Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Societies, Art, Power, and Technology


Why do civilizations rise and fall?
What are the origins and purpose of art?
How does technology shape society?
Did culture direct human evolution?
Is the Internet an agent of democracy or dictatorships?

An immensely powerful but little-understood force that impacts society, art, politics, and even human biological development, culture is ...

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Culture: Leading Scientists Explore Civilizations, Art, Networks, Reputation, and the Online Revolution

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Why do civilizations rise and fall?
What are the origins and purpose of art?
How does technology shape society?
Did culture direct human evolution?
Is the Internet an agent of democracy or dictatorships?

An immensely powerful but little-understood force that impacts society, art, politics, and even human biological development, culture is the very stage on which human experience plays out. But what is it, exactly? What are its rules and origins? In this fascinating volume, John Brockman, editor and publisher of Edge, presents short, accessible explorations of culture’s essential aspects, by today’s most influential scientists and thinkers.

Contributors and topics include

Jared Diamond on why societies collapse and how we can make better decisions to protect our own future • Denis Dutton on the origins of art Daniel C. Dennett on the evolution of cultures • Jaron Lanier on the ominous impact of the Internet • Nicholas Christakis on the structure and rules of social networks, both “real” and online • Clay Shirky and Evgeny Morozov on the new political reality of the digital era • Brian Eno on what cultures value Stewart Brand on the responsibilities of human power • Douglas Rushkoff on the next Renaissance • W. Daniel Hillis on the Net as a global “knowledge web”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
John Brockman, founder and publisher of the online think tank, compiled some of the site's best essays into this dense, but thought-provoking examination of technology, the impact of groupthink, and the evolution of culture. One of the stronger essays is Jared Diamond's "Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions?" which is accessible, insightful, and informative even for a general audience. A sizeable chunk of the book is given to computer scientist Jaron Lanier's "Digital Maoism," and the fallout that resulted after its publication in 2006. In Lanier's intriguing essay, he examines the positive and negative impacts of the "hive mind." Nine others were inspired to chime in with their thoughts, edits, and refinements on Lanier's concept. The essays aren't all winners—professor David Gelernter's 2010 essay "Time to Start Taking the Internet Seriously," is a 36-point circular discussion with few conclusions—but the hits outnumber the misses. Readers hoping for an easily digestible Gladwell-esque take on the evolution of culture will likely be frustrated by the book's academic slant, but those who enjoy philosophical dissection will find a few essays that strike a chord. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews

Prominent thinkers examine the many facets of culture over time and in the present age of the Internet.

A champion of the "third culture" formed at the intersection of art and science, literary agent Brockman (editor: Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future, 2011, etc.) publishes original work by leading scientists in many disciplines at This latest collection from the site offers the expertise and speculations of 17 mathematicians, musicians, computer scientists and others who have contemplated the meaning, role and evolution of culture. Artist and composer Brian Eno wonders why humans have always engaged in cultural activity, and whether there is one language for discussing the components of culture, from shoe design to fine art. UCLA biologist Jared Diamond suggests a road map of factors that can lead to disastrous societal decision-making, from failing to anticipate a problem to failing in the attempt to solve it. Harvard physician and social scientist Nicholas A. Christakis describes studies indicating that the nation's obesity epidemic is actually a form of "social contagion," in which a friend's weight gain makes you put on weight. Many pieces consider the Internet's impact on how we live. MIT computer scientist David Gelertner says it is time to think about what we want the Internet to do instead of "just letting it happen," and his colleague Jaron Lanier warns of the dangers of a new belief in an all-wise online collectivism. Publisher Frank Schirrmacher argues that modern technology is "changing the way people behave, people talk, people react, people think, and people remember," and turning us all into "informavores" who eat information. The Santa Fe Institute's W. Brian Arthur discusses his years working in seclusion on unanswered technology-related questions—most notably, Does technology as a whole evolve?

A welcome gathering of intriguing ideas.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062023131
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/16/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 980,293
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

The publisher of the online science salon, John Brockman is the editor of The Universe, This Explains Everything, This Will Make You Smarter, and other volumes. He is the founder of the literary agency Brockman, Inc., and lives in New York City.

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Table of Contents

Introduction John Brockman ix

1 The Evolution of Culture Daniel C. Dennett 1

2 Why Do Some Societies Make Disastrous Decisions? Jared Diamond 27

3 Art and Human Reality Denis Dutton Steven Pinker 43

4 A Big Theory of Culture Brian Eno Stewart Brand 57

5 We Are As Gods and Have To Get Good At It Stewart Brand 71

6 Turing's Cathedral: A Visit to Google on the Occasion Of the 60th Anniversary of John Von Neumann's Proposal for a Digital Computer George Dyson 87

7 Time to Start Taking The Internet Seriously David Gelernter 97

8 Indirect Reciprocity, Assessment Hardwiring, and Reputation Karl Sigmund 111

9 Digital Maoism: The Hazards of The New Online Collectivism Jaron Lanier 125

10 On Jaron Lanier's "Digital Maoism" An Edge Conversation 143

11 Social Networks Are Like the Eye Nicholas A. Christakis 171

12 The Next Renaissance: Keynote Address at the Personal Democracy Forum Douglas Rushkoff 191

13 Digital Power and its Discontents Evgeny Morozov Clay Shirky 197

14 Does Technology Evolve? W. Brian Arthur 219

15 Aristotle: The Knowledge Web W. Daniel Hillis 237

16 The Pancake People vs. The Gödel-to-Google Net Richard Foreman George Dyson 255

17 The age of the informavore Frank Schirrmacher 263

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