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The Media Science

2003 Edge.org World Question 161

Posted by timothy
from the what-would-sauron-do dept.
murky.waters writes "The responses to this year's Edge.org question have been published; basically, people were asked to imagine they were nominated as White House science adviser and the President asked them what are some important issues in science and what we should do about them. There are 84 responses, ranging in topic from advanced nanotechnology to the psychology of foreign cultures, and lots of ideas regarding science, technology, politics, and education. The responses were written by academics (e.g. Roger Schank, Marvin Minsky), journalists (Kevin Kelly), Nobel Laureates (Eric Kandel), and others (Alan Alda). Some of responses are politically loaded but the majority has either a more specialised proposal, or general remarks about our world. Many are absolutely fascinating: funny, insightful, interesting, hell even informative. ... One of the most public supporters of the Singularity 'religion', Ray Kurzweil, is a regular at Edge, and currently discussed issues range from said transhumanism to early-universe theories, and many other kinds of exciting and novel science."
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2003 Edge.org World Question

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  • by mirko (198274) on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:17AM (#5024156) Journal
    -if you were in the gov, what'd would you do ?
    -ask for credits :)
  • by dagg (153577) on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:27AM (#5024176) Journal
    ... to dramatically increase funding for promising new methodologies in the field of "human somatic cell engineering," which bypass entirely fetal stem cells.

    I'm happy that this was brought up. I am getting tired of all the talk about banning this research and banning that research. There are certainly ethical ways to do things that don't necesarilly require banning large areas of research.

    • There are certainly ethical ways to do things that don't necesarilly require banning large areas of research.

      The most ethical of which is to keep government out of science completely. Given a choice of whether to (a) force the people to support research, (b) force people to abandon research, or (c) let the people decide for themselves how to spend thier efforts, it should be obvious that freedom is the clearest path to scientific advancement, and the only one which is fair to everybody.

    • Argh!! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Orne (144925)
      When will you people.... Nothing was banned! The US government simply said that it will not provide government money to private research firms to conduct studies on an morally ambiguous process. Whether or not you believe that scooping the dna out of fertilized embryos is equivalent to killing, there is a significant number of Americans who do, and they do not want their tax money supporting what they believe is murder.

      Besides, if the same celebrities (the majority of which don't know a stem cell from a make-up applicator) put their effort into supporting adult stem cell research, we'd have a much better attitude towards celluar sciences.
    • There are certainly ethical ways to do things that don't necesarilly require banning large areas of research.

      Unfortunately, that's not how politics work though.

      From here:
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/sh owbiz/2 263289.stm

      "There are religious groups - the Jehovah's Witness, I believe - who think it's a sin to have a blood transfusion. Well, what if the president for some reason decided to listen to them, instead of to the Catholics, which is the group he really listens to in making his decisions about embryonic stem cell research?" - Christopher Reeve
  • Hmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cheapoboy (634792) on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:29AM (#5024182) Journal
    Maybe they could work on getting Chaney a Heart, Lott his Courage and Bush a brain... i'll miss you most of all scarecrow.
    • I was sure that Minsky would've suggested an expert system AI be developed to replace GWB
  • Oh, sorry (Score:4, Funny)

    by bravehamster (44836) on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:31AM (#5024186) Homepage Journal
    Oh, looks like I forgot to tell all you guys. We've already reached the singularity, and I'm it. I've just left all of you running as semi-independent information gathering processes. Didn't you get the memo? No? My bad. You know, for a superintelligent posthuman, I'm pretty absent-minded sometimes. Well, I'll just get back to finding a way to escape the closure of the universe and become God. IM me if you need anything.

  • YOU ARE A TERRORIST

    Seriously though, human genome research through other means is a biggy.

    I'd put it just above computer science with the procedes(source code) going to the public. We(OSS developers) are far ahead of a multi-billion dollar corporation in terms of development; I'd like to see what results we could achieve without those pesky day jobs.
  • by p944 (631670) on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:40AM (#5024195)
    I would say that the scientific body of the government should be doing research into rapid learning techniques - for the other members of the Whitehouse ;-)
    • This has been noted by some of the answers, for instance Stuart Pimm's at http://www.edge.org/q2003/q03_pimm.html :

      I have yet to see an area where science has informed any of this present administration's policies. ... I think I'll give this position a pass, not so much out of spite, but because I think there are many better platforms from which to ensure that science effects good policy at the international, national, and state levels.
  • "Define subliminible in three vowels or less!"
  • Ecology! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maxwell42 (594898) <olivier.jaquemet ... m minus language> on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:48AM (#5024208)
    I know Bush doesn't give too much attention to that, and i wonder if he will ever know what this word means but just give it a try...
    The world won't last long if the US never change its policics on that (Kyoto.. Johanesburg etc...), IMHO...

    I don't agreee with all but have a look at Brian Goodwin suggestions:
    Accelerating the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere by profligate use of Iraq's vast oil supplies, together with the continuing deforestation of the Amazon, will not only turn the Amazon basin into a parched desert but plunge the entire mid-West into prolonged drought, resulting in famine in your own land. History would then judge you as an apocalyptic Burning Bush, bringing the scourge of parching fire to your country and its people.
    Read More... [edge.org]
    • Re:Ecology! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by sql*kitten (1359)
      I know Bush doesn't give too much attention to that, and i wonder if he will ever know what this word means but just give it a try...
      The world won't last long if the US never change its policics on that (Kyoto.. Johanesburg etc...), IMHO...


      I'm sorry, but you don't know what you're talking about. As everyone knows, two-thirds of the Senate must ratify a treaty before it becomes law. Senators have the ability to vote on a treaty even if the President does not ask them to. In 1997, the Senate voted 95-0 against the Kyoto Protocol.

      What does this mean? It means that even if Bush wanted to ratify Kyoto he couldn't, because under the Clinton administration, the Senate rejected it.
      • I don't believe that you are actually correct. Not sure though. But I think that the president needs to support the treaty as well as get a 2/3 vote of the senate.

        OTOH, it's also basically true that Bush probably couldn't have gotten the Senate to vote for it even if he'd wanted too. So what is going on here is basically just a first statement of policy: "I don't see any reason to play diplomatic games with you. I'm the big wheel, and I don't need to be polite." Rather than anything really substantive.

        If you want to look carefully at what Bush has done, externally, the main thing he's done is be less polite than other presidents have been. I happen to consider this to be in and of itself a foolish and dangerous thing to do, but he hasn't yet DONE anything objectively worse than, say, Eisenhower did. (OK, faint praise. I despise the guy, so don't expect more.)

        OTOH, Bush's internal policy seems a direct attack on the constitution. He seems to be paranoid occilitating between delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution. This is not good in a head of state. In fact it's mind-bogglingly dangerous. Sigmund Freud provides a few clues as to why Bush might have these problems, but that doesn't give us much assistance, even if it is dramatically appropriate, considering that his father is ex-head of the CIA. (After listening to Bush, I frequently want to reread the Orestes cycle. Agamemnon got what was coming to him!)

        • While treaties bind the federal government (not the states) to cooperate internationally, this power cannot extend into the states of the Union. The force and effect of treaties remain at the border.

          However, CONgress can enact legislation that affects only the District of Criminals and the territories and possessions exclusive of the several states of the Union.

          For example, CONgress (not 2/3rds of the Senate) can "authorize" the POTUS to enter into international agreements implementing socialist insecurity:

          42 USC 433 [findlaw.com]
          --cite--
          (a) Purpose of agreement
          The President is authorized (subject to the succeeding provisions of this section) to enter into agreements establishing totalization arrangements between the social security system established by this subchapter and the social security system of any foreign country, for the purposes of establishing entitlement to and the amount of old-age, survivors, disability, or derivative benefits based on a combination of an individual's periods of coverage under the social security system established by this subchapter and the social security system of such foreign country.
          --end--

          Such that it is, socialist insecurity is a program that is limited in jurisdiction to federal areas. It has no application within the states of the Union.
          • Your insightful brainwaves don't seem to be manifesting in your post. Please take off your tinfoil hat and try again.

            Thanks!
          • While treaties bind the federal government (not the states) to cooperate internationally, this power cannot extend into the states of the Union. The force and effect of treaties remain at the border.

            Umm, lets see what the Constitutions say about that ...

            Art IV, Cl 2.
            This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

            For tomorrows class read up about '(self-)executing' and 'executory' treaties ....

        • I don't believe that you are actually correct. Not sure though. But I think that the president needs to support the treaty as well as get a 2/3 vote of the senate.

          What's interesting is that 34 Senators could vote for Kyoto and get some political mileage for being "green", but there's no real danger of it ever signed into law.

          IMHO the Kyoto treaty is flawed. How can Western politicians simultaneously argue that developing nations should get excemptions for economic reasons, yet Western nations will not suffer economically? If Kyoto is to be ratified it must bind not only those nations who are producing pollution but have plateaued, but those whose rate of pollution is lower right now, but accelerating.

          I don't see any reason to play diplomatic games with you. I'm the big wheel, and I don't need to be polite

          Clinton did try to force Kyoto through, but that's not really possible without a change in the law and maybe the Constitution itself. The Founding Fathers were serious when they created the checks and balances and divided power amongst the branches of government.

          OTOH, Bush's internal policy seems a direct attack on the constitution. He seems to be paranoid occilitating between delusions of grandeur and delusions of persecution. This is not good in a head of state. In fact it's mind-bogglingly dangerous.

          I agree with you here. But defending the Constitution is Job #1 - that's the President's foremost responsibility. The military swear to defend the Constitution against all threats, foreign and domestic. A greater conspiracy theorist than I might suggest Bush and Cheney are making sure the military is busy while they make their changes back home.
    • Re:Ecology! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Zathrus (232140) on Monday January 06, 2003 @10:18AM (#5024945) Homepage
      You realize that Clinton rejected Kyoto first, right? This is not a Bush administration thing. Kyoto pretty much screws the US while letting the worlds biggest polluters off scott free. It also has a time period that just so happens to exclude the emissions from the Eastern Bloc nations -- which would utterly screw most of Europe (especially Germany).

      The reason the US won't ratify it is because it's not a fair treaty.

      As for Mr. Goodwin's suggestions -- I'd love to know where he got the Iraq bit, since it's not like the US is going to have outright control of the oil supplies regardless of what occurs in the next few months (and while I'm not in favor of an invasion currently, I don't see how we're going to avoid it... Bush has Iraq on the brain, and all I can hope is that there's some intelligence information that's supporting the inanity currently going on).
      • Re:Ecology! (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The US is one of the world's biggest polluters...
        • The US is one of the world's biggest polluters...

          Overall, or proportionally? Any country with an industrial footprint as big as the U.S. would probably be one of the biggest overall polluters no matter how strict its environmental-protection laws are.

          Given that very few countries have achieved anything close to "perfect" environmental protection, and those that approach it have much smaller populations with fewer conflicting interests among their voting and lobbying blocs, it's kinda silly to expect the U.S. to be anything other than one of the biggest polluters.

          Not to mention that environmentally-safe industrial technology is still in its infancy, and most of the current solutions are economically unfeasible. Even if the U.S. were thoroughly devoted to environmental protection, it's still decades away from implementing all of the even marginally plausible solutions, without destabilizing the nation's entire economy.

          The U.S. is one of the world's biggest polluters? No shit. I'd be curious to know where the U.S. ranks among nations who are proposing, developing, and implementing environmentally-friendly alternatives. I'll bet it's near the top of that list, too, but I could be wrong. As an idea worth thinking about, it's much better than yours, though.

        • All of the 1st world nations are among the worlds biggest polluters.
      • Re:Ecology! (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ChaosDiscord (4913)
        Kyoto pretty much screws the US while letting the worlds biggest polluters off scott free.

        I'd always viewed it as "We're rich and powerful, and thus more easily able to improve our emissions than many less developed, less wealthy nations. In fact, we got rich and powerful in part by being lucky enough that our most heavily polluting part of history occurred at a time that almost no one cared. We developed nations will take a hit for the good of the planet, and hope that our good example will convince other nations follow. Furthermore, because many other highly developed nations are signing on, I won't even need to worry about local businesses competing with less eco-friendly foreign businesses. This just leaves less developed nations, against whom, depending on the industry, we tend to either have an overwhelming technological advantage, or are ourselves overwhelmed by cheap labor and less regulations. As those nations continue to develop, they will be encouraged to match our restrictions."

        Not everyone is going to agree, but I think it bears consideration. No matter what agreement you have, there will be countries that refuse to follow it, or only follow limited versions. We need to make do with what we can get, then use the combined groups effort to convince hold-outs to join in.

        • We developed nations will take a hit for the good of the planet, and hope that our good example will convince other nations follow.

          You have *got* to be kidding. If a person can make a buck by arbitraging cheap, polluting tasks by moving them to certain countries (China, India, Eastern Europe), they will do so in a heartbeat. Given the interdependence of the world ecology, it shifts things around without any incentive for polluters to stop.

          If the protocol held such countries to a lesser standard but required them to document what was going on and tighten up, just at a slower rate, that'd be unfair but perhaps OK for a while. But saying that there should be *no* controls for them is a big mistake that sets a really bad precedent IMHO.

          It's sort of like telling poor people "you can steal from the rich for a while since you are poorer, but at some point in the future you're going to have to stop". A bit harsh, but tell me where I'm wrong here.

          --LP
  • by Kajakske (59577) on Monday January 06, 2003 @05:50AM (#5024211) Homepage Journal
    Video games compel kids to spend dozens of hours a week exploring virtual worlds and learning their rules. Barring a massive overhaul of our school system, Nintendo and PlayStation will continue to be the most successful at captivating young minds.
    Hehe, that sounds harsh.
    But he got a point there. However, his point in the article points that video games go at the expense of eductation, where I think they just replcae part of it. People learn at young age to work with PCs and new technology, which is also eductaion IMHO.
    • "People learn at young age to work with PCs and new technology, which is also eductaion IMHO."

      To a degree, yes. But I think you're over-inflating the importance of video games.

      First, I admit that playing computer games on an Apple ][ is what got me into computers. I started playing with them when I was 2, programming when I was 5, and I graduated summa cum laude with a BS in Computer Science. They've definitely been influential on where I've headed in life.

      However, so many video games these days are on consoles. There's only so much a kid can learn from playing GTA:VC on a PS2. When I was playing games on the Apple, I learned some of the DOS 3.3 commands out of necessity. With a console, what can they discover? There's no gradual progression from "generic end-user" to "low-level hacker" -- the only alternative is jumping directly into the deep end of using a modchip to produce and run your own software. And that's something that's not going to happen if the person hasn't already learned more from another venue.

      Furthermore, there's a diminishing level of education returns even in a PC context. A kid might learn quite a bit about basic computer tasks in order to install a game like Counter-Strike. Once it's installed, however, the bulk of the useful learning is over. Aside from the occasional video driver update, the 20th hour of racking up frags is just as education-free as the 19th.

      Overall, attempting to ennoble videogames by claiming that the education they detract from is comparable to the education they produce is absurd. You just aren't learning that much, for the most part, while playing videogames.

    • That could work... but not in recent commercial games. The amount that is learned on a commercial game is, frankly, trivial. The games are intentionally designed so that extra-game activities, e.g., auto-players, are discouraged. Even something as basic as hacking the items carried is no longer entry level. (Yes, I understand the reasons. The reasons don't change the facts.)

      So... video games aren't technical learning experiences. They mainly test/devlop? (depending on the game) reaction time or strategic sense. And even these are quite limited in nature.

      Rogue, NetHack, FreeCiv ... those are games that could be learning experiences. But they aren't designed to be so. Robo-Wars (build a fighting robot, and play it against others -- I may have the wrong name) is a real learning game. Perhaps too much so, as this makes it less popular.

      Were you to assert that video games could be quite educational, I would agree. But as long as they are commercial and market driven, then don't expect it. "Thinkin' Things" is probably as good as you are going to get. Or, perhaps, "Julliard Musical Adventure". I have to admit that it was pretty good. But it wasn't anything that I would have played for fun, where I've seen Thinkin' Things played for fun.

      Or for a really good game, how about "HyperCard!". The color was only black and white, and the sound was add-on, but it was a pretty good game. Good players got the true feel of programming as an adventure, and it was an easy transition from HyperCard to C or Java ... well, fairly easy. What? You say that wasn't a game? See how good it was!

      What is a video game? I used HyperCard to roll dice on the screen, to sail ships across the screen. Etc. But I did it in a way reminiscent of extreme programming (a term that hadn't yet been invented). OTOH, I was a programmer before I ever sat down to HyperCard. So perhaps it was only a game for programmers? No, there were lots of easy entry points.

      Letting HyperCard slide was one of Apple's worse mistakes. Not integrating color and sound was misunderstanding the nature of what they were selling. And ceasing to include it... the only plausible justification is that they'd let the code go unmaintained for too long. But this killed a large market for Apple, and drove away a large number of people who could have been developed into an environmentally bound set of programmers. They may be starting this up again with Carbon, I don't know. But the costs of building the community up almost from scratch are potentially quite high. And Apple no longer has the market share that it had.

  • by hughk (248126) on Monday January 06, 2003 @06:00AM (#5024223) Journal
    It is interesting that Kandel brought this up. Recently a group of Nobel Laureates from a number of different fields (and countries) were interviewed and they all agreed that this is the next big thing.

    Of course, the study of the biological underpinnnings of self-awareness may also help AI to take off in a big way. One of the major issues that the naysayers (such as John Searle and his Chinese Room [google.com] have) is that a machine is a bundle of electronic switches without acknowledging that the brain is just a bunch of biological ones.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Google that phrase to find papers on the subject.

      Penrose argues convincingly that consciousness is a QM phenomenon exhibited by most life forms, even bacteria. In other words, it's not as simple as cranking your Athlon up to 50Ghz and running AI Girl v7.0.
      • You forgot to put "un" before the word "convincingly."
      • You must be kidding. Perhaps you just read the conclusion?

        Penrose' "The Emperor's New Mind" is a collection of chapters on interesting topics, which have all been addressed far better by other authors also trying to communicate with the layman, each of which ends with an assertion of the form "...and here's a `result', a conving demonstration of which is too large to include in this book." As for the more high powered physics stuff, I can't argue, but for the computation theory and AI philosophy, you could drive busses through the holes.

        A major part of the problem is that Penrose simply does not seem to accept Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems. They are theorems, which means they're a fact of life. The correct answer to the observation that human mathematicians have so far been rather good about working around the problem is that human mathematicians are not perfect reasoners and hence are not subject to the Incompleteness Theorems. The down side to this position is that you can't fully trust human mathematics (but there's nothing new there.)

        It certainly isn't warranted to suggest that the quantum structure of the brain somehow allows us to violate the laws of logic based upon properties that are neither defined nor observed.

        By all accounts Penrose is a first class physicist, but as a philosopher of AI I find him utterly unconvincing.
        • A major part of the problem is that Penrose simply does not seem to accept Goedel's Incompleteness Theorems.
          On the contrary, Godel's theorem is the main basis of his argument. What Penrose doesn't accept is Church's Thesis, which says, roughly, that all "computers" (in the broadest sense) are subject to the same limitations as Turing machines (including incompleteness.) This assertion has certainly not been proven, and probably cannot be "proven" in any sense that we understand today (since our methods of proof are themselves subject to Church's Thesis.) However, in order to even suggest that the human mind might be an exception to Church's Thesis, Penrose had to come up with something pretty extraordinary, so that's where all the new physics comes from.

          I suspect that Penrose is wrong, and Church's Thesis does hold. But IMHO, his is the only good objection to AI that's out there today. I just started Shadows of the Mind, and I'm looking forward to reading his justifications.

          Having said that... Whenever I think of Penrose, it reminds me of an certain episode [frogspace.net] of "Pinky and The Brain." The Brain (a superintelligent lab rat) disguises himself as a human, gets a corporate job, stages an accident while making coffee, claims that the accident turned him into a superintelligent lab rat, and sues the company. The case goes on for a while before the company's lawyer finally asks the obvious question (from my memory):

          Lawyer: How is it possible that a coffee-making accident could turn a human being into a mouse?

          Brain: Well, I was heating the coffee in a microwave oven, and no one really knows how microwave ovens work.

          Lawyer: Actually... [gives a thirty-second explanation of how microwave ovens work, which, as I recall, was pretty accurate]

          Brain: Oh. Uh... The coffee also had non-dairy creamer in it, though. No one really knows how non-dairy creamer works.

          Lawyer: [nonplussed [wsu.edu]] ... No further questions.

          It seems to me that that's the main thrust of Penrose's argument: "Consciousness involves quantum mechanics, and, well, no one really understands quantum mechanics." Unfortunately, for now, he's right.
      • Penrose argues convincingly that consciousness is a QM phenomenon exhibited by most life forms,
        s/convincingly/unconvincingly/

        It was hard for me to tell what Penrose's argument was, but it seems to be:

        1. Computers are, by design, deterministic. Barring hardware failures, if you start with the computer in the exact same state twice, and give it the same inputs at the same times, you will get the same outputs (provably false, due to metastability of flip-flops when inputs are changed too soon before or after a clock transition)
        2. The behavior of neurons is nondeterministic due to QM effects (unproven but plausible)
        3. The non-determinism is necessary to intelligence (unproven)
        4. Therefore computers can't be intelligent
        The argument is unconvincing due to point one being false and the total lack of proof of points 2 and 3.

        Even if point 1 was true and points 2 and 3 were proven, that still wouldn't rule out the possibility of designing a computer that is deliberately non-deterministic, using a noise source.

        I thought maybe that Penrose was claiming that QM effects are not really random, but instead are biased toward supporting intelligence. I don't know how one could hope to prove such a claim, but even if it were true it wouldn't preclude building a machine to exploit that effect.

    • Although I have not been able to find John Searle's original paper online (copyright issues?), I remember him writing that "of course" human beings are examples of biochemical machines. I was able to find this, [rutgers.edu] a link to a review of his article, where we read ...
      He asserts explicitly that human beings are simply thinking (biological) machines.
      That appears to qualify as an acknowledgment that "the brain is just a bunch of biological switches."
      • He asserts explicitly that human beings are simply thinking (biological) machines.

        Yeah, but how does the human mind get from being a formal system subject to Godel's Incompleteness Theorem, to being an informal system capable of formulating--and contemplating!--Godel's Incompleteness Theorem?

        Machines don't like infinite recursion, especially when they're recursing specfically into spaces denied them by the Incompleteness Theorem. Humans, on the other hand, don't seem to mind it so much. Technically, this wouldn't be possible if human "intelligence" were a purely mechanical phenomenon.

        • How can a digital computer handle infinity as in Mathematica? It does so by having an appropriate abstraction layer. In particular, we all seem to have mechanisms to prevent infinite recursion, perhaps that is one of the issues behind autism?

          Personally, I don't believe that there is anything mystical about the brain, but it is clear that the massive connectivity, and the chemical feedback mechanisms are something that are difficult to emulate.

          • How can a digital computer handle infinity as in Mathematica?

            I hadn't thought of that. My counter argument is that the Incompleteness Theorem isn't about needing abstraction layers to contemplate the uncontemplateable, but about the fact that for any formal system there are true statements that cannot be proven by, or derived from, the rules of that system.

            The rules of the formal system of Set Theory, for example, "completely" describe the properties of the infinite. Any machine that follows these rules will have no difficulty working with infinities of various kinds. However, there would still be true set-theoretical statements that the machine would be unable to derive from the rules, or (if presented with these statements) prove by the rules. The canonical demonstration would be a true set-theoretical statement about set theory itself, I think. A meta-system of Set Theory that included additional rules to handle this kind of self-reference would, of course, be subject to the same limitation ad infinitum. The problem isn't infinity per se; the problem is infinite recursion into a space that the formal system cannot--by its very nature--enter. This is problem Godel identified, and it is true for all "complete" formal systems, regardless of their complexity.

            • I agree that we don't appear to operate in a totally formal way. However, it is my feeling that at one very deep level we do. Above this there are levels that we do not understand well, and then comes the 'mind', whether conscious or unconscious.

              If we come back to hardware, it isn't a problem to build a machine on top of another (think of Bochs, for example, a complete x86 emulator in software). We can build representational systems that allow us to manipulate the infinite on the computer. I agree there are limits on what a machine functioning on logic can do, but there are ways of building on top of it. You mentioned fractals, and I would agree. Fractal complexity is immense, but may be derived from very simple equations in a logical symstem.

              We know about neurons, axons, synapses and so on, we can even simulate them. We know also about the conscious mind and a certain amount about the aspects directly beneath it (Freud's unconscious mind). What is between is largely speculation, with a little input from neurophysiology (which is about the level of running a screwdriver across the backplane of a computer and seeing what weirdness results). From the top, psychopathology can give us glimpses of what is going on at lower levels. Unfortunately, just glimpses.

              What is different now is that computer power is increasing to the point where we can emulate parts of primitive brains. Indeed, the complete neural-net of some simple creatures can now be simulated.

              The last point is that I have a distrust of some of the philosophical/logical arguments against strong AI. The first argument was against the computational ability of neurons, but it disregarded feedback (which was later discovered). The argument set the field back years. The second (the Chinese Room) was against "intelligence" ebing behind the behaviour of a system. I believe the second argument to be rubbish as well, I gather I'm not alone on that one.

              With the brain/mind, we are dealing with an exceptionally complex system. Whether it is ever viable to simulate the brain is one thing, but to better our understanding is necessary, if only to help cure mental illness.

  • by Pingster (14864) on Monday January 06, 2003 @06:12AM (#5024238) Homepage
    Alan Alda's response [edge.org] is very eloquent, compelling, and smart. Here's his conclusion:

    The problem is that, although we're all entitled to our beliefs, our culture increasingly holds that science is just another belief. Maybe this is because it's easier to believe something--anything--than not to know.

    We don't like uncertainty--so we gravitate back to the last comfortable solution we had, and in this way we elevate belief to the status of fact.

    But scientists are comfortable with not knowing. They thrive on it. They don't assume that just because they had an idea it must be right. They attack it as vigorously as they can because they don't want to lie to themselves. As Richard Feynman said, "Not knowing is much more interesting than believing an answer which might be wrong."

    Above all, Mr. President, I think your science advisor needs to help you help our country learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, and--as hard as this might be to believe--to put reason ahead of belief.

    If only all the young minds in the schools could hear this message!

    • Please, please, can someone post this or send me a copy - where I am (China, temporarily) I can't access it. Any email to the above domain will get to me.
    • The problem is that, although we're all entitled to our beliefs, our culture increasingly holds that science is just another belief.

      There's a difference between "scientific knowledge" and the religon atheists call "science." Once we get to the creation of the universe (not just Earth) or start dealing with the origins of life, etc., science is in religious grounds--and that means that it throws up a religion, even if the researchers themselves are careful to keep their research properly agnostic.

      But scientists are comfortable with not knowing. They thrive on it. They don't assume that just because they had an idea it must be right. They attack it as vigorously as they can because they don't want to lie to themselves. As Richard Feynman said, "Not knowing is much more interesting than believing an answer which might be wrong."

      Sadly, scientists and the common man differ greatly on this. Science as a whole might be a whole bunch better if they started issuing press releases with all of the proper disclaimers ("this science is only 6 months old, it may be overturned in a week") and media people (jounralists) spent a bit more time hammering home that point.

      Then again, I'm biased.
      • There's a difference between "scientific knowledge" and the religon atheists call "science."

        Bullshit - no matter how you try to dress it, calling atheism a religion is completely untrue. Just because it deals with topics normally considered "religious", doesn't make science a religion. Someone can posit a theory about how the universe came into existence without it being religious - the evidence for the Big Bang theory continues to mount.

        Sadly, scientists and the common man differ greatly on this. Science as a whole might be a whole bunch better if they started issuing press releases with all of the proper disclaimers ("this science is only 6 months old, it may be overturned in a week") and media people (jounralists) spent a bit more time hammering home that point.

        It's a sad statement of the level of science education in this country that most people don't realize that this is ALWAYS the case with science. There's no such thing as a "fundamental truth" - just working theories that have various levels of accuracy. For example, classical mechanics was pretty accurate, but not for all possible conditions, thus quantum mechanics came along for more details. Surely other things we take for granted will be changed slightly also - such as gravity.
        • Bullshit - no matter how you try to dress it, calling atheism a religion is completely untrue.

          Religion isn't "what do you think the things out there are like?", it's "what do you think is out there?." Atheism is a religion, and should be given no more political or scientific respect than any other.

          It's a sad statement of the level of science education in this country that most people don't realize that this is ALWAYS the case with science. There's no such thing as a "fundamental truth" - just working theories that have various levels of accuracy.

          Blame the funding model. For scientists to get money, they have to justify their existance--and that means saying "we know" when all they should be saying is "we think."

          For example, classical mechanics was pretty accurate, but not for all possible conditions, thus quantum mechanics came along for more details. Surely other things we take for granted will be changed slightly also - such as gravity.

          Actually, aren't classical mechanics still accurate, if you limit "objects" to non-quantum levels of mass, and include quantum randomness as a "force"?

          The thought occured to me over vacation, and I don't have a physics teacher to ask.
          • Actually, aren't classical mechanics still accurate, if you limit "objects" to non-quantum levels of mass, and include quantum randomness as a "force"?

            No. The flaws in Newtonian gravitation addressed by Einstein's theory of general relativity have nothing to do with quantum mechanics--general relativity addresses big stuff (planets, stars, galaxies). Similarly, the mechanics of special relativity are independant of quantum phenomena.
          • Blame the funding model. For scientists to get money, they have to justify their existance--and that means saying "we know" when all they should be saying is "we think."

            What, you don't think the people granting funding have a basic conception of the principles of science? Get a clue!

            The nature of science, the philosophy of the thing is at the heart of the matter.

            Science is performed by induction from observations.
            This means that you make observations and try to draw a general conclusion.

            The fallacy of this method is obvious; Yet it has proved very useful (=science!)
            And the problem of induction has largly been dealt with by the philosophers of science.
            (The logical positivists and Vienna circle coming the closest to an adequate theory, IMHO)

            Anyway, what is to be considered "known" has an arbitrary limit. You "know" that when you drop an object, it will fall to the ground.
            You know this due to experience, i.e. you have induced it from observations. Most knowledge is aquired in this fashion,
            yet when it reaches a certain level of certainty we use the term "we know" in lieu of "we think".
            Scientific knowledge is no exception.

            However, you are right in critisicing the press for exaggerating the certainty of some scientific discovery. They do.
            However, good scientists rarely do so.

            As for atheism, it is not a religion and it is.
            (Read the FAQ [infidels.org].)
            Atheism as "the categorical denial of any and all gods", or "strong" atheism can be considered a religious doctrine.
            However, "weak" atheism is disbelief in the existance of god, meaning that you do not belive in the existance of god, for one or another reason. This is not the same as denying the existance of god.

            Many scientists belong to the latter category, as it follows the sceptical approach of science in general.

            What do you mean by saying that atheism should not be
            given greater "scientific or political respect" than any other "religion"?

            In a secular society with seperation of church and state, religious matters should not be political.
            Nor should scientific matters be religious, and they are not.
            However all this depends on your definition of "religious matters".

            If I start a religion which claims that objects do not fall to the ground when I drop them, and scientists claim the opposite,
            does this mean that science is giving more respect to atheism than to my religion?

            Science pays respect to observable facts, and observable facts only. If these contradict some religion, it is the problem of the religion, not a scientific one.
            For example, Galileo and Copernicus were religious men, and atheism had nothing to do with their motives. However, the church considered them heretic.

            And as for quantum physics: if you limit objects to 'non-quantum levels of mass',
            then you are by definition outside of the realm where quantum effects have a significant inpact, so the question is really redundant. (the "force"-part I don't even understand..)

            A better question is why you would want to save classical mechanics?
            Quantum mechanics is based on 6 postulates, all laws of QM follow from these, and all laws of ordinary mechanics can be deduced from QM.
            Classical mechanics OTOH, was much more of an ad hoc hodgepodge of laws until QM explained why they take the form that they do.

            Of course, the 6 postulates are rather ad hoc laws themselves, but they are fewer, and explain more.
          • Religion isn't "what do you think the things out there are like?", it's "what do you think is out there?." Atheism is a religion, and should be given no more political or scientific respect than any other.

            *sigh* - I'm not going to argue this much because I know how much hinges on the definition people use for the words "religion" and "atheism". To some people, anything you believe constitutes religion, and to others, only clear, spelled out systems of belief involving the supernatural constitute a religion.

            Similarly, some people equate atheism with denial of all gods, others with just a lack of a belief in any of them. There is a distinct difference between saying something DOESN'T exist, and lacking belief either way.

            And clearly you define the terms in completely different ways, so any discussion is going to get us nowhere.

            Blindly accepting science as "truth" is definitely religion - and completely opposite what science is, since it's a continual process of discovery and learning. But don't let the fact that some people do this suggest that all of science is that bad. And because some people who don't believe in god worship science doesn't mean that all people who are atheist are that way.
          • "Atheism is a religion..."

            Calling atheism a religion is like calling not-collecting-stamps a hobby. Or, more appropriately, like calling not-believing-in-superstition a superstition.
      • Science cannot be a religion, because there is no faith. Faith is belief without evidence, and rationality is belief only with evidence. Science is the time proven process through which we can eventually figure out from the evidence what might be true, and what definitely isn't true. Also, it can tell us what we don't have a clue about, and what we will never have a clue about.

        Science and religion are absolutely opposed to each other on that basis.

        Jesus himself said to Thomas that believing without seeing is a good thing.

        This wasn't intended as a flame, I'm just honestly pointing out what I see the relationship between science and religion to be.

        • Jesus himself said to Thomas that believing without seeing is a good thing.

          This wasn't intended as a flame, I'm just honestly pointing out what I see the relationship between science and religion to be.


          A significant portion of the population never reads scientific journals, never does an experiment, and can't even tell you what the scientific method is. Yet these people take whatever scientists say as gospel truth.

          It's hard to maintain agnosticism, which is the only "religion" that science can claim to belong to. As a result, there's a significant portion of the population that listens to scientists and not priests, and so fall into a "scientific religion."

          Science isn't a religion, but there is a religion based (badly) on science. Anyone who tries telling you that science has disproven God is a member.
          • It's hard to maintain agnosticism, which is the only "religion" that science can claim to belong to. As a result, there's a significant portion of the population that listens to scientists and not priests, and so fall into a "scientific religion."

            You're implying the necessity of religion here. I don't think that a person must always have a default religion - e.g.. whatever they believe is their religion. What a person believes must qualify as a religion to say that the person has a religion.

            And I think you're confusing some terms. Agnosticism is the statement that you don't know. Strong atheism is the positive statement that there is no god anywhere.

            I wouldn't call strong atheism a religion, though I am guessing you would. On the other hand, strong atheism relies on the same shaky foundations as religion, namely a positive statement without evidence.
      • Once we get to the creation of the universe (not just Earth) or start dealing with the origins of life, etc., science is in religious grounds

        Hmm. All right, then I'd like to know your answer to this:

        1. What do you mean by "in religious grounds"?
        2. What makes topics like origin of life "religious grounds"?
        3. What other topics do you consider to be in religious grounds, and why?

        I don't see how you can rope off any area of knowledge and declare it permanently non-scientific territory. Science enters an area of knowledge when there is repeatable, observable evidence. Even though theories about the origin of the universe are about things far away in time and space, they must still be founded on evidence to be called scientific (e.g. measurements of the cosmic background temperature, the speeds at which distant galaxies are receding, and so on). Theories like the Big Bang hold sway because they have explanatory power.

        Okay, now here comes a statement of yours I completely disagree with:

        Atheism is a religion, and should be given no more political or scientific respect than any other.

        I challenge you to explain what makes atheism a religion.

        1. What do you consider the difference between science and religion?
        2. Why do you think atheism falls into the "religion" category?

        Atheism is a lack of belief in God. Atheists don't believe in God because they don't see any repeatable scientific observations that are best explained by any specific, consistent theory of God. The philosophical basis for atheism is scientific reasoning.

        Please don't fall back on saying that atheism is just a "belief" like any other belief! Not all beliefs are religions.

        For example, my belief in the Newtonian theory of gravity is a not a religion; it is based on my own observations and the observations of many other scientists of the rate at which things accelerate toward each other. The Newtonian theory of gravity does an excellent job of predicting the movements of celestial bodies, and that's why we use it. (When the theory of relativity was introduced as another way to explain gravity, scientists began to believe in it precisely because it did a better job at predicting some observations than Newtonian gravity. But it only gained ground because of experiments.)

        Now, there are other ways to explain gravity. I could tell you, for instance, that there are lots of tiny invisible gremlins that fly from object to object, pushing all objects toward each other with forces in proportion to their masses, just so that they would produce all the same motions as calculated by Newtonian gravity. There is no doubt that gravity could be consistently explained in this way, if the gremlins were sufficiently invisible and accurate. But the gremlin theory of gravity is not scientific, because these gremlins have never been observed. Moreover, any number of different kinds of gremlins could be made up to explain gravity; no particular kind of gremlin would be a better theory than any other, because there's no evidence in favour of any specific kind of gremlin.

        Science adopts the simplest explanation that's consistent with the observations. Religion does not; in fact religion is based in particular on faith, which is the ability to hold a belief in the absence of any observed evidence. That, to me, is the difference between religion and science.

    • The problem is that, although we're all entitled to our beliefs, our culture increasingly holds that science is just another belief.

      I thought this was something that only people way out on the fringes of religious faith subscribed to until I had a casual conversation at a party with a woman I've lived next door to for 3 years. The conversation somehow turned towards evolution and she simply denied that evolution had any validity and that the biblical creation was as, if not more, valid than evolution.

      I'm not terribly "up" on this debate, but its my understanding that evolution, as a biological process, has such overwhelming scientific support that it must be considered true, while the human evolutionary tree (ape-man) has a lot of evidence in favor of it but a lot to be learned.

      She was felt that evolution just didn't apply to humans, it wasn't true and we didn't evolve from apes. I imagine she had no opinion or interest in fruit flies, barn swallows or any of the obvious but non-{ape,human} examples of evolution.

      My response to her was basically that she could choose to believe in anything she wanted, but choosing to not believe in things which have been demonstrated valid by scientific inquiry was kind of a dangerous business. At what point does she follow religion and ignore science? Is the world still flat? Does she believe the sun orbits the earth?

      Anyway, it's a scary world and there's an increasing number of people willing to believe in all kinds of fantastic things...
  • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Monday January 06, 2003 @06:13AM (#5024239)
    people were asked to imagine they were nominated as White House science adviser and the President asked them what are some important issues in science and what we should do about them


    What a dreamy way to spend the day.

    Imagining that some Questionaire Answerer actually knows anything of value which wasn't discovered 50 years ago and subsequently locked away for gradual public release, (or not at all), and better yet, that the power behind the government actually gives the slightest fig about what his/her opinion might be.

    Yes. I'd like to live in that world, too. --You know, the one they still teach to all little kids, where everybody is happy, healthy, wise and caring, we all wear 'vault 13' type outfits, (without the overtones of holocaust, 'natch), we all carry tri-corders and our delicious meat products come from designer plants.

    Sigh.


    -Fantastic Lad

  • I like Alan's (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MegaFur (79453) <wyrd0.komy@zzn@com> on Monday January 06, 2003 @06:31AM (#5024267) Journal

    I know it means I'm kinda pathetic, but I really like Alan Alda's [edge.org] (yes, the actor).

    From the "Deeper" section:

    What your science advisor really needs to do is help you re-fashion the thinking of the country. Too many people think cloning cells for the fight against disease is the same thing as creating Frankenstein's monster. Too many people think evolution is the idea that people are descended from apes. And too many people think that genetic modification of plants is a dangerous new idea, instead of something that's been going on for ten thousand years.
    ...
    The problem is that, although we're all entitled to our beliefs, our culture increasingly holds that science is just another belief. Maybe this is because it's easier to believe something--anything--than not to know.

    We don't like uncertainty--so we gravitate back to the last comfortable solution we had, and in this way we elevate belief to the status of fact.

    But scientists are comfortable with not knowing. They thrive on it. They don't assume that just because they had an idea it must be right. They attack it as vigorously as they can because they don't want to lie to themselves. As Richard Feynman said, "Not knowing is much more interesting than believing an answer which might be wrong."

    I only hope that Alan is wrong about the Death of Reason In The U.S. I hope, but not much. See, on the one hand, people are always saying, "oh, man things are so screwed up." I'm not just talking about the last few years or even the last few centuries. You go back to biblical times and before and there were still people saying how bad it all was. It's a constant throughout the ages.

    So there's hope that Alan's wrong and the seeming surge of gulibility (phone psychics, John Edwards, et al.) are just a fad or trend. Or on the other hand, it could be that the U.S's torch is fading. Goodbye reason, hello psychics, how did we ever get along without you! Yes, I understand that it's okay that we murder all those nasty Arab-types 'cause Johnny Edwards says the dead ones are thanking us from Hell...

    Okay, I apologize for going a bit freaky there, folks. Obviously, it's late and past my bedtime. Goodnite, don't let the ziparumpazoos bite.

    • Re:I like Alan's (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kha0z (307162)
      See, on the one hand, people are always saying, "oh, man things are so screwed up." I'm not just talking about the last few years or even the last few centuries. You go back to biblical times and before and there were still people saying how bad it all was. It's a constant throughout the ages.

      Human beings are negative by nature. The constant approach to looking at life is like looking at a glass that is half empty is an inate human characteristic. I can not assume that this has always been the case, however, there are few times that I find people who try look at problems or life as a glass that is half full.

      Perhaps, sometimes it would be beneficial to look at that glass for what it is. Not half full, and not half empty, just a container and the contained.

      • Human beings are negative by nature. The constant approach to looking at life is like looking at a glass that is half empty is an inate human characteristic. I can not assume that this has always been the case, however, there are few times that I find people who try look at problems or life as a glass that is half full.
        Yeah, yeah. Half of the times, half of the people look at life as a glass that is half empty.
    • I only hope that Alan is wrong about the Death of Reason In The U.S. I hope, but not much. See, on the one hand, people are always saying, "oh, man things are so screwed up."

      Isn't this negative view on life the reason for our constant search for improvement? One can look at the consumption of forest and oil as a way to improvement our lifes (at a cost, which I'm not sure I'm willing to pay...)

      Search however leads to questions which in turn lead to uncertainty and...

      We don't like uncertainty--so we gravitate back to the last comfortable solution we had, and in this way we elevate belief to the status of fact.

      But hey, thank God not all people are afraid of uncertainty... Did I say God?

    • Mr. Alda says:
      Too many people think cloning cells for the fight against disease is the same thing as creating Frankenstein's monster. Too many people think evolution is the idea that people are descended from apes. And too many people think that genetic modification of plants is a dangerous new idea, instead of something that's been going on for ten thousand years.

      He really means, "Mr. President, too many people reject the liberal left's tired dogma. We've got to make them believe!"

      • I'm really confused by that last part of your post.

        what did any of what you quoted have to do with "the liberal left's tired dogma?" in fact, some of the things mentioned are MORE opposed by the left than the right (e.g. genetic modification of plants).
  • You'd think since these singularity people are so committed to this AI thing they'd have free downloads on thier site, but I don't see it so, what can you say?
  • meta-answer (Score:5, Interesting)

    by K. (10774) on Monday January 06, 2003 @07:40AM (#5024359) Homepage Journal
    Considering the fact that there are precious few female respondents, one thing that needs to be fixed is an apparent gender imbalance in science.

    • Re:meta-answer (Score:2, Insightful)

      by October_30th (531777)
      one thing that needs to be fixed is an apparent gender imbalance in science

      Why?

      I've never quite understood the assumption that something must be wrong if there isn't a 50/50 distribution of men and women in a profession.

      • Women are just as capable of doing science as men, therefore if there's a huge difference in the ratio of male to female scientists, there's an imbalance of some sort going on, and a waste of a lot of potential.

        There should definitely be efforts to address the causes of such imbalances (rather than just the symptoms, which is what, say, 50/50 quotas do). It may not work out exactly 50/50 at any one time, but it should surely be better than about 10 in 85.
        • Re:meta-answer (Score:2, Insightful)

          by October_30th (531777)
          Yes, but capable does not mean the same as interested.

          I'm a physicist. I would certainly be capable of learning let's say accounting and heading for a new career in business. However, I am not interested in business. On the other hand, I would be very like to paint or write fiction, but I don't have either skill.

          What I am trying to say that we are all hardwired to be good at something. Some of this wiring comes from our genes and some of it comes out of the way we grew up. At the age when you are deciding if you want to become/are capable of becoming a good scientist, it's already too late. At my current age, I could learn to be a lousy painter instead of a good scentist but what's the point? The dice was rolled a long time ago and what I am now is the result.

          Of course one should address blatant discrimination but sexual or minority quotas will only lead to a drop in the standards. Don't take me wrong. It's not because the minorities were inherently less skilled. It's a case of simple statistics: quotas encourage the less skilled people to apply in larger numbers while discouraging the more skilled ones. As a result, the standards will drop.

          If you want to have high standards within a profession like science, you will have to run a ruthless meritocracy.

          • If people are capable but not interested, then you have to ask why. For example, it's been my experience that traditional gender roles are pushed pretty strongly in schools, and that can't help.

            Also, I very much doubt we're hardwired for any particular skill that doesn't involve throwing rocks at antelopes etc. It's silly to argue for nature over nurture when you're talking about skillsets that have only been around or important for centuries or decades. You may also be selling yourself short on the painting front, unless you mean successful in the Picasso sense.

            (Also, I love the fact that meritocracy has become a positive concept- and without too much analysis of what it actually implies - when it was originally meant as a negative one.)
            • While you're right that imbalances of interest should be investigated and corrected (where appropriate--there's an imbalance of interest in favor of heterosexuality, but it probably shouldn't be "corrected" just to even out the number of "gays" and "straights" in the world). But the correction of interests should probably happen during the early socialization and education period of a person's life.

              Think of it this way: quotas encourage people to take up careers that their society has been steering them away from their entire lives, while denying entry to those who have been trained and socialized for those tasks since childhood. The mixed blessing quotas bring (theoretically, anyway) is that within a few generations the artificial balance they create gives way to new socialization patterns which (hopefully) result in natural preferences based on personal interest and aptitude.

              As far as meritocracy goes, the dictionary [m-w.com] doesn't say much about the negative aspects you allude to. I know I could probably Google for more information, but would you indulge me with a clarification? The worst problem I can see with a "raw" meritocracy (that is, one untainted by whatever cultural baggage I imagine you're thinking of), is the question of who judges the judges of what is meritorious? This is the old "who watches the watchmen?" conundrum, which is useless in real life (where infinite recursions aren't a luxury any society can afford). We get around the problem by peer review, open debate, and public voting. These solutions seem to work about as well as any solution could.

              Of course, a "ruthless meritocracy" would be patently unfair to those who were interested in a field but had no talent for it. This is why I'm against them. I've always wanted to win an NBA championship, even though I can't jump [imdb.com]. Until there are quotas, The (Black) Man will always keep me down!

              • Err, I wasn't arguing for quotas, but against them and for root causes:

                "There should definitely be efforts to address the causes of such imbalances (rather than just the symptoms, which is what, say, 50/50 quotas do)"

                As for meritocracy, the word was invented by Michael Young. The first link [jobsletter.org.nz] I found on Google (which is an obituary - I didn't realise he was dead!) has a pretty good explanation of what he meant by it.
                • Err, I wasn't arguing for quotas, but against them and for root causes...

                  Look at me having completely misread your original post! I apologise.

                  Thanks for the link on meritocracy, by the way. Now that I have some free time, I will give more than my usual amount of attention :)

        • As long as women aren't prevented from becoming scientists because they're women, then the system is fine.

    • Re:meta-answer (Score:3, Insightful)

      by 0x0d0a (568518)
      Considering the fact that there are precious few female respondents, one thing that needs to be fixed is an apparent gender imbalance in science.

      Yup, we better institute affirmative action immediately!

      I'm dubious as to the value of trying to manually "fix" society. Plus, anyone that tries is a target to blame any problems on.
  • Not Impressed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by superyooser (100462) on Monday January 06, 2003 @08:19AM (#5024422) Homepage Journal
    I read most of the summaries and a few of the responses in full. With all due respect, the typical high school newspaper editorial is more insightful than these. Some of these wouldn't make it beyond +3 here on Slashdot. A lot of it is pretty common knowledge and well-known issues. Some of things they say are downright foolish, and I don't say that just because they're politically at odds with myself or GWB.

    One person mistakes the position of Science Advisor for Science Crusader and embarks to convert Bush to Evolutionism. In TWO paragraphs! Surely he knows that Bush is a devout Christian. He might as well be lobbying for bin Laden to be put in charge of Homeland Security on the basis that he's really a freedom fighter.

    Another person tries to persuade Bush that animals should be considered to have rights as humans and that we should respect the diverse cultures of all animal/human civilizations. Nnngh? [sexcowairlines.com] Bush is supposed to accept this on the basis of Darwinism. Umm, hellooo?? We're talking Bible-thumping Bush here. That line of argument is gonna fly like a dodo bird. In effect, the guy goes on to wield Occam's Razor against any notions of the Creator. His letter is going in the circular file faster than you can say W.

    I don't think these [Over the] Edge people were playing along with the given scenario as they would've if it were real. Knowing who Bush is and what he stands for, it just doesn't seem very bright to even attempt some of the arguments they're making. Besides, you don't make a good first impression with your boss by attacking his most fundamental beliefs in your first correspondence before you even meet him.

    • by stephanruby (542433)
      At least, three articles out of ninety + articles were insightful. Compared to the three years of news headlines I've seen at Slashdot, that's pretty good.

      Now, if edge.org could only have some slashcode running in the backend for each one of those articles, the overall result and the resulting insights would be a lot better than Slashdot.
    • I've always said that the difference between a good writer and a famous writer is that one of them is famous. You can pretty much replace 'writer' in that phrase with any profession. Some of the people on this list are very bright. Some of them are very well known. Unfortunately, our society mostly values the opinions of the well known.
      __________________________
    • One person mistakes the position of Science Advisor for Science Crusader and embarks to convert Bush to Evolutionism. In TWO paragraphs! Surely he knows that Bush is a devout Christian.

      An advisor should attempt to convince the advisee of new ideas. Isn't that the entire point of an advisor? (Mind you, there are many advisees who would rather their advisor just reinforce what they already. But it might look bad if you selected Science Yes-Man instead of Science Advisor.) Furthermore, the vast majority of Christians have reconciled their faith with evolution and accept evolution as the likely source of humanity. Most Christians are deeply embarrassed by the behavior of creationists.

      I don't think these [Over the] Edge people were playing along with the given scenario as they would've if it were real.

      By and large these are people that Bush would never accept in a Science Advisor position. So no, it's not terribly realistic. It's really just an interesting thought experiment to pull some interesting ideas on science from the writers. No one ever thought that they might really get the position. It's a fantasy discussion, much like, "If you have a billion dollars how would you spend it." To harm in it.

      • Furthermore, the vast majority of Christians have reconciled their faith with evolution and accept evolution as the likely source of humanity. Most Christians are deeply embarrassed by the behavior of creationists.

        In the 1100s, the vast majority of Christians in Europe had reconciled (or rather, compromised, corrupted, subverted) their faith with torturing and murdering and had accepted converting by the sword as the likely source of evangelism.

        NOW, who is embarassed (to put it lightly) by whom? It's not right, plain and simple. It's another era of error. The faith is again being compromised, corrupted, and subverted. One day, Christians will look back on our acceptance of evolution with stinging sorrow, regret, and embarassment.

        Btw, I disagree that a vast majority believe in evolution.

  • The idea of a singularity (shorthand here for "technological singularity") is a theoretical idea (currently), not a "religion". Given that a religion is roughly a belief system involving at least one god, and this is a technology some of us would like to work towards, not a belief system. You wouldn't describe nanotech replicators as a "religion", but they've got similar odds to happening as the singularity.
  • I'm not sure if this falls under Science, but what about Nuclear power? The US currently has a policy against building any new nuclear power plants, which is based on nonsense. We're the only country with such a policy, and I think it's rediculous...

    I did a lot of reading on the subject after the Chernobyl article, facinating stuff. I never knew about this policy before.

    Apparently the only reason noone wants to chance this policy is that it would be a bad political move (piss off all the ill-informed anti-nuclear people). If only people were willing to become educated on a subject before protesting against it (most anti-nuclear arguments are based on uninformed assumptions, it seems)...

    Come to think of it, if I had an opportunity to influence political figures, the first thing I'd do is try to ban religious-based state laws, ruling them unconstitutional. Specifically, state laws that disallow alcohol purchase on Sundays are based purely on the beliefs of some particular religion. I like to relax with a beer on my "day of rest", and unfortunatly in GA I have to plan ahead, something I'm not very good at.

    But that's me, my priorities are all screwed up :p I'll let someone else -- with actual scientific goals -- have this opportunity.
  • people were asked to imagine they were nominated as White House science adviser and the President asked them what are some important issues in science and what we should do about them

    Judging by the last couple of years, I had'nt realised that the Whitehouse had a scientific advisor!!
    • Judging by the last couple of years, I had'nt realised that the Whitehouse had a scientific advisor!!

      Actually, Bush didn't nominate a Science Advisor until a year and a half after he came into office! And the Senate didn't get around to approving the nomination until October of 2001.

      The fellow's name is John Marburger, btw. A physicist who used to be the president of SUNY and then ran Brookhaven Labs (one of the DoE's big research facilities).
  • by sonsonete (473442) on Monday January 06, 2003 @12:59PM (#5026023) Homepage
    Most of these questions are very political, usually leaning toward big government and socialism.
    e.g., David Lykken's proposal, involving the government in the most personal aspects of our lives: One promising example of such legislation would be a program of parental licensure requiring persons, wishing to birth and rear a baby, to demonstrate at least what we should minimally require of persons wishing to adopt someone else's baby.

    or David Buss's proposal to infiltrate our minds to stop murder: We are endangered from the outside by our avowed enemies. We are threatened from within by killers among us. An urgent need for the nation to establish a deep scientific understanding of psychological circuits dedicated to murder and the causal processes that create, activate, and deactivate those circuits.

    Other suggestions involve the complete rejection of ethical standards in research, in the manner of Nazi Germany, using Ian Wilmut's argument that "This research cannot be carried out in any other way."

    What we need scientist to do is act like scientists and not politicians. We need them to abide by the ethical standards that have kept scientific development going at an increasing pace for the past several centuries. We need scientists to do their jobs well and not waste their time philosophizing about what the current administrations foreign policy should be.
  • I think you should publish the knowledge
    and material obtained from the incident
    in Roswell.

    That would boost scients and technology.

"Only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core." -- Hannah Arendt.

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