- Series: Edge Question Series
- Paperback: 592 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 17, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0062374346
- ISBN-13: 978-0062374349
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 68 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories That Are Blocking Progress (Edge Question Series)
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Praise for This Idea Must Die: “Take a look. No matter who you are, you are bound to find something that will drive you crazy.” (New York Times)
“Garrulous and argumentative. ... Brockman’s formula is tried and tested. Better still, it shows no sign of getting old.” (New Scientist)
“This Idea Must Die is an excellent gathering of thoughts, rants and lamentations to add to your book list.” (Forbes)
“Discern[s] the zeitgeist of ideas with which some of our era’s greatest minds are tussling. ... Profound. ... Provocative. ... Mind-stretching.” (Brain Pickings)
“Fascinating. ... Thought-provoking.” (Science News)
“A fascinating smorgasbord of 175 short essays about every field and facet of research.” (Science News)
“Brockman succeeds in presenting scientific work that will appeal to a variety of readers, no matter their background.” (Publishers Weekly)
Praise for Edge: “Physics, statistics, robotics, linguistics, medicine-all are zestfully scrutinized in this exuberant, mind-blowing gathering of innovative thinkers.” (Booklist)
“An epicenter of bleeding-edge insight across science, technology, and beyond.” (Atlantic Monthly)
“The brightest minds in the known universe.” (Vanity Fair)
From the Back Cover
Reporting from the cutting edge of scientific discovery, today's visionary thinkers target the greatest roadblocks to innovation.
Few truly new ideas are developed without first abandoning old ones. In the past, discoveries often had to wait for the rise of the next generation to see questions in a new light and let go of old truisms. Today, in a world that is defined by a rapid rate of change, staying on the cutting edge has as much to do with shedding outdated notions as adopting new ones. In this spirit, John Brockman, publisher of the online salon Edge.org ("the world's smartest website"—The Guardian), asked 175 of the world's most influential scientists, economists, artists, and philosophers: What scientific idea is ready for retirement?
Jared Diamond explores the diverse ways that new ideas emerge * Nassim Nicholas Taleb takes down the standard deviation * Richard Thaler and novelist Ian McEwan reveal the usefulness of "bad" ideas * Steven Pinker dismantles the working theory of human behavior * Richard Dawkins renounces essentialism * Sherry Turkle reevaluates our expectations of artificial intelligence * Physicist Andrei Linde suggests that our universe and its laws may not be as unique as we think * Martin Rees explains why scientific understanding is a limitless goal * Alan Guth rethinks the origins of the universe * Sam Harris argues that our definition of science is too narrow * Nobel Prize winner Frank Wilczek disputes the division between mind and matter * Lawrence Krauss challenges the notion that the laws of physics were preordained * plus contributions from Daniel Goleman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Nicholas Carr, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Matt Ridley, Stewart Brand, Sean Carroll, Daniel C. Dennett, Helen Fisher, Douglas Rushkoff, Lee Smolin, Kevin Kelly, Freeman Dyson, and others.
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I still like the idea. It is a conflicting set of teasers of "well-supported" opinions from scientists in diverse disciplines, aka an Ivy League Scientist gossip mag.
Or, rather, it's a snippet of 175 scientists' views, allowing one to decide whether or not to completely avoid that scientist or follow up on their work. Daniel Goleman still pisses me off, and it's nice to have that affirmed after 10 years, for example.
Overall, 3 stars. Mostly because it entertained me for the evening and gave me a few scientists to look into. Yet what sounded like insightful criticisms of paradigms fell very flat most of the time, and nothing really knocked my socks off, so I didn't learn as much as I'd hoped I would. I recommend reading the following essays from the book (or at least, I thought they were more coherent, well thought or nice contributions):
"Indivi-Duality" Nigel Goldenfeld
"The Universe Began in a State of Extraordinarily Low Entropy" Alan Guth (entropy is always fun)
"Entropy" Bruce Parker (entropy is always fun pt. 2, but this guy doesn't get it)
"The Uncertainty Principle" Kai Krause
"Big Data" Gary Marcus (especially in conjunction with "The Scientific Method")
"Bias Is Always Bad" Tom Griffiths
"Unbridled Scientific and Technological Optimism" Stuart Pimm (though a bit weak at the end)
"Inclusive Fitness" Martin Nowak (just for the giggles)
"New Ideas Triumph by Replacing Old Ones" Jared Diamond (also for giggles)
“This Idea Must Die" is the thought-provocative book of scientific essays brought to you by The Edge. The Edge is an organization that presents original ideas by today's leading thinkers from a wide spectrum of scientific fields. The 2014 Edge question is, “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?” This interesting 592-page book provides over 175 short essays that address the question. The quality of the essays in this book range from a few one-star duds to a handful of outstanding 5-star essays.
For my sake, I created a spreadsheet of all the essays and graded them from zero to five stars based on overall quality. A quality essay to me is well written, interesting, addresses the topic and either teaches me something new or uses the best of our current knowledge effectively. On the other hand, those receiving two or fewer stars represent essays that were not worthy of this book. Of course, this is just one reviewer's personal opinion.
1. Generally well-written, succinct essays. High quality-value. I’m a fan of the Edge Series.
2. An excellent question, “What established scientific idea is ready to be moved aside so that science can advance?”
3. You don’t have to read the essays in order.
4. This is well-balanced book, covers the question from many scientific angles and perspectives.
5. There were a number of outstanding essays. The following fifteen outstanding essays met my aforementioned standards and are worthy of five stars, starting with: “The Big Bang was the first moment of time” by Lee Smolin. “The hypothesis that there was a first moment of time is remarkably generic and unconstraining, as it’s consistent with an infinite number of possible states in which the universe might have begun.”
6. “Entropy” by Bruce Parker. “…we shouldn’t retire entropy, but perhaps we should treat it with a little less importance and recognize the paradox it creates.”
7. “Race” by Nina Jablonski. Makes the persuasive case that race has no place in science.
8. “Hardwired = Permanent” by Michael Shermer. “It’s time for scientists to retire the theory that God and religion are hardwired into our brains.”
9. “Cognitive agency” by Thomas Metzinger. A great essay. “As it turns out, most of our conscious thoughts are actually the product of subpersonal processes, like breathing or the peristaltic movements in our gastrointestinal tract.”
10. “Free will” by Jerry Coyne. One of the best essays of this book. “Whether or not we can “choose” is a matter for science, not philosophy, and science tells us that we’re complex marionettes dancing to the strings of our genes and environments.”
11. “Fully random mutations” by Kevin Kelly. Fascinating essay. “The evidence shows that chance plays a primary role in mutations, and there would be no natural selection without chance. But it’s not random chance. It’s loaded chance, with multiple constraints, multipoint biases, numerous clustering effects, and skewed distributions.”
12. “Robot companions” by Sherry Turkle. Did someone say robots? “We’re drawn to the robotic because it offers the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”
13. “The grand analogy” by David Gelernter. Artificial intelligence. “Until we understand how to make digital computers feel (or experience phenomenal consciousness), we have no business talking up a supposed analogy between mind:brain and software:computer.”
14. “Stationarity” by Giulio Boccaletti. “Accelerating changes in climate, coupled with a more sensitive global economy, in which more people and more value is at stake, reveal that we don’t live in a world as stationary as we thought. And infrastructure designed for that world and intended to last for decades is proving increasingly inadequate.”
15. “The scientific method” by Melanie Swan. “A new improved scientific method for today. We can no longer rely exclusively on the traditional scientific method in the new era of science emerging in areas like Big Data, crowd- sourcing, and synthetic biology.”
16. “Romantic love and addiction” by Helen fisher. Compelling. “The sooner we embrace what brain science is telling us— and use this information to upgrade the concept of addiction— the better we’ll understand ourselves and the billions of others on this planet who revel in the ecstasy and struggle with the sorrow of this profoundly powerful, natural, often positive addiction: romantic love.”
17. “Anthropocentricity” by Satyajit Das. “Transcending anthropocentricity may allow new frames of reference, expanding the boundary of human knowledge.”
18. “Essentialist views of the mind” by Lisa Barrett. “Essentialism leads to simplistic “single cause” thinking, whereas the world is a complex place. Research suggests that children are born essentialists (what irony!) and must learn to overcome it. It’s time for scientists to overcome it as well.”
19. “Mental illness is nothing but brain illness” by Joel Gold. “In understanding, preventing, and treating mental illness, we will rightly continue to look into the neurons and DNA of the afflicted and unafflicted. To ignore the world around them would be not only bad medicine but bad science.”
20. Quite a few 4.5 star essays as well. It’s a matter of opinion.
1. Require an investment of your time to get through.
2. There are just a few essays that were not worthy of this book, but just a few.
3. I would have liked to have seen more hot-button topics addressed. Controversy is not bad for a book like this.
4. Having more essays in a book is not necessarily better but at least you can be the judge of that.
In summary, I’m a big fan of The Edge and these types of books. They’re fun to read and provide many different perspectives on a given question. Philosophy is asking the right questions and good science is providing the answers based on the best of our current knowledge. There are many bad scientific ideas that are ready for retirement but seeking the truths about our world based on good science is not one of them. These kinds of books are always fun and stimulating to read, enjoy, I recommend it.
Further recommendations: “This Explains Everything” and “This Will Make You Smarter” and “This Will Change Everything” by the same author, John Brockman.