Prominent thinkers examine the many facets of culture over time and in the present age of the Internet.
A champion of the “third culture” formed at the intersection of art and science, literary agent Brockman (editor: Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future, 2011, etc.) publishes original work by leading scientists in many disciplines at edge.org. This latest collection from the site offers the expertise and speculations of 17 mathematicians, musicians, computer scientists and others who have contemplated the meaning, role and evolution of culture. Artist and composer Brian Eno wonders why humans have always engaged in cultural activity, and whether there is one language for discussing the components of culture, from shoe design to fine art. UCLA biologist Jared Diamond suggests a road map of factors that can lead to disastrous societal decision-making, from failing to anticipate a problem to failing in the attempt to solve it. Harvard physician and social scientist Nicholas A. Christakis describes studies indicating that the nation’s obesity epidemic is actually a form of “social contagion,” in which a friend’s weight gain makes you put on weight. Many pieces consider the Internet’s impact on how we live. MIT computer scientist David Gelertner says it is time to think about what we want the Internet to do instead of “just letting it happen,” and his colleague Jaron Lanier warns of the dangers of a new belief in an all-wise online collectivism. Publisher Frank Schirrmacher argues that modern technology is “changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember,” and turning us all into “informavores” who eat information. The Santa Fe Institute’s W. Brian Arthur discusses his years working in seclusion on unanswered technology-related questions—most notably, Does technology as a whole evolve?
A welcome gathering of intriguing ideas.