The Edge 2012 Q&A

This year’s Edge question 2012 is:

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE
DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL
EXPLANATION?

Many of the responses don’t really answer the question, but there are hundreds of responses on many subjects. These are a few that caught my eye – almost all mean further reading! Some are just interesting to see in this context even if not new; some are frankly disappointing in that same sense.

Richard Thaler – “Commitment” – more optimal to restrict choice by prior commitment.
Charles Simonyi – Boscovich was right, a recurring claim.
Dave Winer – on not wearing a watch (me too).
Tim O’Reilley – Pascal’s wager generalized for decision-making.
David Dalrymple – principle of least action
Tania Lombrozo – Metaphysical half-truths engrained in our psyche – realism and causation included – including professional scientists, who should know better.
John McWhorter – From a lobster to a cat. Guts / nerves – front / back ?
Andrew Lih – Information theory and Ernest Shannon.
Eric Weinstein – The Geometric Quantum (Einstein’s Revenge). New to me.
Virginia Heffernan – In the beginning was the word, and still is.
Stuart Kauffman – cell types as attractors.
Bruce Hood – complexity out of simplicity
Timo Hannay – Feynman’s lifeguard (See David Dalrymple’s principle of least action – explanation of light)
Giulio Boccaletti – Fooled by habits (See Tania Lombrozo)
Brian Eno – on the limits to intuition
Simone Schnall –  Metaphors Unify Perception, Cognition and Action
Joel Gold – Dark Matter of the Mind –  The conscious mind—much like the visible aspect of the universe—is only a small fraction of the mental world.
Jon Kleinberg – ” Sometime in the past 4000 years, there have been two people in your family tree—call them A and B—with the property that A was an ancestor of B’s mother and also an ancestor of B’s father. Your family tree has a “loop”, where two branches growing upward from B come back together at A—in other words, there’s a set of parents in your ancestry who are blood relatives of each other, thanks to this relatively recent shared ancestor A.”
Marti Hearst – Why programs have bugs. “The programmer, like the poet, works only slightly removed from pure thought-stuff”. (Code is Poetry, remember.)
Thomas Metzinger – Simplicity itself.
Rebecca Goldstein – why the question (deep, elegant & beautiful) is valid (or not).
Ernst Poppel – Trusting trust. (Intriguing, another one of my focus subjects.)
Charkes Seife – “Even something as simple as counting one, two, three can lead to a completely unexpected realm”. (See Hofstadter, but also another reference to the Pigeonhole Principle – see Jon Kleinberg above)
Davdi Myers – Group polarization problem. (Intriguing.)
Hans Ulrich Obrist – Cagepatterns. (Reminds me of Hofstadter – Intriguing.)
Hugo Mercier – Metarepresentations Explain Human Uniqueness
Philip Zimbardo – Time Perspective Theory. “I am here to tell you that the most powerful influence on our every decision that can lead to significant action outcomes is something that most of us are both totally unaware of and at the same time is the most obvious psychological concept imaginable. I am talking about our sense of psychological time.”
Elizabeth Dunn – (see Zimbardo)
Frank Wilczek – (see Metzinger)
Stanislas Dehaene – The Universal Algorithm For Human Decisions.
Freeman Dyson –  the search for a unified theory could turn out to be an illusion.
Dan Dennett – ” [Some] species of sea turtles migrate all the way across the South Atlantic to lay their eggs on the east coast of South America after mating on the west coast of Africa. [When] the behavior started, Gondwanaland was just beginning to break apart (that would be between 130 and 110 million years ago), and these turtles were just swimming across the narrow strait to lay their eggs. Each year the swim was a little longer—maybe an inch or so—but who could notice that? Eventually they were crossing the ocean to lay their eggs, having no idea, of course, why they would do such an extravagant thing.” Magic – if true; any volunteers to test / prove / disprove.
Jennifer Jacquet – Tit for tat. (Hofstadter’s Tabeltop ?)
Steven Pinker –  Evolutionary Genetics Explains The Conflicts of Human Social Life.
Clay Shirky read Dan Sperber.
Jonathan Gottschall – Faurie-Raymond handedness and survival of the sportiest. Interesting twist on “fittest” – as in best fit.
Richard Foreman – A matter of poetics.
Timothy Taylor – why the Greeks painted red people on black pots. “Anyone can understand what is going on (for which reason museums often keep their straight, gay, lesbian, group, bestial, and olisbos [dildo-themed] stuff out of public view, in study collections)”.
Arnold Trehub – The Anthropic Principle (Great to see it make this context !)
David Christian – The idea of Emergence.
Nicholas Carr – The mechanism of mediocrity (The Peter principle)(The memetic problem, I say. Easy is most popular, Correct can be hardest to promote.)
Howard Gardner – The importance of individual human beings.
Nicholas Humphrey –  A Beautiful Explanation For Why The Human Mind May Seem To Have An Elegant Explanation Even If It Doesn’t. “Elegance can be misleading. Consider a simple mathematical example. Given the sequence 2, 4, 6, 8, what rule would you guess is operating to generate the series? …” (Hofstadter again?)

Disappointments

Nathan Myrvhold – Scientific Method – too much faith.
Vilayanur Ramachandran – Consciousness is genetically evolved – this isn’t news.
Scott Sampson – The Gaia hypothesis.
Haim Harari –  “All of matter consists of six types of quarks and six types of leptons, with seemingly random unexplained mass values, spanning more than ten orders of magnitude. No one knows why, within these twelve building blocks, the same pattern repeats itself three times.”
Susan Blackmore – Darwin and Natural Selection.

Darwin’s Natural Selection is probably the most mentioned, naturally since it is generally held to be the biggest dangerous idea ever across the most fields of enquiry. Feynman and Einstein get plenty of mentions. I see Hofstadter everywhere these days, but I didn’t see a mention.

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