence program that shuts down operations once we have successfully reproduced, so that we eventually die, leaving our children—the fresher, newer, shinier versions of ourselves—to carry on with the best of what we have given them: the best genes, the best art, and the best ideas. Four billion years of death has served us well. Now, all this may be coming to an end, for one of the things we humans, with our evolved intelligence, are working hard at is trying to eradicate death.[Read the rest here.]
–Kate Jeffery, Head, Dept. of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, University College, London
Most of the smart people I know want nothing to do with politics. We avoid it like the plague… Is this because we feel that politics isn’t where anything significant happens? Or because we’re too taken up with what we’re doing, be it Quantum Physics or Statistical Genomics or Generative Music? Or because we’re too polite to get into arguments with people? … It’s politics that’s bleeding the poorer nations for the debts of their former dictators. It’s politics that allows special interests to run the country. It’s politics that helped the banks wreck the economy. It’s politics that prohibits gay marriage and stem cell research but nurtures Gaza and Guantanamo…. What worries me is that while we’re laissez-ing, someone else is faire-ing. [Read the rest here]
–Brian Eno, Artist, Composer, Producer
You can dive into the full collection at Edge.org. The photo above was taken by Katinka Matson.