What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty
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More than one hundred of the world's leading thinkers write about things they believe in, despite the absence of concrete proof
Scientific theory, more often than not, is born of bold assumption, disparate bits of unconnected evidence, and educated leaps of faith. Some of the most potent beliefs among brilliant minds are based on supposition alone -- yet that is enough to push those minds toward making the theory viable.
Eminent cultural impresario, editor, and publisher of Edge (www.edge.org), John Brockman asked a group of leading scientists and thinkers to answer the question: What do you believe to be true even though you cannot prove it? This book brings together the very best answers from the most distinguished contributors.
Thought-provoking and hugely compelling, this collection of bite-size thought-experiments is a fascinating insight into the instinctive beliefs of some of the most brilliant minds today.
belief, disbelief, or skepticism ﬁnally rests on a nonrational basis. 2. The universe is ultimately determined, but we have free will. As with the God question, scholars of considerable intellectual power for many millennia have failed to resolve the paradox of feeling free in a determined universe. One provisional solution is to think of the universe as so complex that the number of causes and the complexity of their interactions make the predetermination of human action pragmatically
ﬁrst shave that in other mathematical schemes this is not always so. Very few of us know how to demonstrate that two plus two equals four in all circumstances. But we xii � INTRODUCTION hold it to be true, unless we are unlucky enough to live under a political dispensation that requires us to believe the impossible; George Orwell in ﬁction as well as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and various others in fact, have shown us how the answer can be ﬁve. It has been surprisingly difﬁcult to establish
precise deﬁnitions of what we are going to talk about, a pedantic tendency that sometimes drives our physicist and engineering colleagues crazy.) For instance, following Descartes, I can prove to myself that I exist, but I can’t prove it to anyone else. Even to those who know me well, there is always the possibility, however remote, that I’m merely a ﬁgment of their imagination. If it’s rock solid certainty you want from a proof, there’s almost nothing beyond our own existence (whatever that
Massachusetts, Amherst. He has been the director of a laboratory devoted to psychological and neurophysiological research and is the author of The Cognitive Brain. I have proposed a law of conscious content, which asserts that for any experience, thought, question, or solution there is an analog in the biophysical state of the brain. As a corollary to this principle, I have argued that the conventional attempts to understand consciousness simply by searching for its neural correlates (in both
and innate vocalizations, via the concomitant evolution of mirror neurons, and that birds will provide the best model for language evolution. Work on mirror neurons—that is, neurons that ﬁre both when one performs a particular action and when one observes another performing it—over the past decade has provided intriguing evidence (although no solid proof) for the gestural origins of speech. What can be called the mirror-neuron hypothesis suggests that only a small reorganization of the nonhuman