In this post I shall talk about a book that I've recently finished with the above title (edited by John Brockman). This book is a collection of leading thinkers giving their, as yet unproven, beliefs in many disparate fields of science. As I was reading this I noted down what I took to be the highlights (for good and bad reasons) and they follow:
1) Ray Kurzwell - We will find ways to circumvent the speed of light as a limit on the communication of information.
Ray notes that physicists often claim that some wormholes (but only teeny ones) could stay open without what is known as negative energy (an exotic and difficult to control substance which we can only produce in minute uncontrollable amounts using the Casimir effect). He also points out that if we only wish to send light through such holes then their width is not very important. But as light is sufficient to move large amounts of information around such worm holes could allow us to communicate effectively with far off regions of space time (once we've moved the ends of the wormhole to where they're needed).
2) Douglas Rushkoff - Evolution has purpose and direction.
Douglas seems to be making an extraordinary claim at odds to the biological community. In reality the claim isn't as grand. Douglas is merely claiming that although evolution may not start out with purpose that it creates it. A viewpoint expounded by Daniel Denette in his book "Freedom Evolves" (an excellent read btw). For myself I agree with Douglas. It is my view that although the universe began without purpose, morality, life or understanding that it is following an inexorable trend towards these things powered by deep processes that we are yet to understand (but which are perfectly natural).
3) Denis Dutton - Some works of art are near universal in their appeal.
Denis identifies various examples of 'timeless' works including those of Homer, Bach and Shakespeare. I confess to no strong belief on this one. Although I rate the works picked highly its not clear to me that they will be viewed in a similar light in a centuries time. We live on the cusp of great change which may sweep away concepts in art as well as many ideas in science.
4) John H. Mcwhorter - Several languages without prefixes or suffixes originate from Homo Florensis (A species of human still coexisting with modern humans up to 18,000 years ago).
John gives a few reasons including simplicity of the languages, uniqueness of the languages and location of their presence. He also tries to use the local folk tales to bolster the idea but the truth is that his claim requires far more evidence to convince even a moderate sceptic. I think its best to wait to see if more evidence is forthcoming on this one.
5) Rebecca Goldstein - The theories of nature that science arrive at provide understanding about the world not just accurate predictions. Nevertheless we will never have an accurate account of reality because reality cannot be finitely definable (appeals to Godel).
Generally speaking I agree with Rebecca here. I think that the universe by and large can be understood with better and better approximations to an undefinable absolute truth of the matter. However, Rebecca then goes on to try to observe that the existence of human consciousness implies this. I don't think she really needs spiritualism, the notion of a soul or the supernatural to carry her beliefs. I would like to see an attempt to justify such beliefs about the philosophy of science from mathematics and logic. I know of no reason to think that it can't be done.
I hope you enjoyed these snippets. There will be more to follow...