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Saturday, September 30th, 2006
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What We Believe but Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty

by John Brockman

What Do You Know?

A review by Doug Brown

Edge.org is a website that specializes in asking scientists and professionals interesting questions, and then posting all the results. At the time I wrote this review, the question on the site was, "What is your dangerous idea," with folks like Jared Diamond, Brian Greene, and Richard Dawkins responding. Previous Edge books such as The Greatest Inventions of the Past 2000 Years, Curious Minds: How a Child Becomes a Scientist, and The Next Fifty Years: Science in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century have collected answers from other questions (you can guess from the titles what the questions were). What We Believe but Cannot Prove is a collection of responses to another question that was put to the community: what do you believe, but are unable to prove?

The answers are roughly grouped by topic, rather than by who the responders were. Most of the responses are a page or two at most, making this a good bathroom book that can be opened at any page. Many folks said the existence of life on other planets, several said the non-existence of god (and several said the existence of god), several said the non-existence of free will (and several said the existence of free will). It is interesting reading the explanations as well as the answers themselves. Some are philosophically intriguing, such as the belief held by Kai Krause (the inventor of Kai's Power Tools, for you Photoshop users) that what is most rewarding in the human experience is not the Now moment of Zen, but the anticipation of the moment. Amusingly, many of the mathematicians spent most of their responses defining the word "prove" (proof, of course, having a very specific mathematical meaning).

To me, what makes this book most interesting is how it sparks questions and answers within myself. Sure, it's interesting to know what Richard Dawkins believes (Darwinian natural selection is universal -- surprise), but reading the various answers reveals assumptions we all make about the world. What do you believe?


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