The website Brain Pickings is the brain child of Maria Popova, an “interestingness hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large,” who also writes for Wired UK and The Atlantic, among others, and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. She has gotten occasional help from a handful of guest contributors.
Here is a brief excerpt from another of her brilliant posts in which she discusses a recently published book, This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works, to which 192 thoughtful people contributed their answer to a question posed by Steven Pinker: “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” To read the complete article, check out others at Maria’s brain pickings website, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.
According to John Brockman, Editor and Publisher of Edge.org, “The greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way.”
Every year since 1998, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman has been posing a single grand question to some of our time’s greatest thinkers across a wide spectrum of disciplines, then collecting the answers in an annual anthology. Last year’s answers to a question also posed by Steven Pinker [and seconded by Daniel Kahneman],”What scientific concept will improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”, were released in This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, one of the year’s best psychology and philosophy books.
In 2012, the question Brockman posed, proposed by none other than Steven Pinker and seconded by Daniel Kahneman, was “What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?” The answers, representing an eclectic mix of 192 (alas, overwhelmingly male) minds spanning psychology, quantum physics, social science, political theory, philosophy, and more, are collected in the edited compendium This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (UK; public library) and are also available online.In the introduction preceding the micro-essays, Brockman frames the question and its ultimate objective, adding to history’s most timeless definitions of science:
“The ideas presented on Edge are speculative; they represent the frontiers in such areas as evolutionary biology, genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, cosmology, and physics. Emerging out of these contributions is a new natural philosophy, new ways of understanding physical systems, new ways of thinking that call into question many of our basic assumptions.
“Perhaps the greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way. These explanations are called ‘beautiful’ or ‘elegant.’
“The contributions presented here embrace scientific thinking in he broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything – including such fields of inquiry as philosophy, mathematics, economics, history, language, and human behavior. The common thread is that a simple and nonobvious idea is proposed as the explanation of a diverse and complicated set of phenomena.”
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