As promised herwith a few pointers to those items of interest in answers to the 2009 Edge Question.
Answers ring like scientific odes to uncertainty, humility and doubt; passionate pleas for critical thought in a world threatened by blind convictions.
THE TORONTO STAR
Sue Blackmore – predictably, when some other “artificial” technological meme replicator becomes better (for the memes and their replication) than the human mind, humans are dispensible.
David Bodanis – that’s more like it, predictably unpredictable. Science in crisis.
Science brings magic from the heavens. In the next few decades, clearly, it will get stronger. Yet just as inevitably, some one of its negative amplitudes — be it in harming health, or security, or something as yet unrecognized — will pass an acceptable threshold. When that happens, society is unlikely to respond with calm guidelines. Instead, there will be blind fury against everything science has done.
Nicholas Humphrey – more of the same, expect a revolution, but don’t predict a changed outcome.
Dan Sperber – Ditto. Expect a clash between safety and liberty.
P Z Myers – Biology in Minnesota (Intriguing, but I digress …) … when humans (in general / critical mass) finally accept evolution for what it is, it will change who we are. Interestingly and scarily Dawkins’ answer is about a tangible demonstration of interbreeding that might tip that balance. Scott Sampson too, evolution changes everything. (Nice to see PZ in this illustrious list BTW).
Jesse Bering – An evolved god.
Richard Foreman – nothing changes everything. (See Bodamis and Humphrey above.)
Christine Finn – a simple change of perspective in how we map to the world.
Dan Dennett – right again.
When we look closely at looking closely, when we increase our investment in techniques for increasing our investment in techniques… for increasing our investment in techniques, we create non-linearities, — like Doug Hofstadter’s strange loops — that amplify uncertainties, allowing phenomena that have heretofore been orderly and relatively predictable to escape our control. We figure out how to game the system, and this initiates an arms race to control or prevent the gaming of the system, which leads to new levels of gamesmanship and so on.
The snowball has started to roll …. When you no longer need to eat to stay alive, or procreate to have offspring, or locomote to have an adventure — packed life, when the residual instincts for these activities might be simply turned off by genetic tweaking, there may be no constants of human nature left at all. Except, maybe, our incessant curiosity.
Gloria Orrigi – reputation and trust – how we achieve social aggregation of “judgement”.
Betsy Devine – the economics of happiness – post 2008 melt-down.
Actually I’m going to stop there … the theme is this. If we care that humans are part of the future of the evolutionary, game-theory, cui-bono arms-race then we need to add quality values to our accounting for quantitative objects. It may take a major piece of Schumpeterian creative destruction before we really see that, so what we need is cultivate a meme that might lead us through (and survive) such a disaster before it happens. Otherwise we have all the pain without any of the benefit in a lesson learned. Game on.