John Brockman


American Literary Agent, Founder of Edge Foundation, an organization aimed to bring together people working at the edge of a broad range of scientific and technical fields

Author Quotes

Traditional American intellectuals are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time.

What you see is all there is.

Twain said: What gets us into trouble is not what we don?t know, it?s what we know for sure that just ain?t so.

What?s more, random events can mimic nonrandom ones. Even the most sophisticated scientists can have difficulty telling the difference between a real effect and a random fluke. Randomness can make placebos seem like miracle cures, or harmless compounds appear to be deadly poisons, and can even create subatomic particles out of nothing.

twice as many people in India have access to cell phones as to latrines.

When a person?s commitment to evidence and logic grows dangerously thin or simply snaps under the burden of fear, wishful thinking, tribalism, or ecstasy, we recognize that he?s being religious.

Uncertainty is intrinsic to the process of finding out what you don?t know, not a weakness to avoid.

When Max Planck began studying physics at the University of Munich in 1874, his teacher, Philipp von Jolly, warned him that it was already a mature field, with little more to learn.

us measure progress not by what is discovered but rather by the growing list of mysteries that remind us of how little we really know.

When most people think about evolution by selection, they conjure up phrases such as survival of the fittest or nature red in tooth and claw. These focus attention on the Darwinian struggle for survival. Many scientists, but few others, know that evolution by selection occurs through the process of differential reproductive success by virtue of heritable differences in design, not by differential survival success. And differential reproductive success often boils down to differential mating success, the focus of Darwin?s 1871 theory of sexual selection.

We all die. Nearly half of us die of cancer (38 percent of females, 45 percent of males).

When Planck introduced his quantum of action at the turn of the 20th century, he realized that this allowed for a new set of natural units. For example, the Planck time is the square root of Planck?s constant times the gravitational constant divided by the fifth power of the speed of light. It is the smallest unit of time anyone talks about, but is it a time? The problem is that these constants are just that. They are the same to a resting observer as to a moving one. But the time is not. I posed this as a divinette to my coven, and Freeman Dyson came up with a beautiful answer. He tried to construct a clock that would measure it. Using the quantum uncertainties, he showed that it would be consumed by a black hole of its own making. No measurement is possible. The Planck time ain?t a time?or it may be beyond time.

We all have a number of executive sub-selves, and the only way we manage to accomplish anything in life is to allow only one sub-self to take the conscious driver?s seat at any given time.

When we want things to stay the same, we?ll always wind up playing catch-up. Better to go with the flow.

We can speak, think, refer to ourselves as agents, and so build up the false idea of a persisting self that has consciousness and free will.

Why do half of all Americans believe in ghosts, three-quarters believe in angels, a third believe in astrology, three-quarters believe in hell? Why do a quarter of all Americans believe that the president of the United States was born outside the country and is therefore ineligible to be president? Why do more than 40 percent of Americans think the universe began after the domestication of the dog? Let?s not give the defeatist answer and blame it all on stupidity. That?s probably part of the story, but let?s be optimistic and concentrate on something remediable: lack of training in how to think critically and how to discount personal opinion, prejudice, and anecdote in favor of evidence.

The science of morality requires us to, in the end, get beyond the myth of a perfectly objective scientific morality.

We may just have to come around to the notion that there?s my universe and there?s your universe?but there?s no such thing as the universe.

Wicked problems demand people who are creative, pragmatic, flexible, and collaborative. They never invest too much in their ideas, because they know they will have to alter them. They know there?s no right place to start, so they simply start somewhere and see what happens. They accept the fact that they?re more likely to understand the problem after it?s solved than before. They don?t expect to get a good solution; they keep working until they?ve found something that?s good enough. They?re never convinced they know enough to solve the problem, so they?re constantly testing their ideas on different stakeholders.

The story emerging from these studies is not yet complete, but it has already led to fascinating insights. Thanks to its microbes, a baby can better digest its mother?s milk. And your ability to digest carbohydrates relies to a significant extent on enzymes that can be made only by genes present not in you but in your microbiome.

We?d be unfeeling, unconscious zombies if we did.

Worry descends upon the worrier like a fever. Without appropriate treatment, that febrile anxiety burns away at the soul. With such treatment, the fever may break. Only then can the worried become well.

The threat to good collective outcomes doesn?t come only from free riders and predators, as mainstream social sciences teach us, but also from well-organized norms of kakonomics, which regulate exchanges for the worse.

WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) samples make up most nonclinical neuroimaging studies as well.

Yet cancer rates in New England are higher than in Colorado?an inverse effect.

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American Literary Agent, Founder of Edge Foundation, an organization aimed to bring together people working at the edge of a broad range of scientific and technical fields