Magazine article The Spectator

Toeing the Party Line

Magazine article The Spectator

Toeing the Party Line

Article excerpt

WHAT WEBELIEVE BUT CANNOT PROVE : TODAY'S LEADING THINKERS ON SCIENCE IN THE AGE OF CERTAINTY edited by John Brockman Simon & Schuster, £9.99, pp. 266, ISBN 0743275926 . £7.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

John Brockman, the New York literary agent and science writer, had an artist friend, James Byars, who had a grand idea. It was 'to gather the 100 most brilliant minds in the world together in a room, lock them in and have them ask each other the questions they were asking themselves'. The result, he supposed, would be a 'synthesis of all thought'. He drew up his list of minds and telephoned them all. Seventy per cent of them proved their brilliance by hanging up on him. Brockman, undeterred, carried on where Byars had left off. He started a website, Edge, where he invited fellow-thinkers to answer the question, 'What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?' The response, says Brockman, was sensational; a speaker on BBC Radio 4 called his question 'fantastically stimulating. . . the crack cocaine of the thinking world'.

What nonsense, you might think, and so do I. Anyone who has been on a committee knows that the usual thing is for everyone to have their say without listening to anyone else. As for the synthesis of all thought, this is a theme from Seventies science fiction where a computer is programmed with all the books in the British Library and is therefore made omniscient -- even though the largest section in the Library is called Speculative Theology. Anyway, Brockman has selected 109 answers to his question and here they are, all quite short, from three or four pages to a single paragraph.

The contributors ('Today's Leading Thinkers', according to the subtitle) are scientists, science writers or academics, mostly American. There are no philosophers, mystics or religious thinkers among them; those selected are followers of the dominant party line -- atheists, materialists, dogmatic Darwinians, the single-vision types who monopolise education and have never allowed an officially unacceptable idea to enter their minds. I do not mean to disparage the worthy souls whose opinions are here paraded, but set together in this way, undiluted by wider, more comprehensive thinkers, they look like a pack of heresy-hunters. There is nothing in this book to indicate that Plato ever existed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.