January 15, 2012

20 Quotes from the Edge Question 2012

This year, Edge asks the following question: "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" 181 Elite thinkers answered the question. Here are 25 quotes I selected from what they wrote. Which quote do you like best and why?
  1. We want to know what the world is really like, but we want it in a form that fits our intuitions. A form that means something. And for our narrative-driven brains, meaning comes in the form of stories, stories about things. I doubt we'll ever stop telling stories about how the universe works, and I, for one, am glad. We just have to remember not to mistake the stories for reality. ~ Amanda Gefter
  2. Imitation in humans is widespread and often automatic. It is important for learning and transmission of culture. We tend to align our movements (and even words!) during social interactions without even realizing it.~ Marco Iacoboni
  3. We tend to imitate others that are like us, and by doing that, we tend to like those people even more. ~ Marco Iacoboni
  4. The depth, elegance, and beauty of our intuitive metaphysical explanations can be a liability. These explanations are so broad and so simple that we let them operate in the background, constantly invoked but rarely scrutinized. As a result, most of us can't defend them and don't revise them. Metaphysical half-truths find a safe and happy home in most human minds.~ Tania Lombrozo
  5. Where intuitive metaphysical explanations are easy to generate but hard to evaluate, scientific superstars like evolution are typically the reverse: hard to generate but easy to evaluate. We need philosophers like Hume to nudge us from complacency in the first case, and scientists like Darwin to advance science in the second.  ~ Tania Lombrozo
  6. We Are Dreaming Machines That Construct Virtual Models Of The Real World. ~ Eduardo Salcedo-albaran
  7. Deep and elegant explanations relate to natural or social phenomena and the observer often has no place in them. ~ Dimitar D. Sasselov
  8. Entropy makes things fall, but life ingeniously rigs the game so that when they do they often fall into place. ~ John Tooby
  9. Fourier's theorem has all the simplicity and yet more power than other familiar explanations in science. Stated simply, any complex pattern, whether in time or space, can be described as a series of overlapping sine waves of multiple frequencies and various amplitudes. ~ Bruce Hood
  10. As large complex adaptive systems move across time and landscape, they periodically cycle between order and chaos, in a dynamic progression of symmetry-attaining and symmetry-breaking. These nodes of symmetry are ephemeral. A moment of symmetry in a dynamic system is unstable because system forces drive progression away from the stuck state of Buridan's ass and back into the search space of chaos towards the next node of symmetry. This is the process of life, of intelligence, of the natural world, and of complex man-made systems. Pressure builds to force innovation in the dynamic process or the system gains entropy and stagnates into a fixed state or death.~ Melanie Swan
  11. I think that the resistance against Darwin is not just the difficulty of seeing the power of a spectacularly beautiful explanation: it is the fear of realizing the extraordinary power that such an explanation has in shattering rests of old world views. ~ Carlo Rovelli
  12. Group interaction tends to amplify people's initial inclinations ~ David G. Myers
  13. Cognition requires going beyond the information given, to make bets and therefore to risk errors. ~ Gerd Gigerenzer
  14. Not being a poet, I prize truth above beauty. ~ Judith Rich Harris
  15. I can't think of an explanation in our field that is both elegant and beautiful. Perhaps deep . . . I guess we are still too young to have explanations of that sort . . . ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  16. When a religion or ideology becomes dominant, the lack of controls will result in widening spirals of license leading to degradation and corruption. ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  17. I, and all the complex things around me, exist only because many things were assembled in a very precise way. The 'emergent' properties are not magical. They are really there and eventually they may start re-arranging the environments that generated them. But they don't exist 'in' the bits and pieces that made them; they emerge from the arrangement of those bits and pieces in very precise ways. And that is also true of the emergent entities known as "you" and "me". ~ David Christian
  18. There are cases when I can make myself better off by restricting my future choices and commit myself to a specific course of action. ~ Richard H. Thaler
  19. The motive to see oneself in a positive light is powerful, pervasive, and automatic. It can blind us to truths that would otherwise be obvious. ~ Emily Pronin
  20. Simple and elegant explanations only go so far when it comes to the complex and messy problem of human behavior. ~ Emily Pronin


  1. "There are cases when I can make myself better off by restricting my future choices and commit myself to a specific course of action." ~ Richard H. Thaler

    Why? It has a prescriptive feel to it. Also, is aligned with my simplification tendency.


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner