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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Festival della Scienza. Edge Panel on Third Culture

John Brockman: Just as science—that is, reliable methods for obtaining knowledge—has encroached on areas formerly considered to belong to the humanities (such as psychology), science is also encroaching on the social sciences, especially economics, geography, history, and political science. Not just the broad observation-based and statistical methods of the historical sciences but also detailed techniques of the conventional sciences (such as genetics and molecular biology and animal behavior) are proving essential for tackling problems in the social sciences. Science is the most accurate way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it is the human spirit, the role of great men and women in history, or the structure of DNA. Humanities scholars and historians who spurn it condemn themselves to second-rate status and produce unreliable results.

GLORIA ORIGGI: "No matter what your attitude is towards science, no one in the humanities can ignore that something has changed in the way we think about a number of key oppositions such as: nature-nurture, rational-irrational, conscious-unconscious, individual-social, mind-body, digital-analogical, masculine-feminine, etc. To discuss such matters today, we have to overcome the Freudian-Lacanian-Foucaultian vulgata and take a look at what science has to tell us."

SETH LLOYD: "I argue that the coincidence in time of these two historical processes--the breakdown between communication between the two cultures, and the rise of the information processing revolution--is in fact no coincidence: the very nature of the information processing revolution drives a wedge between the cultures of science and humanities. But at the same time that this revolution of bits, bytes, and iPods divides those two traditional cultures, it necessarily gives rise to a third, non-traditional culture, which possesses both the potential to unite humanities and sciences, and the means to do so. To join this third culture, the traditional humanities and sciences will have to shed some of their precious preconceptions; but what they stand to gain is of infinitely greater value."

ROBERT TRIVERS: "The particular sub-area that I'm interested in developing myself has to do with the structure of the mind in terms of biased information flow between the conscious and the unconscious, and the very peculiar and counter-intuitive fact that humans in a variety of situations misrepresent reality to the conscious mind while keeping in the unconscious either a fully accurate, or in any case more accurate, view of that which they misrepresent to the conscious mind. That seems so counter-intuitive that it begs explanation. You would have thought that after natural selection ground away for four billion years and produced these eyeballs capable of such subtlety—color, motion-detection, the details of granularity that we see—you would have perfected the organs for interpretation of reality such that they wouldn't systematically distort the information once it reaches you. That seems like a strange way to design a railroad."