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Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century

edited by John Brockman

Pub Date: May 21st, 2002
ISBN: 0-375-71342-5
Publisher: Vintage

Enterprising editor/literary agent/Web-site meister Brockman (The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2,000 Years, 2000, etc.) is at it again, cajoling his buddies to speculate on what brave new world lies half a century ahead.

In Part I, theoreticians ponder whether we will ever understand the Big Bang, learn the origin of time, or arrive at a quantum theory of gravity. Maybe yes, but we may still be in the dark about why elementary particles have the masses they do or whether we are alone in the universe (or multiverse). A mathematician sees hope for computer-aided proofs to resolve celebrated problems. A biologist conjectures that all the stuff we call emergent properties (like consciousness and feelings) are really not emergent but present in matter; he opts for a new science of qualities. Others also call for new paradigms that would enable us to read the minds of animals, understand how brains learn, see psychology mature toward the study of love, aesthetic judgment, and moral development. Maybe we will even create life. Amidst the optimism comes an essay speculating that stress and depression will increase and another that suggests we may be bystanders in awe of ever-smarter computers. In Part II, “In Practice,” Richard Dawkins suggests we could eliminate our species-ism by letting a surrogate mom birth a latter-day Lucy. Other practitioners envision the merger of flesh and machines, virtual schools where kids will experience reality, and information-beam fantasies limited only by complexity “ceilings.” Medical speculations include the idea that discoveries of genetic variants that increase susceptibility will revolutionize treatment of mental illness. At the same time, there will be new interest in studying wellness and what protects people from adversity. A final essay suggests that in 50 years we may discover that chronic diseases from cancer to schizophrenia are infectious in origin.

An ample anthology whose chief virtue lies in each presenter’s snapshot history of a field: where we are, how we got there, where we might be headed.