Sunday, January 01, 2006

What is your dangerous idea?

THE WORLD QUESTION CENTER 2006 poses an interesting yearly question, and draws answers from among some of the brightest minds there are.

Last year the question was: What do you believe is true that you cannot prove? The year before that it was something like: You are the President's science advisor - what do you advise?

This year:
The Edge Annual Question — 2006


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?
There are 117 essays in response to this question occupying about 12 web pages, of which I've only read the first. So far the responses are as interesting as they were last year and the year before.

In the very first essay, Howard Gardner seems to validate my pessimistic outlook (though focusing on a different set of factors than I), while in the last essay on the first page Cliff Pickover points to the likely combination of drugs and flawed simulations to create completely believable virtual realities. Along the way we are treated to thoughts on relativism, naturalism, the character of time, emotional intelligence, radicalized relativity, banality of evil and heroism, the evaporation of the state and doubts over our own existence. Some or much of it flies over my head, frankly, and I'll have to go back and study a few particularly intriguing contributions.

If you want an interesting stretch, check out the responses to the 2006 Edge Annual Question.

They didn't ask me, but my dangerous idea has to do with the necessity of coercion in limiting human population in the face of environmental limits, and the morality of mass culling of the human herd for the same reason if conditions reach that point. I think that qualifies as dangerous stuff. I probably won't write an essay, though. Far better people than me have already done so with respect to the first part, but to little effect.

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