Further highlights from "What is your dangerous idea?" along with my commentary...
11) Science must destroy religion - Sam Harris
Sam Harris argues that religions survive by encouraging blind faith. He furthermore argues that blind faith is incompatible with a reason based outlook on life. I tend to agree on both points. Sam Harris also argues that religions are morally pernicious but here I do not fully agree. I think it is blind faith which is morally pernicious. Differing religions do better or worse jobs of keeping the moral consequences of blind faith in check. Furthermore there are non-religious (or pseudo-religious) belief systems which employ blind faith. An example was soviet communism.
I think rather that science must destroy blind faith. I suspect that in so doing it will destroy all religion (at least anything that would be called religion in todays world). My own prediction would be that religions will evolve to require much less blind faith, to coexist with science and to incorporate wonder for the workings of the world revealed by science. Once this process has concluded they will not be recognisable as religions in todays terms.
12) Human behaviour has evolved over the last ten thousand years - Gregory Cochran
I am convinced that Cochran is right here. Evolutionary processes can act very fast when the selection pressure is there. Despite what many people believe selection pressure has probably increased dramatically over the last ten thousand years (due to increased agriculture and the creation of big cities). This hypothesis has been supported recently by genetic evidence of increasing genetic changes over the last 45,000 years.
Human behaviour is not genetically predetermined, but it is genetically influenced. The evidence for this (mainly from twin studies) is overwhelming. Many people are worried that if human behaviour is linked to genetics then this would justify discrimination. In my opinion this does not follow. Not discriminating means not judging people on the basis of their membership of a group. Just because differing groups may have (or come to have) differing average behaviours this does not mean that it is acceptable to discriminate on that basis.
I should add that most of the currently recognised divisions of society have not been demonstrated to incur even an average difference in behaviour. Sex is the obvious counterexample here and even in this case it is highly probable that the innate differences are actually very slight.
13) Biotechnology will be domesticated in the next 50 years - Freeman Dyson
I agree with this prediction. The reasons I think we will achieve this are (A) We are creating devices such as the gene chip that will allow us to progress at an amazing rate in understanding biology (B) There is a huge economic potential for the creation of designer microbes, disease control and other medical applications (C) We can use evolutionary processes to solve complex design problems for us.
Some have predicted that we will fail if we attempt to improve on evolution. I disagree with this because firstly we can use evolution as part of our design process (and therefore we cannot do much worse than evolution) and secondly evolution is an undirected process (and so we can use our capacity for planning to speed up certain evolutionary searches.
14) School is bad for kids - Roger Schank
This is difficult. Providing free education to a high age is absolutely necessary for a functioning liberal democracy. Forcing children to attend school is dubious but unless there is a better way to provide this education can we afford to do anything else. Roger Schank argues that home schooling is a better alternative. I disagree. The USA's home schooling tradition is fuelling the creationist/ID movement. I see tremendous bias in schooling towards (A) acceptance of corporate culture (B) a belief that individuals cannot affect change (C) a view of science as a mere collection of facts. However, I do not see a substantially better system in the offing. Certainly a more liberal approach to education may improve on the current system. Giving students and schools more choice in the education seems like a good direction but this hardly amounts to a new way of teaching.
15) Technology can untie the USA - Juan Enriquez
I suspect that Enriquez is right. He argues that the USA is already facing problems including (A) Lack of good quality education (B) spiralling debts [personal and government] (C) Increasing political polarisation (D) Restrictions on promising lines of research.
I would add (E) Abuse of the electoral procedures [including voter registration, electronic voting (Diebold), funding of polling stations] & (F) Legal (and massive) corporate corruption of government (G) Failure to adapt to new challenges in IP law.
It seems to me that these problems are almost insurmountable. China, India, Brazil and Japan are all either booming or in the case of Japan way ahead technologically. My bet is on India and China for the worlds new superpowers. At least India is a democracy (even if it is very corrupt).
Thats all from "dangerous ideas". I hoped you enjoyed the highlights.