Reviews of Books You’ve Never Heard of: What is Your Dangerous Idea?

What’s this, then?:  John Brockman runs the Edge Foundation, which seeks to get scientists, philosophers, sociologists and whatever the hell Douglas Rushkoff is (but mostly scientists) to put forth new ideas in a form which is accessible to a non-specialist audience.  Every year a question is posed to Edge Foundation thinkers.  2006’s was “What is your dangerous idea?”  108 responses to that question form this book.  The responses range from a handful of sentences to a few pages long, and touch on religion, the nature of the self, politics, evolution, medicine, economics, and just about anything else you can think of.

Well, s’it any good?:  Yes, it’s compulsively readable.  Because each of the ideas is presented to briefly, it’s easy to find yourself repeatedly saying “just one more,” until there are no more.  It helps that the ideas themselves are interesting.  “The Human Brain Will Never Understand the Universe” is followed by “The World May be Fundamentally Inexplicable.”  If that sounds like a downer, check in with Ray Kurzweil in his “The Near-Term Inevitability of Radical Life Extension and Expansion.” Rushkoff pushes for “open-source currency,” which might be the idea in the book with the best balance of zaniness and real potential as food for thought.

What’s the best bit?:  The best part might be the way the book is organized.  Essays which follow one another are not necessarily on the same topic but on related topics.  There is a sense of conversation that would be lost if the essays were arbitrarily lumped into sections or chapters.  I do wish more of the chapters directly disagreed with one another.  For a book on dangerous ideas, a surprising number of authors seem to be pushing scientific orthodoxies.  Not that thinking about the implications of neuroscientists’s understanding of mind as a material phenomenon is not useful but it lacks the gonzo charm of an idea like mathematician Rudy Rucker’s “Mind is a Universally Distributed Quality,” a kind of 21st century animism.

Anything else?:  As I thumb through the index again, I keep coming across other entries that I could reccomend to you guys.  This really is a good little pop-science book, and there are other books resultant from Edge questions, like What Are You Optimistic About, which I’d be willing to give a quick read.

Published in: on December 30, 2011 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Quick Hit: The Hobbit movies

There will be two of them and the first is subtitled An Unexpected Journey.  I think they should have been titled There and Back Again, respectivey.


Published in: on December 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Quick Hit: It’s a Wonderful Life

Has Grant Morrison ever done a riff on It’s a Wonderful Life?  Because it’s pretty much about the human impact of chaos theory and alternate universes.

Published in: on December 21, 2011 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Quick Hit: The Presidents of the United States of America

The band, The Presidents of the United States of America could not have conceived of how difficult it would be to look them up on Wikipedia.  The band, The Band greatly overestimated the difficulty of discussing them in conversation.

Published in: on December 19, 2011 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  

Alternate Timelines: Some Thoughts on the Future

I recently discovered the Science Channel’s Prophets of Science Fiction, which presents quick bi(bli)ographies of sci fi writers and compares ideas in their work to recent or coming scientific developments in a way which is entertaining if maybe a bit stretched.  I’ve watched two episodes so far, one on Philip K. Dick and one on Arthur C. Clarke (middle initials are important in sci-fi, huh?).  I was thinking to myself the other day, whenever I read political news, I feel like we’re living in a Philip K. Dick world but when I read science news, I feel like an Arthur C. Clarke world (in which the nations of the world collaborate and peacefully colonize the entire solar system save Europa) isn’t an impossibility.

I think those represent the two general strands of science fiction thought on the future:  1) Be careful or shit’s gonna be terrible; or 2) Get ready, shit’s gonna be awesome.  Actually, however, they both point at the same things.  In 2010, when HAL 9000  tells mankind to use the solar system together and use it in peace, Clarke is telling us to make that future possible.  When Dick worries about surveillance societies, he’s telling us to be on our guard against power overstepping its bounds.  Despite the Science Channel’s naming these writers prophets, they weren’t trying to predict the future, they were doing what all artists and thinkers do:  trying to create  the future. The lesson we should learn, then, is that we must try to create our future.

As an example: It seems like every day we hear more and more about things like police brutality.  Is this a growing sign of a police state?  Remember, we know about these cases because they were recorded.  There is a stress in the knowledge that we are always being watched (and it seems we are), but at least, for now, so are those who would be capable of wielding power over us.  The same surveillance technology which could control us can also protect us.

It’s been said that all times are troubled times.  Perhaps all times are also blooming with possibility.  In Schrodingerian fashion, perhaps we won’t know which future we’re in until we open the box and check on the cat.  Just remember that the observer can have an effect on the experiment.

Published in: on December 18, 2011 at 10:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Some Not Particularly Organized Thoughts on A Charlie Brown Christmas

Ah.  So I did have a blog and it wasn’t all some strange dream (the inn in Vermont has proven not to be true, however, sadly).  Time to get back on my feet (once again), then.

A Charlie Brown Christmas aired this week.  Although I didn’t catch it, I’ve seen it a time or (twenty) two, so I feel free to comment on it.  Like Woodstock, this special is kind of an odd bird.  I can’t think of any other Christmas special which makes reference to the fact that Christmas is (originally at least) a religious holiday.  This one quotes from the King James Bible at length.  And you know what kids love even more than theology?  Cool Jazz.

But seriously, it must have been easy enough to slide in the jazz soundtrack (which, don’t get me wrong, is brilliant), considering Schulz and director Mendelson already did everything else wrong.  Charlie Brown isn’t excited about Christmas.  Instead he seems to be dealing with some Seasonal Affective Disorder.  And the thing is, he’s kind of right.  In How the Grinch Stole Christmas, not being thrilled about the holidays is a symptom of villainy.  People have accused Schulz of being melancholic or bitter, but one of the great humanizing elements of the Peanuts strip is its insistence that everyone feels lousy sometimes and that’s alright.

The original airing was sponsored by Coca Cola (who actually are the ones who contacted Mendelson about doing a Peanuts Christmas special).  So Schulz and Mendelson gave them a weirdo Christmas special about the winter blues and the commercialization of everything.  Most future airings removed a piece of footage.  Ever wonder where Linus ends up when Snoopy grabs his blanket and sends him flying across the frozen pond in the opening scene?  Linus ends up crashing into a Coca Cola billboard, breaking it in two (I can’t for the life of me find a clip or picture anywhere online, so you’ll just have to trust me) and smashing Schulz’s corporate financiers. And that ended up not even being the last laugh.   Coke got an anti-commercial commercial and Schulz created a special no one thought they wanted that everyone still watches.

I suppose I should come to some conclusion, here, but I just don’t know what to think.  To simplify the matter, I’ll ask:  how should I feel about wanting to buy a replica Charlie Brown tree?


Published in: on December 8, 2011 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment