01 Feb John Brockman.- Founder of Edge (II)
The editor of Edge talks on the Third Culture:
Knowledge, Edge Question, Intelligent Design.
© Tobias Everke
JOHN BROCKMAN himself considers a cultural impresario whose career has encompassed the avant-garde art world, science, books, software, and now the Internet. In 1973, he formed Brockman, Inc., the international literary and software agency specializing in serious nonfiction.
He is the founder of the nonprofit Edge Foundation, Inc. and editor of Edge, the highly acclaimed website devoted to discussions of cutting edge science by many of the world’s brilliant thinkers, the leaders of what he has termed the third culture.
Edge started because James Lee Byars, the conceptual artist, did a piece, an art piece, called The World Question Center which he said to me, you don?t read the 6 million books in a Harvard library to achieve an axiology or synthesis of all knowledge, you get the 100 brightest people and lock them in a room together and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.
I learnt something when I was 25. I was sitting in a room with John Cage and six young artists. It was at the home of Dick Higgins –who was a co-founder of the Fluxus art movement which was after Dada, and Yoko Ono was part of it, a very minor part of it, it was a bunch of European and American artists. And Cage wanted to meet young people to try ideas out, so we would go once a week and he would cook his mushroom recipes and throw out ideas. And always everyone who was in that room emerged.
At the same time I was at the founding meeting of the Yippies which was, you know, Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, a revolutionary group. They threw me out after 4 meetings. They said ?You got no heart, you are a technician?. I was there as Abby Hoffman?s friend, I wasn?t politically motivated. But I also consulted very frequently with Huey P. Newton who was chairman of the Black Panthers and these were on the philosophy level.
What I realised at that age was that my friends were historical figures already and that you had to look at people your own age as history, and that history and science and the realm of ideas, the world, the universe, everything in it is created by a finite number of people that say the words.
It?s a theory of description. Walter Stevens said, ?What?s the most important word? The ?the? T-H-E?. It?s a theory of description at its most, so we create the world and then the words of the world come to life in the world. That?s what the art world is certainly, you know, as Andy Warhol said, life is what you can get away with.
Brockman –on the left– at the Factory
with Andy Warhol and Bob Dylan, 1967
Photo: Nat Finkelstein. Copyright © Nat Finkelstein.
[ From www.edge.org]
But the point is that all the artists were reading science: Cage handed me by Cybernetics by Norbert Weiner, Rauschenberg was reading physics…
Everybody wants to help a Bright young person, so I went out and started meeting people and I realised that there are certain seminal people, that are different, because they are creating the terminology, they are creating the frames in which we all think.
Then I realised that more of them are alive today than have ever lived before. Wouldn?t it be interesting to make a career of finding out who they are, meeting them and seeing if I could do things with them? That precedes my business.
The Edge World Question Center .- There?s three people that I am doing this with, we call it the Council of Elders: Stuart Brand, Kevin Kelly and George Dyson, so every year we start, right about the end of the summer, we think hard to come up with a question and between the three of us we have come up with a question every year, except last year at the very last minute, Nicholas Humphrey, and English scientist, emailed the question about: What do you believe is true but cannot prove? It?s a wonderful question so we threw out our question.
And this year we have had about 10 candidates and at the last minute Steven Pinker sent a question which everybody liked right away. His question is: What are your dangerous questions?
What questions, when asked, have moral and epistemological consequences far beyond what you might expect, whether they are yours or whether you originated them or whether you are thinking about it, what?s dangerous to ask?
So what I do every year, I start off by presenting it to a core of 10 or 15 people before I send it out, because I like to set the bar at a high point and you know if you see people like Jared Diamond and Trivers and Dawkins are participating you are going to take it very seriously.
The Intelligent Design.- It?s a marketing organisation basically. There?s no intelligence there. These are not very bright people. I?m working on a book, these people are in it, it?s called Intelligent Thought, it?s 16 scientists writing about the fact and the beauty of evolution and evolutionary ideas.
You are not going to find anybody that you know or I know who thinks it?s anything other than Christians trying to put Christianity into schools at science?s expense. What it means is that, if they are successful as they are right now temporarily in Kansas, your child goes to school and in science class half the time is going to be spent learning Christianity. It?s a disaster: it?s very bad for science and it is very bad for America and you know it doesn?t help anybody.