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What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night Paperback – February 11, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0062296238 ISBN-10: 006229623X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 11, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006229623X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062296238
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Each year, Edge founder Brockman and “Edge stalwarts” mark the anniversary of the speculative online science salon by posing a far-reaching question as the catalyst for a multidisciplinary essay collection. Brockman introduces this year’s substantial and engrossing anthology, What Should We Be Worried About?, by noting, “Nothing can stop us from worrying, but science can teach us how to worry better, and when to stop worrying.” The array of subjects 150 leading thinkers and scientists identify as worrisome is vast and varied, while the outlooks expressed in their pithy thought-pieces are provocative and enlightening. Psychologist Steven Pinker identifies hidden threats to peace. Cosmologist and astrophysicist Martin Rees shares his concern about climate change. Philosopher Daniel C. Dennett and science historian George Dyson ponder the risky vulnerability of the Internet. Biologist Seiran Sumner shudders over the dangers of synthetic biology. Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore considers “how our rapidly changing world is shaping the developing teenage brain.” Theoretical physicist Lisa Randall is one of many who fret that there won’t be future funding for major long-term research projects. Water resources, viruses, low science literacy, and our failure to achieve global cooperation are all addressed with striking clarity. By taking this bold approach to significant quandaries, Brockman and the Edge contributors offer fresh and invaluable perspectives on crucial aspects of our lives. --Donna Seaman


“Compelling. . . . Brockman offers an impressive array of ideas from a diverse group that’s sure to make readers think.” (Publishers Weekly)

“From a cohort of highly influential people ... you will be surprised, you will learn a lot, and indeed, you will have a higher quality of things to worry about.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Edge.org has become an epicenter of bleeding-edge insight across science, technology and beyond, hosting conversations with some of our era’s greatest thinkers” (Atlantic.com)

“Substantial and engrossing. . . . Brockman and the Edge contributors offer fresh and invaluable perspectives on crucial aspects of our lives.” (Booklist (starred review))

“Reads like an atlas of fear.” (New York Times)

“This collection helps us see the myriad possible concerns laid out before us, articulating the various elements of fear that we need to fear.” (Washington Post)

“An interesting collection of food for thought.” (Iron Mountain Daily News)

Customer Reviews

I'll just say this book was worth reading for the gems nestled among the chaff.
Ohio Reader
Philosophy is asking the right questions and good science is providing the answers based on the best of our current knowledge.
Book Shark
With 150 different perpectives from some of the smartest people in the world, this book will open your mind to new ideas.
Steve Brosnan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Padman on February 11, 2014
Format: Paperback
The latest iteration of the Edge Question comes is something of a loaded question. You can't answer "What should we worry about?" until you've first answered the question, "Should we be worried at all?" In this book, the framework lends to speculation on what worry is in the first place, and how it can be used toward our intended aims. As cognitive Scientist Dan Sperber rightly points out, worry isn't the problem, it's how we use it.

One recalls the point made in Morse's Psychonomics: How Modern Science Aims to Conquer the Mind and How the Mind Prevails: People fear plane crashes more than car crashes even though the former are less frequent and less deadly. But it's not irrational as it seems because fear (worry) can be useful in directing energy and effecting change, and that can lead to greater safety.

This collection is something of a crepehanger's dream come true. People who are easily discouraged by big problems will not have a fun time with this book. But, though there is plenty of doom and gloom to take away from this collection of essays, there is plenty of fascinating thought to go with it, and so is well worth the read. And where else can one read arguments from the brightest minds in the world on the same subject? After reading this (and other Edge titles), the reader feels as though he has just mingled with Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett, Gary Klein, and 150 other brilliant people at a cocktail party.

A word on the publisher: The Edge, the internet salon from which this book springs, is a real jewel in the neo-modernist age. Every year, editor John Brockman assembles some of the brightest minds in the sciences to answer a highly speculative, even philosophical question. The result is a brilliant assortment of ideas that challenge beliefs and encourage a free flow of thought necessary for a prosperous society.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 24, 2014
Format: Paperback
This entertaining and thoughtful book is a compilation of answers to a question posed by John Brockman of Edge.org to a galaxy of talented people in biology, history, philosophy, neuroscience, and many other fields. I was somewhat perturbed by the subtitle: "Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up At Night," but I was so intrigued by the overall premise that I couldn't resist. And I'm so glad I did, because I found nearly every page to be full of challenging and thoughtful analyses of a variety of topics: some obvious ones like the potential for nuclear conflict, and others more obscure (at least in my experience): the faiLure to account for the role of microorganisms in cancers.

There are approximately 150 short chapters, some no more than a page, each comprising an individual contribution from an eminent thinker. Some names were familiar to me: David Christian, Howard Gardner, Nassim Nicholas Taleb; while I hadn't heard of many others like Andrew Lih or Victoria Stodden. I found some segments more illuminating than others: I now have a better understanding of the Singularity for example, but I have to admit much of the sections on theoretical physics were less than crystal clear to me. Anyone who spends much time dealing with the Internet and media will find the chapters on "Is Idiocracy Looming?" and "Worrying About Stupid" highly valuable, though others like "Unmitigated Arrogance" and "Illusions of Understanding and the Loss of Intellectual Humility" were useful counterpoints. It was comforting to read "There is Nothing to Worry About, and There Never Was," "Misplaced Worries," and "What is a Good Life?", especially after reading about "Rats in a Spherical Trap," for example.

I would not recommend trying to read this straight through because there's simply too much to grasp all once. It makes a perfect book to keep close at hand, to read and ponder and skip about in, and to consider it your introduction to some fascinating minds.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I love these Edge annual question books. This is the second one I’ve purchased. I know I can read them online, but I also know from experience that I will read them more consistently if I have them loaded on a digital reader.

Reading these essays--in bits and pieces now and then--is getting to be a delightful habit. Whenever I have five or ten minutes to kill, I know I can turn to my digital downloaded Edge book. I always keep it loaded (on the device, rather than in the Cloud) for quick access usually using my phone rather than my Kindle device. That way, I know I will never be caught without something brilliant and fascinating to entertain me.

I particularly enjoyed this Edge question: “What should we be worried about?” John Brockman asked the brilliant members of Edge to “Tell us something that worries you (for scientific reasons), but doesn't seem to be on the popular radar yet—and why it should be. Or tell us something that you have stopped worrying about, even if others do, and why it should be taken off the radar.” For me that sounded irresistible. It was the right question to hold my interest.

I’d say about 50% of the essays were delightfully thought-provoking. I can finish one in a few minutes and then sit and think about it…or use it as a conversation piece with the next clever person with whom I find myself conversing. Another 25% of the essays are merely pleasurable, but contain nothing remarkably new or noteworthy. Even so, I enjoy revisiting these ideas as presented by the brilliant minds of Edge…unquestionably some of the brightest and most original minds on the planet. Some of the writings are exceptionally creative; others are witty and clever. And then, of course, there is the 25% that for one reason or another don’t appeal to me at all. I’ve learned to identify those essays quickly and skip them.

In short: these essays are intellectual candy for any inquiring mind.
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