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What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty

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3.67 of 5 stars 3.67  ·  rating details  ·  1,116 ratings  ·  94 reviews
More than one hundred of the world's leading thinkers write about things they believe in, despite the absence of concrete proof.

Scientific theory, more often than not, is born of bold assumption, disparate bits of unconnected evidence, and educated leaps of faith. Some of the most potent beliefs among brilliant minds are based on supposition alone -- yet that is enough to
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Paperback, 252 pages
Published February 28th 2006 by Harper Perennial (first published 2005)
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This Idea Must Die by John BrockmanWhat Should We Be Worried About? by John BrockmanThis Explains Everything by John BrockmanThis Will Make You Smarter by John BrockmanIs the Internet Changing the Way You Think? by John Brockman
Annual EDGE Questions
10th out of 10 books — 1 voter
Death Troopers by Joe SchreiberThe Night Circus by Erin MorgensternThe Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster BujoldEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardCoraline by Neil Gaiman
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Community Reviews

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Trevor
This is what I would call a toilet book – the kind of reading matter that one keeps beside the toilet to be read in snatches. Most the articles go for three pages at the longest. What is particularly surprising is that the least interesting responses to the question of what you believe were from the most famous people. Dawkins, Davies, McEwan and even Diamond presented dull as dishwater articles – in fact, you could nearly guess exactly what each of them would say before reading their articles. ...more
قصي بن خليفة
آراء 109 عالم وباحث وصلوا إلى القمة كلٌ في مجاله. سئلوا عما يعتقدون بصحته ولكن لا يمكن إثباته. فكانت النتيجة تصورات مستقبلية مثيرة للاهتمام، وهي في مجالات متعددة من الكمبيوتر إلى الأحياء إلى الفيزياء و الكون. قلت لئن عشنا سنرى بعد سنوات هل تظهر حقيقة بعض مما قالوا
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
توقعت أن يكون الكتاب من النوع الثقيل، فقد كان واضحاً من مقدمته أن فيه كثيراً من الفلسفة. ولكن المحرر سهل علينا فجعل لكل عالم صفحة أو أكثر قليلاً ليعرض فكرته فجاءت الأفكار خفيفة ويمكن فهمها، أو قُل فهم شيء منها ،
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John Martindale
I've read some atheist who ludicrously claim they hold no beliefs, they go about mocking faith and gloat about how they only have knowledge based on reason and science, he he... Considering these happily deluded pseudo-skeptics and "free-thinkers", I appreciated these quotes from this book:

"I’ve always found belief a bit difficult; most of what I believe to be true lies far beyond my ability to prove it. As far as knowledge goes, I’m a consumer and sometimes a distributor, not a producer. My bel
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Parksy
Very interesting read. Check out Edge.org... it's all there, plus more. Very thought provoking.

From Publishers Weekly
The title's question was posed on Edge.org (an online intellectual clearing house), challenging more than 100 intellectuals of every stripe—from Richard Dawkins to Ian McEwan—to confess the personal theories they cannot demonstrate with certainty. The results, gathered by literary agent and editor Brockman, is a stimulating collection of micro-essays (mainly by scientists) divulgi
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Kevan
Dec 30, 2008 Kevan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: philosophers, curious people and scientists
This book includes tiny essays (no more than four pages each, sometimes as short as a paragraph) by the world's smartest people about their hunches, estimates, guesses about a broad range of topics. It's a pretty thoughtful survey that results in a lot of interesting ideas. Some of the more interesting concepts and quotes:

"I believe that the human race will never decide that an advanced computer possesses consciousness."

"We will find ways to circumvent the speed of light as a limit on the commun
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Anatoly v01
Больше сотни коротких эссе от публичных ученых и интеллектуалов, каждый со своими ответами на вопрос, вынесенный в заголовок книги. Много известных имён: Макьюэн, Докинз, Даймонд и пр.
Редактор не просто дал сборник эссе, а попытался создать мозаичное метаповествование: начал с основных философских вопросов (есть ли бог и пр.), продолжил темой физической антропологии, потом социальной, после - фундаментальные вопросы физики, завершил небольшой серией долгосрочных прогнозов. Понятно, что строго по
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عبدالرحمن عقاب
هذا الكتاب يجمع إجابات عدد كبير من العلماء والمفكرين والكتاب عن سؤال حول ما يؤمنون به ولا يملكون له إثباتا.
كالعادة تتنوع الإجابات الجميلة والعميقة والحالمة أيضاً. وأجمل ما في هذه الإجابات المختصرة والموجزة هو أنها لا تتحدث عن الإيمانيات التي لات نطلب لها تفسيرا بل عن أفكار الباحثين التي يسعون لإثباتها أو يأملون بإيجاد طريقة للبدء بذلك. وبالتالي فإن الكتاب يصلح ليكون نزهة في عقول الباحثين، للتمتع بأسئلتهم الأكثر إلحاحا وجاذبية.
وكعادة بروكمان في كتبه، بحتاج الكتاب إلى إخراج أجمل وتبويب يساعد الب
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Sashko Valyus
Книга містить ряд інтерв'ю з відомими вченими, журналістами та популяризаторами науки які відповідають лише на одне питання "В що ви вірите". В кожного відповідь своя.
Ця книга цікава там, що дає зрозуміти, чим замається сучасна наука, куди вона рухається, які настрої в наукових колах.
Наприклад можна зрозуміти, чому Шелдон кинув вивчати Теорію струн.
David
This book is a collection of short writings by many "thinkers."

The first major problem I had with this book is that it didn't address any topic with the required depth. Some topics were given as little as two or three paragraphs, barely enough to say what the topic was.

The second major problem I had was that some of these topics were addressed by "thinkers" that were not qualified to speak on them in any obvious way. For instance, is a financial analyst qualified to speak on science? Possibly, b
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Zero
http://www.edge.org/annual-questions

The reader is not expected to agree with everything written in this book, which would probably defeat the point of its premise - but it allows the reader to examine a wide range of interesting theories and personal beliefs set in the anthology - the clarity and conciseness with which many of these have been espoused making it a digestible perusal even for average readers like myself.

Highly recommendable.
Jonathan-David Jackson
Out of the hundred or so essays in this book, only about five were thought-provoking. Around half were something like 'God does not exist' or 'string theory is very complicated,' both of which are things I could probably have predicted these people (psychologists, physicists, etc.) would say anyway. Luckily, even the boring or repetitive ones weren't longer than four pages.

The most interesting belief presented was that humans are not conscious - that is, we don't actually make decisions. We act
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Pavlo Illashenko
The book consists of short (1-2 pages) messages from known scientists and science observers. Some of this messages\text\opinions are interesting, some boring and some worthless.

The ratio of good\bad is probably around 100\15. Much more space is devoted to astronomy and physics, less for psychology and biology. Last, there is little room for inspiring dreams about future; authors makes you think about science, its method and what we can know with certainty at all.

Deserves 4 stars for the broad a
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Robert Day
I very much like Liam Gallagher's belief that cheese only goes off if you leave it in a microwave for 10 minutes and then fly it to Mars and back inside a used, but unwashed piccalilli jar.

I was also taken by Martine McCutcheon's belief that spiders wait inside the plug hole until they see the light go on in the bathroom and then they run into the sink whilst chanting 'What do we want - flies, when do we want them - now' (in spider language).

Kim Kardashian intrigued me by her belief that diggers
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Laura
“Rather than saying that every possible universe exists, I’d say that there is a sequence of possible universes, akin to the drafts of a novel. We’re living in a draft version of the universe, and there is no final version. The revisions never stop. / From time to time, it is possible to be aware of this. In particular, when you relax and stop naming things and forming opinions, your consciousness spreads out across several drafts of the universe. Things don’t need to be particularly one way or ...more
Darla
Wow. Put 100 of the world's most brilliant minds in a room and get them to ask each other the questions they ask themselves, and that's the premise of Edge.org, which published this book. The question Edge.org asked these 100 people in 2005 was, what do you believe but cannot prove? This book is the collection of short essays in response to that question. Topics covered quite a range of things, but boil down basically to questions of the physical, metaphysical, and spiritual realms. Some of thes ...more
Mangoo
This was the first projection into paper of the Edge.org cast of bright minds, gathered together to answer their way on the question that gives the title to the collection of short essays. It's pure brilliance and provocation wisely mingled with sound reasoning and questionable feelings. An very much needed and recommended conjuration of deep ideas and far-seeing perspectives which, while possibly wrong in the long term, presently duly pursue the intended job. Which is to stir the reader's imagi ...more
David Miller
I'm not convinced that this was a great idea for a book. It reads like an internet forum (which is more or less what it actually started as), where some people write at length and others can barely be bothered to go beyond a few sentences. For instance, they put Richard Dawkins' name on the back cover, presumably to attract sales, but his contribution amounts to a single paragraph. It contains an interesting idea, but it's over and then we're on to someone else's two cents. That's not very satis ...more
Alexia
It’s taken a couple attempts to finish this book, but I’m glad I did. I was lost for some of the astrophysics entries; there seemed to be too many complex terms and obscure theories that overwhelmed my science knowledge. But, thankfully, that didn’t happen very often. Most of the entries provided new points of view for phenomenon I was familiar with (or able to easily research and understand). I’m somewhat familiar with evolution, but hadn’t thought about evolution in relation to beliefs. One es ...more
Laurie
Okay, so this is supposed to be the responses of the greatest thinkers still alive in this century, at least in the scientific community anyway, to the question: "What do you believe but cannot prove?" And, I concede, that in several entries, I was inspired and challenged by the original theories posed about everything from the origin of the universe to whether or not animals have feelings to Armageddon and the existence of God. However, a good many of the entries (though the foreword cajoles yo ...more
Cara Olsen
My issue with this book is not that its message conflicts with my beliefs about Heaven and Earth, but that it is written in such a way that necessitates prerequisite reading and study. A lot of study. I found myself struggling with every other line, searching for context and finding nothing I could latch on to. There are brilliant minds at work within these pages - interesting thoughts, ideas, and theories I would have been curious to learn more about. The unknown and unexplainable fascinates me ...more
Amber
When scientists are asked to describe a belief they hold, but cannot prove, the answers are sometimes cooly predictable (unproven scientific theories about human development, extraterrestrial life, or the multiplicity of the universe). Other times, however, their beliefs are unexpected (belief in true love, moral progress, the excitement of anticipation). While I find the first category of essays to sound a bit rehearsed and written in the presence of academic ghosts, I nonetheless appreciate th ...more
David
Dec 11, 2008 David rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to David by: Ben Yackley
This is a collection of essays written by scientists and other great thinkers in response to the question, "What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?" The premise is that great minds often can intuit the truth before they have evidence to support it.

This book addresses many deep subjects, including life after death, the existence of extraterrestrial life, the nature of consciousness, and the question of free will. Yet it's always easy to read, avoiding technical jargon and ra
...more
John
The premise of the book is a fantastic idea, but the results are uneven at best, disappointing at worst. I'm not sure why the BBC called it the 'crack cocaine of the thinking world.' It's a rather lumbering presentation to be compared to a stimulant. In any event, I realize that it might have been difficult to edit or omit any of these great scientists' and thinkers' ideas, but the editor disappoints. Some of the presentations should have been omitted (do we really need to know the beliefs of so ...more
David
Surprisingly thought provoking, it features short, accessible (for the most part) essays from famous scientists from across disciplines (including social science) speaking of their hopes and beliefs, at times wrestling with some of the very basic questions of scientific thought itself. I haven't learned so much from a single book in ages. The diversity of voices and perspectives is staggering, with many surprises: a social scientist who studies the worst in humanity, for example, wrote one of th ...more
Kevin Johnson
Pedantic nonsense. Reviews say it is written for non-scientists to understand but most of the essays were highly technical in nature and require a significant understanding of physics and mathematics to decipher. I read through the entire collection for the few gems of intellect but for the most part it was a waste of time.
Christopher
Jun 12, 2008 Christopher rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone with a butt. Or two souls.
Great book. Quick to read and inspired a lot of interesting thoughts inside myself.
The writers of this book are some of the most creative and intelligent people on the planet, and hearing their speculative ideas was inspiring and insightful both into understanding how the world works and how people think.
Most of the ideas were things familiar, yet with reasoning very unique and fascinating. Plus the handful of unprovable beliefs that were entirely new to me. Things I had never thought of or hear
...more
Candice Carpenter
An excellent book that can enhance your cognitive flexibility as well as your ability to suspend, disrupt, and radically reconstruct your beliefs about anything. Reading this anthology was akin to practicing scientific nihilism on concepts about teeming universes, varying levels of consciousness, infinitely reducible subatomic particles, and much more. I don't believe I've ever felt as dizzy examining, re-examining, dissolving, and then re-producing concepts of our physical, technological, and c ...more
Tom Fuchs
A good deal of it was beyond me (McEwan is a little off when he says that these essays are written for the layperson, as some of them feature physics professors talking in equations, always a recipe for me being deeply confused) but I enjoyed the flow of the essays and how they were bunched up in a manner that would allow similar subjects like language leading to consciousness or evolution or parallel universes to lead into one another making the echo chamber of mini-essays actually feel like a ...more
April
I think many of my friends share my obsession with the Edge.org annual World Question.
Every year, edge.org collects mini-essays responding to a very "big think" question from 100 leading thinkers (mostly scientists). This book collects the edited essays from the World Question for 2005 which was "What do you believe even though you cannot prove it?" The responses range from the thought-provoking to trivial (and occasionally silly).

I can't even try to top what the BBC said about these essays...
...more
Smellsofbikes
This book is a collection of essays by prominent scientists and technologists on ideas they believe are true, but haven't managed to come up with any way to experimentally verify. The essays range in size from 12 words to maybe 3 pages, and in subject matter from linguistics, mind/body dualism, and multiple universe theories to whether electrons exist. (He believes they do, although there are essays by people who believe that objects don't exist and matter is a perceptual construct.) The essays ...more
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With a broad career spanning the fields of art, science, books, software and the Internet. In 1960 he established the bases for "intermedia kinetic environments" in art, theatre and commerce, while consulting for clients such as General Electric, Columbia Pictures, The Pentagon, The White House... In 1973 he formed his own literary and software agency. He is founder of the Edge Foundation and edit ...more
More about John Brockman...
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