»  The American Spectator

May 2014

  Don't Worry, Be Happy

What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night
        Edited by John Brockman

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Fifty-five years ago British novelist, mandarin, and ex-scientist C.P. Snow gave a lecture at Cambridge university titled "The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution." Snow deplored the mutual aloofness that, he said, existed between scientists and those educated in the humanities. The lecture set off a major public debate, and the phrase "two cultures" was for a time current all over the civilized world.

Thirty years after Snow's lecture, literary agent John Brockman came up with the notion of a "third culture," one in which the sciences had a central place and the humanities could be discussed by reference to them — most particularly, of course, by reference to the human sciences (psychology, human biology, demography, etc.) In 1988 he started the nonprofit Edge Foundation as a forum for these ideas; and in 1997 the foundation begat a web magazine, Edge.org, to spread the word.

The web magazine's best-known feature is its Annual Question, posed to a wide selection of leading eggheads at the beginning of each year. The 2013 question — "What should we be worried about?" — drew 154 responses from a wide range of thinkers. All but one of their contributions are gathered here in book form. The missing contribution is evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller's worry about Chinese eugenics, one of the most interesting — and most commented-on — of them all. I don't know the reason for this omission, and the book does not tell us. Miller's piece can be read on the web magazine, as can all the others. The book is merely a concession to the Age of Print.

So what makes these boffins fret? Not altogether what you'd think …

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[Complete article in the May issue of The American Spectator]