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Publisher's Summary

Each year John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, challenges some of the world's greatest scientists, artists, and philosophers to answer a provocative question crucial to our time. In 2014 he asked 175 brilliant minds to ponder: What scientific idea needs to be put aside in order to make room for new ideas to advance? The answers are as surprising as they are illuminating.

In This Idea Must Die:

  • Steven Pinker dismantles the working theory of human behavior
  • Sherry Turkle reevaluates our expectations of artificial intelligence
  • Andrei Linde suggests that our universe and its laws may not be as unique as we think
  • Martin Rees explains why scientific understanding is a limitless goal
  • Nina Jablonski argues to rid ourselves of the concept of race
  • And much more.

Profound, engaging, thoughtful, and groundbreaking, This Idea Must Die will change your perceptions and understanding of our world today...and tomorrow.

©2015 Edge Foundation, Inc. (P)2015 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"Physics, statistics, robotics, linguistics, medicine--all are zestfully scrutinized in this exuberant, mind-blowing gathering of innovative thinkers." ( Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 03-07-15

3% Excellent

This book contains 175 answers to the 2014 Edge question “What scientific idea needs to be put aside in order to make room for new ideas to advance?” Answers vary from about a minute up to less than ten minutes and come from numerous scientific disciplines. There are ground-rules that the answers focus on ideas, not scientific rivals (but there are more than a few sharp yet well hidden personalized barbs). The quality, tone, approachability, and enjoyability of the writing varies over the 175 different writers. The essays vary from unbearably arrogant to lightheartedly humorous.

There are many different ideas considered but most fall into a few themes; over simplifications, over generalizations, arbitrary categorizations, arcane ideas, & human exceptionalisms. Some essays are diametric opposites. The vast majority did not seem critical hindrances to scientific progress. A few that I felt were right on topic and among my favorites were Freeman Dyson’s on Collapse of the Wave Function and Max Tegmark’s on Infinity.

There were a few essays that were, on their own, well worth my time, but most I found rather uninteresting. Yet many of the ideas that were proposed to die were various arbitrary categorizations, and although none of these alone would seem to hinder science in general, the apparently natural and ubiquitous predilection of the human mind to create such categories does seem to be responsible for much of the inertia in science. Academic debates can rage between experts for years about categorizations that later turn out to have been arbitrarily based. Categorization almost always hide details, yet real scientific advancement is almost always stimulated by a reexamination of the details. Overall this book got me thinking about the general concept of categorization in science and how such categorizations seem to give the illusion of knowledge while categorizations seem to actually stifle scientific progress.

The narration is very clear. One humorous repeated narration mistake was pronouncing F=MA (Force equal Mass time Acceleration) as eff equals Ma (as in mother).

Although I ended up appreciating experiencing this book, I hesitate to recommend it highly. It will not be for everyone and I am certain I will not listen to this book again.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 03-11-15

Too much wheat not enough chaff

This book was a lot like the TED conferences. While you're watching them you think they're the most brilliant thing you've ever seen and just wonder why you didn't come up with thinking about the problem that way on your own. But, when it's over you start to think maybe that wasn't worth my time after all. This book was fun while doing it, but I strongly suspect it wasn't worth my time.

Some essays were very good. I really liked Alan Alda's on why true and false should not be how we look at things. Richard Dawkin's (and a host of others) also thinks Essentianism should be retired. It just muddles our way of thinking since nature doesn't always fall into neat categories (Darwin dances around what a species is for a very good reason). When the theme of the essay was on the real nature of science being particular to the data available, and contingent to the current understanding of nature that we have and science is never absolute (back to Alan Alda's essay, e.g.), the essay would work nicely and would fit into an overall narrative.

Overall, I would recommend skipping this book and reading Marcelo Gleiser's "Island of Knowledge", who did give the second essay presented in this book and will give the listener a more coherent sense on the limitations of science than this book does.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Jared
  • Prosper, TX, United States
  • 03-13-15

Excellent - "science" is not a monoculture

This is a great listen, especially if you or anyone you discuss science with is caught up in the false dichotomy of "mainstream" vs fringe scientific communities and models.

The only real spoilers were one of the narrator's - David Colacci - persistent ignorant misreads - for instance, changing F=ma (mass * acceleration) into "f equals 'ma'" (as in "mom") [yes, really!], and pronouncing Tycho Brahe's name "tee-koe bra" every time. .. but definitely something anyone interested in science will benefit from listening to.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Errol
  • Saskatoon, SK, Canada
  • 04-26-15

Misleading Title

Would you try another book from John Brockman and/or David Colacci and Susan Ericksen ?

Not likely.

What was most disappointing about John Brockman’s story?

There was no substance to it. As I listened to the entire book I was getting angry at myself for continuing in the expectation that things would get better.

What about David Colacci and Susan Ericksen ’s performance did you like?

They were good.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Comprehensive

This always interesting book explores the edge of many science questions, proposing that those beliefs which scientists have long held need to be reexamined because science is always about progress little by little, and only rarely by discovery. Narration is always spot on.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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It's a grand ideological birthday full with wisdom

It certainly took a little time to finish but it was worth every waking moment. These books are a buffet of food for thought! This is a great read for anyone who enjoys a good idea focused discussion.

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  • Reg
  • Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
  • 06-05-15

Awesome

Everything's big I expected iiy to be. The talks were informative on any number of issues. They had great contributions from various sides of a position. And it was fascinating.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Plenty to Chew on for Critical Thinkers

The range of topics covered by this book is vast. Learning about the chinks in the seemingly impenetrable facade of science certainly has given me plenty to mull over.

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95% spot on

Good book with through coverage of most of science. I especially liked sections on " best practices" in medicine. Disliked the doges acceptance of evolutionary theory.

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Usual for its Genre - No Surprise, Little Insight

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

I would not suggest this book as a good use of time. The collection of 'Ideas that Must Die' has very few surprises. The opinions of the 'brilliant minds', as with most of this genre of books, are criticisms of the continued use of terms whose literal meaning is no longer applicable, and-or babbling about the semantics - No, a 'theory of everything' from Physics will never explain emergence or bio-complexity or socio-economics. However it would explain everything that PHYSICISTS are trying to explain. Listening to yet another scientist criticize terms and words based on obvious misunderstanding (deliberate or otherwise) of the terms from their own field is a waste of everyone's time.

Were the concepts of this book easy to follow, or were they too technical?

There is a mixture of concepts discussed in the book - some in a style that is difficult to follow and requires repetition to catch the detail.

What about David Colacci and Susan Ericksen ’s performance did you like?

Adequate.

Did This Idea Must Die inspire you to do anything?

This Idea Must Die has inspired me to never bother with another book of this type.

Any additional comments?

No further comment.

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  • Tristan
  • 03-13-15

Very informative but a tough listen

This book contains some excellent concepts and good insight into improving scientific processes in the future.

On the downside however is that these are grouped together in very similar themes which quickly can become monotonous. You may, as I did, find you have inadvertently switched off and missed listening for several minutes at a time.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful