Sunday, January 01, 2006

"the crack cocaine of the thinking world"

The title comes from a BBC 4 Radio commentary on the discussions prompted by The World Question Center's annual question. This year, they asked a bunch of prominent thinkers, not all named Dyson, what their dangerous idea was.


The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?
(Suggested by Steve Pinker ). Quite a few scientists are among the designated thinkers again this year, including physicists Leonard Susskind, Freeman Dyson, Paul Steinhardt, Lee Smolin, Carlo Rovelli, Phillip W. Anderson, and Brian Greene.

Brian is thinking about the multiverse, but so far it seems more dangerous to physics than anything else.

David Gelertner says:
Let's date the Information Age to 1982, when the Internet went into operation & the PC had just been born. What if people have been growing less well-informed ever since? What if people have been growing steadily more ignorant ever since the so-called Information Age began?
Unfortunately he doesn't have anything interesting to say about it. I on the other hand have two things 1) Faux News and 2) Flush Limbaugh.

David Lykken still has faith in an activist court:
I believe that, during my grandchildren's lifetimes, the U.S. Supreme Court will find a way to approve laws requiring parental licensure.
A good idea, but not bloody likely, especially via. the Supremes.

Arnold Trehub has this rather inane non-sequitur:
The entire conceptual edifice of modern science is a product of biology. Even the most basic and profound ideas of science — think relativity, quantum theory, the theory of evolution — are generated and necessarily limited by the particular capacities of our human biology. This implies that the content and scope of scientific knowledge is not open-ended.
Could you clarify that logic please? Sure don't look like modus ponens to me.

Roger Shank doesn't like schools:
My dangerous idea is one that most people immediately reject without giving it serious thought: school is bad for kids — it makes them unhappy and as tests show — they don't learn much.

Pink Floyd said it better, but they weren't invited:
We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.

Clay Shirky actually says something interesting and dangerous:
In the coming decades, our concept of free will, based as it is on ignorance of its actual mechanisms, will be destroyed by what we learn about the actual workings of the brain. We can wait for that collision, and decide what to do then, or we can begin thinking through what sort of legal, political, and economic systems we need in a world where our old conception of free will is rendered inoperable.
It's our choice. Or maybe not.

More on the question later, when I've read some more.