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What is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable [Paperback]

John Brockman
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 July 2007
The history of science is replete with ideas that were considered socially, morally or emotionally dangerous in their time. The Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are obvious examples -- radical, brilliant insights that did not so much push the envelope as rip it into shreds. These ideas were dangerous because they challenged our comfort zone. But what are the dangerous ideas of the twenty-first century? Which theories do the world's leading thinkers and scientists regard as too hot to handle -- not because the idea might be false, but because it might turn out to be true? Collecting together the very best contributions to the renowned question from the most eminent respondents, WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA? is another endlessly fascinating and provocative insight into the bleeding-edge of intellectual endeavour.

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What is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable + What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty + This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Books; New edition edition (2 July 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416526854
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416526858
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 275,213 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

John Brockman is a writer, agent and publisher of the 'Third Culture' website, the forum for leading scientists and thinkers to share their research with the general public. He is the author of THE THIRD CULTURE and the editor of several anthologies including WHAT WE BELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE and WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?. He lives in New York.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas but more detail wanted 8 July 2008
This book is at once very interesting and unrewarding. The idea is that lots of leading scientists have answered the question "What is your dangerous idea". There are 108 contributions from various kinds of scientists and thinkers plus an introduction by Steven Pinker and an afterward by Richard Dawkins (two authors I find to be highly readable). If you've read anything similar edited by John Brockman such as The Next Fifty Years or What we believe but cannot prove then you'll know what to expect.

The book is extremely interesting due to the sheer range of subjects covered. Brockman has also rather cleverly grouped the essays together in themes that flow together and take you through the book. We start off reading about genetics moving to our place in the universe, on then to ecology and the future of the planet to get the idea. In fact the range of opinions is quite bewildering and it's tempting to brush over some of the authors' thoughts by reading too many of the essays at one time.

This temptation is in part encouraged by the aspect of the book which makes it a frustrating read. The essays are just far too short. Often you are no sooner intrigued by one of the ideas than you're off onto the next one. It really takes some discipline to try to give each the reflection that it deserves.

And there are some really corking ideas. Some stuff to make you ponder indeed, like Daniel C. Dennett's musings that there aren't enough minds on the planet to house the population of memes. Some of course are just utter tosh such as Roger C. Shank's idea that schools are a useless way to educate children.

All in all a good platform from which to leap into the more detailed ideas of the writers here but rather unsatisfying in itself.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars brilliant to keep sharp thinking on the train 6 Jan 2012
By Lancly
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OK, so it's a bit of a jumble - occasionally related subjects seem to be together, or not, but it has an index so that's fine. I enjoyed the sharp short 'essays' - sometimes the idea is so precised that there is a lot of idea in one paragraph. I like this also. I like the jumble of ideas and having a variety to choose from. Small amount of reading leads to a lot of thinking if you want it. I'm not a career scientist.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER
According to founder and editor, John Brockman, the Edge Question was first posed in 1998: "What questions are you asking yourself?" There are 110 contributors and then, after editing, their responses were published in this volume. Each year since then, another question was asked and responses to it were published, also be Harper Perennial.

There were 155 contributors and 154 responses to the 2006 Edge Question, suggested by the psychologist Steven Pinker:

"The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?" What was Pinker's choice? "The year 2005 saw several public appearances of what I predict will be the most dangerous idea of the next decade: that groups of people may differ genetically in their average talents and temperaments." (Page 13)

Here are some of the others, each of which is discussed further in context:

o John Horgan: "The dangerous (probably true) idea I'd like to dwell on is that we humans have no souls." (Page 1)

o Paul Bloom: The idea that "mental life has a purely material basis. The dangerous idea, then, is that Cartesian dualism is false. If what you mean by `soul' is something immaterial and immortal, something that exists independently of the brain, the souls do not exist." (4)

o David Buss: "The idea that evil has evolved is dangerous on several counts...
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3.0 out of 5 stars None 26 July 2014
Verified Purchase
I was somewhat disappointed it did not live up to my expectations given the Title. There were articles or essays which I would not describe as "dangerous" if anything they were inane.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
(Plus Richard Dawkins, who writes an Afterword.)

I'll give you some dangerous ideas. Take steps to reduce the human population worldwide to around a billion people and keep it there. Take the biological desire of people to play house and be mothers and fathers, and redirect it into responsible stewardship of the planet.

Don't like that one? Seems too draconian? How about this? End all tax exempt status for churches, mosques, etc. (Resounding voice coming onstage: "Only when they tear my cold, dead fingers from the collection plate!")

Here's another: realize that to know all is to forgive all, and that we are all just biological automations acting out our genetic drives and have no more free will than an ant on the pheromone trail. Deal with people acting in antisocial ways by (1) curing them with psychopharmacology, surgery, retraining, or (2) euthanasia.

Decriminalize street drug use. Allow Phillip Morris to get into the cannabis business and Merck to process opium into heroin. If some people become dysfunctional, see previous dangerous idea and employ it.

Well, none of John Brockman's esteemed contributors came up with anything quite THAT dangerous, probably because the danger of such ideas is most immediately to the person who would advance them! Psychiatrist Randolph M. Nesse gives us some guidance on why such ideas are not being advanced in this book in his modest essay on "Unspeakable Ideas." (pp. 193-195) Here's one: "when your business group is trying to deal with a savvy competitor, say, `It seems to me that their product is superior, because they are smarter than we are.'" Also unspeakable is, "I will only do what benefits me." Nesse writes that saying something like that is akin to committing "social suicide.
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