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What Are You Optimistic About?: Today's Leading Thinkers on Why Things Are Good and Getting Better

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0061436932
ISBN-10: 0061436933
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

The founder and publisher of the online science salon Edge.org, John Brockman is the editor of Culture, The Mind, Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?, This Will Change Everything, and other volumes. He is CEO of the literary agency Brockman Inc., and lives in New York City.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 374 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061436933
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061436932
  • ASIN: B002IKLN8I
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,045,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By The Spinozanator VINE VOICE on February 9, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Here is the 2007 EDGE question, put by the editor to prominent scientists all over the world:

"As an activity, as a state of mind, science is fundamentally optimistic. Science figures out how things work and thus can make them work better. Much of the news is either good news or news that can be made good, thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques. Science, on its frontiers, poses more and ever better questions, ever better put. What are you optimistic about? Why? Surprise us!"

I counted 153 essays. Naturally, with only a half-page to four pages each, they are not greatly detailed. Certain themes caught the attention of many contributors:

1. Organized violence is at an all time low. You wouldn't believe it by listening to the news, but the statistics are clear. In the future, live internet access to anywhere on earth by GPS will cause exploiters of all cloths to have to resort to "Are you going to believe us or your lying eyes."

2. We're on the threshold of an era of unbelievable abundance. We will be able to make a self-replicating machine that will absorb energy through solar cells, eat rocks, and be working for humanity by the millions. We will figure out ways to harness solar energy and not need to use energy sources that pollute the environment.

3. Research in physics has been dominated by string theory in recent years which so far is untestable. New technologies will produce astounding insights very soon. The LHC (proton-proton collider) will advance the Standard Model and will find the Higgs boson or perhaps something unexpected. The new LIGO detectors may find gravitational waves. Arrays of wide-field telescopes on earth are being programmed to rapidly scan the universe.
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I make it a rule to always read through a book entirely before reviewing it. It seems only fair but in this case I'm breaking my rule having only made it through about half of "What Are You Optimistic About". I'm breaking my rule because I may well never finish the book.

The cover lists the name of six contributors as well as "many others". Let me tell you, there are many many many others. There are in fact one hundred and fifty three contributors. With three hundred and sixty one pages in the book that leaves each contributor less than two and a half pages. Brian Greene, for instance, has a mere one hundred and seventy one WORDS. Jared Diamond has even less. Combined they take up just slightly more than one page and they constitute over 30% of the writers prominent enough to get their names on the cover. The point is that each writer is only afforded a scant amount of space and there's nowhere near enough time to write anything more than some brief musings.

My second problem is that many of the authors optimism is related to the decline of religion. The author groups like subjects together and the anti-religious sentiments come near the start of the book. You wont find too many people more critical of organized religion than myself but I always hope to see science take the high ground. I encourage science to defend itself against spurious attacks such as the ones leveled at evolution and climate change but I cringe when science returns fire. Daniel C Dennett writes, `I'm so optimistic that I expect to live to see the evaporation of the powerful mystique of religion' while Geoffrey Miller refers to the `Gutless' talking heads of the extreme religious right.
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A workmate of mind recommend this book because I guess I'm a bit off a Debby Downer from time to time. I admit that when she told me the title I groaned, but I agreed to read it since she wouldn't leave me alone about it. It's really much better than the title made me feel. It's all about different emerging technologies and ideas which have a good chance of influencing our future for the better. It's not soapy or overly cheerful at all. I'm glad I read it.
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I purchased this book some time ago when my life seemed to be falling apart. I guess I hoped it would give me something to be optimistic about myself. Unfortunately that didn't happen; things just got worse, not only for me but for many people like me in the country and actually the world. At the time I had set the book aside after only reading a few chapters, but when I came across it again recently while thinning out my library, I decided to read it. I decided it might be fun to see if any of the author's imaginings had come true. While few of them seemed to have done so, I can see now that most of their optimisms had to do with things that would happen during the 21st century.

The book is actually a series of short essays, some only a paragraph in length, that bring together some of the thoughts on progress as conceived by various individuals successful in a wide range of intellectual endeavors, well known physicists, psychologists, medical researchers and so. While the reader will find that there is a degree of repetition--the same TOE and GUT on the Christmas list of two different physicists, for instance--there is still much that recommends the book in its very diversity of specialties. If you know something about theoretical physics, you may already know about the hopes of physicists for the future of their science, but most of us don't have a handle, even a tenuous one, on all of the scientific and technological fields out there. This book at least gives the reader a chance to find out something about what these bright people are doing and what they hope to achieve within the next century. It's more or less a sampler of what there is to know out there, and a marvellous guide to further topics for personal study.
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