JOHN BROCKMAN THIS WILL MAKE YOU SMARTER PDF
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instruktsiya.info presents brilliant, accessible, cutting-edge ideas to improve our decision-making skills and improve our cognitive toolkits, with contributions by Nassim. This Will Make You Smarter: Big Thinkers Each Pick a Concept to year for more than a decade, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman. "This Will Make You Smarter gives us better tools to think about the world and is The literary agent and all-purpose intellectual impresario John Brockman.
Here, the term 'scientific' is to be understood in a broad sense -- as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be human behavior, corporate behavior, the fate of the planet, or the future of the universe. A 'scientific concept' may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or any other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous tool that can be summed up succinctly but has broad application to understanding the world.
The diverse answers come from a number of Brain Pickings favorites. Neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of the excellent Incognito: Eagleman stresses the importance of recognizing our own umwelt -- our unawareness of the limits of our awareness:. I think it would be useful if the concept of the umwelt were embedded in the public lexicon. It neatly captures the idea of limited knowledge, of unobtainable information, and of unimagined possibilities. Consider the criticisms of policy, the assertions of dogma, the declarations of fact that you hear every day -- and just imagine if all of these could be infused with the proper intellectual humility that comes from appreciating the amount unseen.
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, who authored one of the best psychology books of , contemplates the focusing illusion -- or tendency to misjudge the scale of impact certain circumstances, from a pay raise to the death of a loved one, will have on our actual well-being. Marketers exploit the focusing illusion. When people are induced to believe that they must have a good, they greatly exaggerate the difference that the good will make to the quality of their life.
The focusing illusion is greater for some goods than for others, depending on the extent to which the goods attract continued attention over time. The focusing illusion is likely to be more significant for leather car seats than for books on tape. Politicians are almost as good as marketers in causing people to exaggerate the importance of issues on which their attention is focused. People can be made to believe that school uniforms will significantly improve educational outcomes, or that health care reform will hugely change the quality of life in the United States -- either for the better or for the worse.
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Health care reform will make a difference, but the difference will be smaller than it appears when you focus on it. Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology, writes about PERMA , the five pillars of well-being -- positive emotion, engagement, positive relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishment -- reminding us that reducing disabling conditions like poverty, disease, depression, aggression, and ignorance is only one half of the life satisfaction equation:.
Science and public policy have traditionally been focused solely on remediating the disabling conditions, but PERMA suggests that this is insufficient.
The very same principal seems to be true in your own life: Biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who has previously examined the neurochemistry of love and desire , zooms in on the temperament as the essential building block of the self:.
Personality is composed of two fundamentally different types of traits: Your childhood games; your family's interests and values; how people in your community express love and hate; what relatives and friends regard as courteous or perilous; how those around you worship; what they sing; when they laugh; how they make a living and relax: The balance of your personality is your temperament, all the biologically based tendencies that contribute to your consistent patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving.
Wrongologist Kathryn Schulz, whose recent talk on the psychology of regret you might recall, finds optimism in "the pessimistic meta-induction from the history of science" -- the idea that, because we now know scientific theories of yore have often been wrong, it's safe to assume our own present-day theories are quite possibly wrong as well. At best, we nurture the fantasy that knowledge is always cumulative, and therefore concede that future eras will know more than we do.
But we ignore or resist the fact that knowledge collapses as often as it accretes, that our own most cherished beliefs might appear patently false to posterity. That fact is the essence of the meta-induction -- and yet, despite its name, this idea is not pessimistic.
Or rather, it is only pessimistic if you hate being wrong. If, by contrast, you think that uncovering your mistakes is one of the best ways to revise and improve your understanding of the world, then this is actually a highly optimistic insight. In fact, this seems to be one of the anthology's bigger running themes -- the idea that error, failure, and uncertainty are not only common to both the scientific method and the human condition, but also essential.
Futurist and Wired founder Kevin Kelly joins the ranks of famous creators admonishing against the fear of failure:. We can learn nearly as much from an experiment that does not work as from one that does. Failure is not something to be avoided but rather something to be cultivated.
And we know that the cosmos, through which life could spread, is far more extensive and varied than he envisioned. So humans are surely not the terminal branch of an evolutionary tree but a species that emerged early in cosmic history, with special promise for diverse evolution. But this is not to diminish their status.
We humans are entitled to feel uniquely important, as the first known species with the power to mold its evolutionary legacy. It needs to make a difference to us as a species, or, more to the point I am going to make, as a key factor in defining our collective role.
This concept must affect the way we perceive who we are and why we are here. It should redefine the way we live our lives and plan for our collective future. This concept must make it clear that we matter.
A concept that might grow into this life-redefining powerhouse is the notion that we, humans on a rare planet, are unique and uniquely important. But what of Copernicanism, the notion that the more we learn about the universe the less important we become? I will argue that modern science, traditionally considered guilty of reducing our existence to a pointless accident in an indifferent universe, is actually saying the opposite.
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Whereas it does say that we are an accident in an indifferent universe, it also says that we are a rare accident and thus not pointless. But wait! After all, as we discover more and more worlds circling other suns, the so-called exoplanets, we find an amazing array of possibilities. Also, given that the laws of physics and chemistry are the same across the universe, we should expect life to be ubiquitous: If it happened here, it must have happened in many other places.
So why am I claiming that we are unique? There is an enormous difference between life and intelligent life. Life is in the business of surviving the best way it can in a given environment. If the environment changes, those creatures that can survive under the new conditions will. It makes us the special outcome of some grand plan. There have been many transitions toward greater complexity, none of them obvious: As we look at planet Earth and the factors that enabled us to be here, we quickly realize that our planet is very special.
A further point: Even if SETI finds evidence of other cosmic intelligences, we are not going to initiate an intense collaboration. And if we are alone, and alone are aware of what it means to be alive and of the importance of remaining alive, we gain a new kind of cosmic centrality, very different and much more meaningful than the religion-inspired one of pre-Copernican days, when Earth was the center of Creation. We matter because we are rare and we know it.
This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking
The joint realization that we live in a remarkable cosmic cocoon and can create languages and rocket ships in an otherwise apparently dumb universe ought to be transformative. Until we find other self-aware intelligences, we are how the universe thinks. As someone who just spent a term teaching freshman introductory biology and will be doing it again in the coming months, I have to say that the first thing that leaped to my mind as an essential skill everyone should have was algebra.
And elementary probability and statistics. Elementary math skills are an essential tool we ought to be able to take for granted in a scientific and technological society. What idea should people grasp to better understand their place in the universe? And opposition to the mediocrity principle is one of the major linchpins of religion and creationism and jingoism and failed social policies.
There are a lot of cognitive ills that would be neatly wrapped up and easily disposed of if only everyone understood this one simple idea.
Most of what happens in the world is just a consequence of natural, universal laws—laws that apply everywhere and to everything, with no special exemptions or amplifications for your benefit—given variety by the input of chance. Everything that you as a human being consider cosmically important is an accident.
The rules of inheritance and the nature of biology meant that when your parents had a baby, it was anatomically human and mostly fully functional physiologically, but the unique combination of traits that make you male or female, tall or short, brown-eyed or blue-eyed, were the result of a chance shuffle of genetic attributes during meiosis, a few random mutations, and the luck of the draw in the grand sperm race at fertilization.
The stars themselves form as a result of the properties of atoms, the specific features of each star set by the chance distribution of ripples of condensation through clouds of dust and gas.
Our species itself is partly shaped by the force of our environment through selection and partly by fluctuations of chance. If humans had gone extinct a hundred thousand years ago, the world would go on turning, life would go on thriving, and some other species would be prospering in our place—and most likely not by following the same intelligence-driven, technological path we did. We look for general principles that apply to the universe as a whole first, and those explain much of the story; and then we look for the quirks and exceptions that led to the details.
Starting with a presumption that a subject of interest represents a violation of the properties of the universe, that it was poofed uniquely into existence with a specific purpose, and that the conditions of its existence can no longer apply, means that you have leaped to an unfounded and unusual explanation with no legitimate reason.
What the mediocrity principle tells us is that our state is not the product of intent, that the universe lacks both malice and benevolence, but that everything does follow rules—and that grasping those rules should be the goal of science. Theoretical physicist, Caltech; author, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. The world consists of things, which obey rules. If you keep asking why questions about what happens in the universe, you ultimately reach the answer because of the state of the universe and the laws of nature.
In ancient Greece, Plato and Aristotle saw the world teleologically—rain falls because water wants to be lower than air; animals and slaves are naturally subservient to human citizens. From the start, there were skeptics. Democritus and Lucretius were early naturalists who urged us to think in terms of matter obeying rules rather than chasing final causes and serving underlying purposes. Theologians sometimes invoke sustaining the world as a function of God.
Pierre-Simon Laplace articulated the very specific kind of rule that the world obeys: If we specify the complete state of the universe or any isolated part of it at some particular instant, the laws of physics tell us what its state will be at the very next moment.
Applying those laws again, we can figure out what it will be a moment later. And so on, until in principle, obviously we can build up a complete history of the universe. This is not a universe that is advancing toward a goal; it is one that is caught in the iron grip of an unbreakable pattern. This view of the processes at the heart of the physical world has important consequences for how we come to terms with the social world.
Human beings like to insist that there are reasons why things happen. The death of a child, the crash of an airplane, or a random shooting must be explained in terms of the workings of a hidden plan. Nature teaches us otherwise. Things happen because the laws of nature say they will—because they are the consequences of the state of the universe and the path of its evolution.
None of which is to say that life is devoid of purpose and meaning. Only that these are things we create, not things we discover out there in the fundamental architecture of the world. The scientist Nicolaus Copernicus recognized that Earth is not in any particularly privileged position in the solar system. This elegant fact can be extended to encompass a powerful idea, known as the Copernican Principle, which holds that we are not in a special or favorable place of any sort.
By looking at the world in light of this principle, we can overcome certain preconceptions about ourselves and reexamine our relationship with the universe. And the Copernican Principle helps guide our understanding of the expanding universe, allowing us to see that anywhere in the cosmos one would perceive other galaxies moving away at rapid speeds, just as we see here on Earth.
We are not anywhere special. The Copernican Principle has also been extended to our temporal position by astrophysicist J.
This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking
Richard Gott to help provide estimates for lifetimes of events, independent of additional information. As Gott elaborated, other than the fact that we are intelligent observers, there is no reason to believe we are in any way specially located in time. The Copernican Principle allows us to quantify our uncertainty and recognize that we are often neither at the beginning of things nor at the end.
It allowed Gott to estimate correctly when the Berlin Wall would fall and has even provided meaningful numbers on the survival of humanity. This principle can even anchor our location within the many orders of magnitude of our world: We are far smaller than most of the cosmos, far larger than most chemistry, far slower than much that occurs at subatomic scales, and far faster than geological and evolutionary processes.
This principle leads us to study the successively larger and smaller orders of magnitude of our world, because we cannot assume that everything interesting is at the same scale as ourselves.
And yet despite this regimented approach to our mediocrity, we need not despair: The paradox of the Copernican Principle is that by properly understanding our place, even if it be humbling, we can only then truly understand our particular circumstances. Genome scientist; founder and president, J.
I cannot imagine any single discovery that would have more impact on humanity than the discovery of life outside our solar system. There is a humancentric, Earthcentric view of life that permeates most cultural and societal thinking.
Finding that there are multiple, perhaps millions, of origins of life and that life is ubiquitous throughout the universe will profoundly affect every human. We live on a microbial planet. We have more than trillion microbes on and in each of us.
We have microbes that can withstand millions of rads of ionizing radiation or acids and bases so strong they would dissolve our skin. We have life that lives on carbon dioxide, on methane, on sulfur, on sugar.
We have sent trillions of bacteria into space over the last few billion years, and we have long exchanged material with Mars, so it would be very surprising if we do not find evidence of microbial life in our solar system, particularly on Mars. The recent discoveries by Dimitar Sasselov and colleagues of numerous Earth and super-Earth-like planets outside our solar system, including water worlds, greatly increases the probability of finding life. Sasselov estimates that there are approximately a hundred thousand Earths and super-Earths within our own galaxy.
The universe is young, so wherever we find microbial life, there will be intelligent life in the future. The breakthrough was the shotgun sequencing of DNA, the same technology that gave us the human genome years ahead of schedule.
Starting in , Craig Venter and others began sequencing large populations of bacteria. The thousands of new genes they found double the total previously discovered showed what proteins the genes would generate and therefore what function they had, and that began to reveal what the teeming bacteria were really up to.
This meta -genomics revolutionized microbiology, and that revolution will reverberate through the rest of biology for decades.
Microbes make up 80 percent of all biomass, says microbiologist Carl Woese. This is the planet of the bacteria. Microbes run our atmosphere. They also run much of our body. The human microbiome in our gut, mouth, skin, and elsewhere, harbors three thousand kinds of bacteria with 3 million distinct genes. Our own cells struggle by on only eighteen thousand genes or so.
New research is showing that our microbes-on-board drive our immune systems and important parts of our digestion. Microbial evolution, which has been going on for more than 3. Bacteria swap genes promiscuously within generations.
They have three different mechanisms for this horizontal gene transfer among wildly different kinds of bacteria, and thus they evolve constantly and rapidly. Since they pass the opportunistically acquired genes on to their offspring, what they do on an hourly basis looks suspiciously Lamarckian—the inheritance of acquired characteristics.
Field biologists are realizing that the biosphere is looking like what some are calling a pangenome, an interconnected network of continuously circulated genes that is a superset of all the genes in all the strains of a species that form.
Bioengineers in the new field of synthetic biology are working directly with the conveniently fungible genes of microbes. This biotech century will be microbe-enhanced and maybe microbe-inspired. Social Darwinism turned out to be a bankrupt idea.The essays are short — some shorter than a single page — that cover interesting scientific concepts, new and old ideas to help us think about the world.
Such proliferation makes the activities of filtering, enabling, synthesizing, framing, and remembering more and more important as basic navigational tools for 21st century life. Futurist and Wired founder Kevin Kelly joins the ranks of famous creators admonishing against the fear of failure:.
Well, it gave me a rather long list of new things to further read on! The diverse answers come from a number of Brain Pickings favorites.
In , the Reality Club went online, rebranded as Edge. As you march through or dance around in this book, you'll see that some of the entries describe the patterns of the world. No one person knows how to make even a pencil And if we are alone, and alone are aware of what it means to be alive and of the importance of remaining alive, we gain a new kind of cosmic centrality, very different and much more meaningful than the religion-inspired one of pre-Copernican days, when Earth was the center of Creation.
Lately, the word curate seems to be used in an greater variety of contexts than ever before, in reference to everything from a exhibitions of prints by Old Masters to the contents of a concept store.
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