Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Edge: The Last Question

Edge, a sort of think tank devoted to promoting connections between scientists and others, used to come up with a question every year to put to their participants. One of my favorites was, "What should we be worried about?" Anyway it occurred to me yesterday that I hadn't seen anything about this in the news for a long time, so I went to the Edge web site. I discovered that they discontinued this practice after 2018, because they couldn't think of more good questions, so they made the final question in the series, "What is the last question?" Some answers:

Is there a way for humans to directly experience what it’s like to be another entity? – Ian Bogost

Can behavioral science crack the ultimate challenge of getting people to durably adopt much healthier lifestyles? – Eric Topol. (I can answer that one: no.)

How far are we from wishing to return to the technologies of 1900? – Tyler Cowen

Will we ever find a form of organization that brings out the best in people? – Olivier Sibony

Must we suffer and die? –David Queller

Will humanity eventually exhaust the unknown? – David Hochberg

When will race disappear? – Nina Jablonski

How can aims of individual liberty and economic efficiency be reconciled with aims of social justice and environmental sustainability? – Phil Rosenzweig

Why do humans who possess or acquire unaccountable power over others invariably abuse it? – John Naughton

Can natural selection's legacy of sex differences in values be reconciled with the universal values of the Enlightenment? – Helena Cronon

Is a human brain capable of understanding a human brain? – René Scheu

Will humanity end up with one culture? – Matthew Jackson

Why is the world so beautiful? – Nicholas Humphrey

Can you prove it? –  Andrés Roemer

Which questions should we not ask and not try to answer? – Nick Bostrom


G. Verloren said...

Will humanity end up with one culture? – Matthew Jackson

I do know that the linguistic diversity of the world is diminishing at a steady and dramatic rate.

To borrow Phil Borges' paraphrasing of the linguist Ken Hale, "of the 6,000 languages spoken on Earth right now, 3,000 aren't spoken by the children. So that in one generation, we're going to halve our cultural diversity. He went on to say that every two weeks, an elder goes to the grave carrying the last spoken word of that culture. So an entire philosophy, a body of knowledge about the natural world that had been empirically gleaned over centuries, goes away. And this happens every two weeks."

It's pretty clear that we're moving toward linguistic conformity over time - although, clearly the rate of convergence will change over time, and there's nothing to actually suggest we'll fully converge on a single language, necessarily.

Ultimately it seems to be a question of benefits versus detriments - yes, as languages die off, their unique knowledge and contributions die with them. But at the same time, as more people begin to speak the same languages, we lose language barriers and more people are able to understand each other and spread elements of their own cultures to others. Will we eventually end up with one single global language? I suppose the depends on how much of a benefit that would provide to people over stopping convergence at another slightly larger number - I could easily see us ending up with a small handful of the world's largest languages, rather than settling on one ultimate universal one.


I also know that while there is still a great deal of wealth and technology disparity in the world, the differences have gotten vastly smaller overall. The modern world has seen a great leveling of the playing field (even if far from a total one), and modern communications networks appear poised to only help continue the trend. Whatever evils have come with the internet, it has also brought a whole lot of good - just more of it to the parts of the world that aren't as affluent as our little corner of the globe.


I think there's a fair deal of evidence to suggest that the world is becoming more uniform, culturally speaking. But at the same time, I hesitate to suggest we're going to end up with just one singular culture - or if we do, I can't imagine it being in anything like the foreseeable future, but rather far, far off.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm....FDA Asks Court for 55 Years to Fully Release Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Data

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked a federal judge on Nov. 15 to give it until the year 2076 to fully release the documents in its possession tied to the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The FDA’s request was made in a filing as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit by a medical transparency group. The government told the court it has 329,000 pages of documents responsive to the FOIA request and proposed releasing 500 pages per month to allow for redactions of exempt material. At that rate, the FDA would fully release the records in question in just under 55 years.

The plaintiff, Public Health and Medical Professionals for Transparency (PHMPT), is a group of doctors and scientists, including Harvey Risch, a professor of epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health.

One of the companies involved in the trials of the Pfizer vaccine earlier this month said it was investigating alleged problems brought to light by a whistleblower who told the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that the trial was riddled with issues, including the falsification of data.

The whistleblower, Brook Jackson, alerted the FDA and was fired within hours. Jackson was working for Ventavia Research Group, which operated several of the Pfizer trial sites in the fall of 2020

According to BMJ, one of the oldest medical journals in the world, the FDA did not inspect Ventavia’s trial sites, despite being alerted about the issues.

Here is the court filing: