"What do you believe to be true even though you cannot prove it?"
This was what John Brockman, the editor and publisher of the online intellectual think-tank "Edge," asked leading thinkers. This book contains what this think-tank deems to be the best answers to this question.
Each contributor's answer is preceded by a brief profile of him or her. (There are 15 female contributors.)
The majority of the thinkers this book's profiles have more than one occupation. The most frequent job titles mentioned in each brief profile are as follows:
(3) scientist (such as physicist, computer scientist)/social scientist (such as psychologist, economist)
(4) director (for example, a director of a laboratory)
Some other occupations mentioned are inventor, writer, editor, journalist, publisher, lecturer, and linguist.
Here is a typical profile:
"Freeman Dyson is professor emeritus of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He is the author of a number of books about science for the general public including "Imagined Worlds" and "The Sun," "The Genome," and "The Internet."
Here is a sample of the beliefs that cannot be proved:
Contributor #1: I believe that intelligent life may presently be unique to our Earth but has the potential to spread throughout the Galaxy and beyond it."
#109: "I can prove almost nothing I believe in."
#5: "I believe that evolution explains why the living world is the way that it is."
#20: "I'm pretty sure that people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can't prove."
#30: "I believe...that cannibalism and slavery were both prevalent in human history."
#40: "I believe that scientific theories are a means of going...beyond what we observe of the physical world, of penetrating into the structure of nature."
#50: "I believe that the human race will never decide that an advanced computer possesses consciousness."
#60: "I believe that animals have feelings and other states of consciousness."
#70: "I believe that human talents are based on distinct patterns of brain connectivity."
#80: "I believe that it is possible to change adult cells from one phenotype to another."
#90: "I believe that black holes do not...destroy information, thereby violating quantum mechanics."
#100: "I believe that the mechanism for the human perception of time will be discovered."
For the most part, all answers can be easily understood but some may require a dictionary to aid in understanding technical terms. Some contributors have the same beliefs so there is a bit of redundancy. However, I don't see this as something necessarily bad as the reader gets a different perspective on a prior mentioned belief. As well, all answers are "bite-sized," ranging from a sentence to a couple of pages.
I did find a few problems:
First, the table of contents. It simply lists all the contributors in non-alphabetical order with their first names first! Why not list them in alphabetical order with the first names last? Better still, put the answers in general categories. For example, those contributors whose answers deal with consciousness would have there names under this heading or those that deal with life in the universe would have there names under this heading.
Second, the book simply ends with the final contributor's answer. I couldn't understand this especially since there's a well-written introduction. There should have been a conclusion of some sort.
Finally, the book's subtitle states "Today's leading thinkers on science in the age of certainty." This gives the impression that this book deals exclusively with scientists. It does not. There are thinkers in other fields who contribute answers also.
In conclusion, I believe this is a good book of educated speculation and I've tried to prove it!!
(first published 2006; preface; introduction; 109 contributors; main narrative 250 pages)