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Publisher's Summary

Each year John Brockman, publisher of, 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
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Critic Reviews

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

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Michael on 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.

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19 of 20 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Gary on 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.

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6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Tristan on 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.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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