- Series: Edge Question Series
- Paperback: 528 pages
- Publisher: Harper Perennial (February 11, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780062296238
- ISBN-13: 978-0062296238
- ASIN: 006229623X
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 53 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #580,789 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night (Edge Question Series)
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*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)
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"What Should We Be Worried About?" is a thought-provoking 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 should we be worried about?" This interesting 531-page book provides 153 short essays that address the question. The quality of the essays in this book range from a couple of 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 a one or even a zero 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.
2. An excellent question, "What Should We Be Worried About?"
3. You don't have to read the essays in order.
4. Well-balanced book, covers the question from many scientific angles.
5. There were a number of outstanding essays. The following outstanding positives cover an outstanding essay starting with, "We are in denial about catastrophic risks" by Martin Rees. Does a wonderful job of covering a range of end world scenarios.
6. "A synthetic world" by Serian Sumner. He worries the natural world becoming naturally unnatural.
7. "Who's afraid of the big bad words?" by Benjamin Berger. "I learned something new based on research. The fact that no words is so terrible that merely hearing them would pose any danger to young ears."
8. "The rise of anti-intellectualism and the end of progress" by Tim O'Reilly. This essay really resonated with me. "What I fear most is that we will lack the will and foresight to face the world's problems squarely and will instead retreat from them into superstition and ignorance."
9. "Objects of Desire" by Sherry Turkle. This is an essay that will resonate with parents.
10. "The is-ought fallacy of science and morality" by Michael Shermer. One of my favorite essays. "Scientists should have a voice in determining human values and morals."
11. "That we won't make use of the error catastrophe threshold" by William McEwan. Excellent essay. "Viruses replicate near the boundary of fidelity required to successfully pass information to the next generation. I worry that we will not devise a way to push them over that boundary."
12. "Misplaced worries" by Dan Sperber. "What I am particularly worried about is that humans will be less and less able to appreciate what they should be worrying about and that their worries will do them more harm than good."
13. "Unfriendly physics, monsters from the ID, and self-organizing collective delusions" by John Tooby. "Cooperative scientific problem solving is the most beautifully effective system for the production of reliable knowledge the world has ever seen."
14. "Data disenfranchisement" by David Rowan. "We need to start seeing data literacy as a requisite fundamental skill in a 21st-century democracy, and to campaign--and perhaps even legislate--to protect the interests of those being left behind."
15. "Big experiments won't happen" by Lisa Randall. "I worry that people will gradually stop the major long-term investments in research that are essential if we are to answer difficult (and often abstract) scientific questions."
16. "Quantum Mechanics" by Lee Smolin. "I don't believe quantum mechanics gives a complete description of nature. I strongly believe there is another, truer description waiting to be discovered."
17. "What--me worry?" by J. Craig Venter. "I firmly believe that only science can provide solutions for these challenges, but the adoption of these ideas will depend on the will of governments and individuals."
18. "Natural death" by Antony Garrett Lisi. One of my favorite essays. "Knowing that our lives are so short makes each moment and each interaction more precious. The happiness and love we find and make in life are all we get. The fact that there is no supernatural being in the universe that cares about us makes it that much more important that we care about one another."
19. "Classic social sciences' failure to understand modern states shaped by crime" by Eduardo Salcedo-Albar. Timely essay that captures in essence what is going on in the Ukraine and Venezuela.
20. "Science has not brought us closer to understanding cancer" by Xeni Jardin. "The research and science that will cure cancer will not necessarily be done by big-name cancer hospitals or by Big Pharma. It requires a new way of thinking about illness, health, and science itself."
21. "Exaggerated expectations" by Stuart Firestein. "Facts are not immutable, and discoveries are provisional. This is the messy process of science. We should worry that our unrealistic expectations will destroy this amazing mess."
22. "Where did you get that fact?" by Victoria Stodden. "Without the ability to question findings, we risk fooling ourselves into thinking we are capitalizing on the Information Age when we're really just making decisions based on evidence that no one, except perhaps the people who generated it, can actually understand. That's the door closing."
23. "C.P. Snow's two cultures and the nature-nurture debate" by Simon Baron-Cohen. "What worries me is that the debate about gender differences still seems to polarize nature vs. nurture, with some in the social sciences and humanities arguing that biology plays no role at all, apparently unaware of the scientific evidence to the contrary."
24. "Unknown unknowns" by Gary Marcus. "Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom has pointed out that the three greatest unknowns we should worry about are biotechnology, nanotechnology, and the rise of machines more intelligent than human beings."
25. "What we learn from firefighter: how fat are the fat tails?" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. "Only a rule of skin in the game--that is, direct harm from one's errors--can puncture the game aspect of such research and establish some form of contact with reality."
1. There are just a few essays that were not worthy of this book, but just a few.
2. I was surprised not to see more apocalyptic type scenarios including wars or natural disasters.
3. Some essays are not really of major concern.
4. Requires an investment of time to get through.
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. You should be worried about not reading these types of books. I highly recommend it!
Further recommendations: "This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works", "This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking" and "This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future" by the same author, John Brockman, "Spectrums" by David Blatner, "The Elegant Universe" and "Hidden Reality" by Brian Greene, "A Universe From Nothing" by Lawrence M. Krauss, "About Time" by Adam Frank, "Higgs Discovery" and "Warped Passages" by Lisa Randall, "The Grand Design" by Stephen Hawking, "The Quantum Universe" by Brian Cox, "The Blind Spot" by William Byers, and "The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning" and "God and the Atom" by Victor Stenger.
Only one of the essays really got at things like our survival as a species. It was by far the shortest of the essays and, in my view, the most profound. It was written by a man named Dave Winer and, it's so short, I'll quote the whole thing:
"Until a few generations ago, the human species was dealing with the following question: 'Do we have what it takes to survive?' We answered that question with the invention of heat, plumbing, medicine and agriculture. Now we have the means to survive, but do we have the will?
"This is the 800 pound question in the middle of the room."
This quote comports with my own sense of worry about the state of our planet and humanity's ability to successfully meet the threats to our survival.
Beyond that, all the essays were interesting in their own right, and I sure have a lot more to worry about now than I had just a few short months ago.
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.