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  

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