152 Big Thinkers Answer the Question “What Should We Be Worried About?”


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 Den­nettSher­ry 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.

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Comments (8)
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  • Hanoch says:

    In our three exam­ples, we have (1) a fear of reli­gion (prob­a­bly the sin­gle most impor­tant con­trib­u­tor to the growth and suc­cess of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion); (2) a fear that human beings may become more adept at staving off dis­ease and death; and (3) the ram­blings of a mud­dle-head­ed musi­cian who essen­tial­ly claims that the world’s fail­ure to total­ly embrace polit­i­cal left­ism has caused a litany of per­ceived injus­tices.

    Con­se­quent­ly, I feel com­pelled to add a 153rd wor­ry to the list: that the “Big Thinkers” of the world will begin to influ­ence the com­mon-sense of us “lit­tle thinkers”.

  • Steve Davison says:

    The sec­ond exam­ple pro­vides a com­mon mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of evo­lu­tion­ary ‘progress’. Giv­en the epi­dem­ic of obe­si­ty in the west­ern world we can only hope for sur­vival of the fat­test.

  • Mark says:

    “reli­gion (prob­a­bly the sin­gle most impor­tant con­trib­u­tor to the growth and suc­cess of west­ern civ­i­liza­tion)”

    Racism, anti­semitism, homo­pho­bia, the Cru­sades, the Inqui­si­tion, killing in the name of God, end­less war, rejec­tion of sci­ence — yeah that’s real suc­cess.

  • evan wentz says:

    Bri­an Eno a deep thinker? Sounds like he wants to leave the hard work involved in mak­ing this a decent world to some­one else. A wuss if I ever heard one.

  • Hanoch says:

    Mark: A fair­ly obvi­ous point, but one that appar­ent­ly needs to be made. The fact that some­thing has been a tremen­dous force for good, does not mean that it can­not be used for evil by the less than scrupu­lous. Thus, for exam­ple, to assert that sci­ence has not been a tremen­dous boon for west­ern civ­i­liza­tion because of the numer­ous exam­ples one could cite involv­ing its abuse, is mis­guid­ed. Your com­ment con­cern­ing reli­gion makes that same error.

  • Charmin says:

    go to http://goo.gl/xAP2Q for paid android apps in free.…hurry up

  • Kathleen Woods says:

    What we tech­nol­o­gists and futur­ists need to wor­ry about is believ­ing “our own press”. Tech­nol­o­gy changes how human­i­ty views and inter­acts with the uni­verse, but it does not change the uni­verse nor human­i­ty. Every big tech­no­log­i­cal leap changes every­thing, yet changes noth­ing. The sin­gu­lar­i­ty may nev­er come, come in a decade, or through a leap of tech­nol­o­gy, arrive tomor­row. What real dif­fer­ence will it make? Human­i­ty will sim­ply anthro­po­mor­thize the machine and uti­lize the pow­er. The Sin­gu­lar­i­ty will not fun­da­men­tal­ly change who we are, but only assist us in what we may accom­plish.

  • Tim O'Neill says:

    I’m sure Tim O’Reil­ly, “Founder and CEO of O Reil­ly Media, Inc.” is a very smart and capa­ble guy, but a his­to­ri­an he ain’t. He some­how leaps from the fact that Jerome turned from non-Chris­t­ian texts to a claim that “the so-called dark ages were not some­thing imposed from with­out, a break­down of civ­i­liza­tion due to bar­bar­ian inva­sions, but a choice”. Any­one with any grasp of the intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry of the lat­er Roman Empire would see this is gib­ber­ish.

    Jerome rep­re­sent­ed one atti­tude in ear­ly Chris­t­ian thought toward “pagan” learn­ing — rejec­tion. Ter­tul­lian and John Chrysos­tum had the same atti­tude. But O’Reil­ly seems total­ly unaware that this atti­tude did­n’t pre­vail. The oth­er approach — the embrace of Greek learn­ing as a gift from God — was the atti­tude which won out.

    So, con­trary to his claim, the “dark ages” *were* the result of the col­lapse of the West­ern Roman Empire and its atten­dant bar­bar­ians. The East­ern Empire did­n’t col­lapse, pre­served Greek learn­ing, passed it to the Arabs who in turn brought it back to the west.

    And the fact he recy­cles the hoary old Gib­bon­ian myth that the lynch­ing of Hypa­tia had some­thing to do with hatred of her learn­ing (it did­n’t) and ush­ered in a “dark age” (dit­to) is more evi­dence he should stick to media and leave his­to­ry to those of us with a suf­fi­cient grasp of the details. Pseu­do his­tor­i­cal fables are no sub­sti­tute for gen­uine under­stand­ing.


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