PD Smith

What do you believe…?

14 August 2006 | Brockman, Davies, McEwan, Morton, Science, Science & literature, Writing & Poetry | Post a comment

What do you believe but cannot prove? This is the intriguing question posed by John Brockman at Edge.org. The "brilliant minds" he asked to respond are all members of Brockman's so-called "third culture", by which he means scientists and "thinkers in the empirical world". So presumably woolly-headed philosophers and other arts-based thinkers not trained in the sciences need not apply.

Despite this Ian McEwan somehow snuck beneath the wire and even gets to write the introduction to Brockman's book. As McEwan rightly says the contributions do indeed express "the spirit of a scientific consciousness at its best".

One contributor claims rather darkly that "we are simply overadvanced fungi and bacteria hurtling through a galaxy in cold, meaningless space" - a comment that probably illustrates the dangers of posting comments while suffering from a bad hangover (be warned bloggers).

But generally there is an emphasis on positive predictions: we are not alone in the universe (Paul Davies); we will circumvent the speed of light (Ray Kurzweil); "there is a future much better, in terms of reduced human suffering and increased human potential than the present". The latter, inspiringly upbeat prediction comes from Oliver Morton, author of the excellent Mapping Mars.

It's a great book for reading on the tube, as its bite-sized contributions are ideal for short journeys. My own favourite is from mathematician Verena Huber-Dyson: "most of what I believe I cannot prove, simply for lack of time and energy." I know the feeling. Back to the editing then...

So what do you believe but cannot prove? Let me know!

[originally on MySpace]

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