The Edge has asked 100 of the English-speaking world’s leading thinkers and writers — “What did you change your mind about in 2007?” Almost all of the comments come from the fields of science and philosophy/theology, but there are some interesting snippets in there…

“Plucking one early weed from a bed of germinating seeds changes everything. Small actions by focused participants [in online discussion] change the tone of the whole.” — Xeni Jardin.

“it’s an illusion to think that supercomputer modeling is up to the task of truly reliable crystal-ball gazing. It isn’t.” … “Certain systems in nature, it seems, are computationally irreducible phenomena” — Ed Regis.

“The sum total of all information produced in 2008 will likely exceed the amount of information generated by humans over the past 40,000 years. … Visualization, and more generally a strong relationship between science and design, will be essential to deriving knowledge from all this information.” — Adam Bly.

“I now believe that in the not too distant future, the best forecasters will not be people, but machines: ever more capable “prediction engines” probing ever deeper into stochastic spaces. Indicators of this trend are everywhere from the rise of quantitative analysis in the financial sector, to the emergence of computer-based horizon scanning systems in use by governments around the world, and of course the relentless advance of computer systems along the upward-sweeping curve of Moore’s Law.” — Paul Saffo.

“I used to believe that truth had a special home in universities. … [but, however much they pay lip-service to innovation…] Faculty committees intervene to ensure that most positions go to people just about like themselves, and the Dean asks how much grant overhead funding a new faculty member will bring in. No one with new ideas, much less work in a new area or critical of established dogmas, can hope to get through this fine sieve. If they do, review committees are waiting. And so, by a process of unintentional selection, diversity of thought and topic is excluded. If it still sneaks in, it is purged. The disciplines become ever more insular. And universities find themselves unwittingly inhibiting progress and genuine intellectual engagement.” — Randolph Nesse.

“Where once I would have striven to see Incan child sacrifice ‘in their terms’, I am increasingly committed to seeing it in ours.” — Timothy Taylor.

“New results from [many researchers] have suggested that thousands of genes, perhaps as much as ten percent of the human genome, have been under strong recent selection, and the selection may even have accelerated during the past several thousand years. The numbers are comparable to those for maize, which has been artificially selected beyond recognition during the past few millennia.” — Steven Pinker.

“I have changed my mind about how people come literally to embody the social world around them. … In particular, I thought that our genes were historically immutable, and that it was not possible to imagine a conversation between culture and genetics. I thought that we as a species evolved over time frames far too long to be influenced by human actions. I now think this is wrong, and that the alternative — that we are evolving in real time, under the pressure of discernable social and historical forces — is true. Rather than a monologue of genetics, or a soliloquy of culture, there is a dialectic between genetics and culture. … Certain groups may acquire (admittedly, over centuries) certain advantages, and there might be positive or negative feedback loops between genetics and culture. Maybe some of us really are better able to cope with modernity than others.” — Nicholas Christakis.

“classical depth psychology (Freud and sundries) can safely be thrown overboard almost in its entirety” — Robert Trivers.

“Guys lost on unfamiliar streets often avoid asking for directions from locals. We try to tough it out with map and compass. Admitting being lost feels like admitting stupidity. … the human sciences [are, in similar manner] trying to find our way around the dark continent of human nature. We scientists are being paid to be the bus-driving tour guides for the rest of humanity. They expect us to know our way around the human mind, but we don’t. So we try to fake it, without asking the locals for directions. We try to find our way from first principles of geography (‘theory’), and from maps of our own making (’empirical research’). The roadside is crowded with locals, and their brains are crowded with local knowledge, but we are too arrogant and embarrassed to ask the way. … I figured that the intricacies of human nature were not just dark, but depopulated — that a few exploratory novelists and artists had sought the sources of our cognitive Amazons and emotional Niles, but that nobody actually lived there. Now, I’ve changed my mind — there are local experts about almost all aspects of human nature, and the human sciences should find their way by asking them for directions. … [by tapping into the] “awesome diversity of knowledge about human nature in different occupations.” — Geoffrey Miller.

“Contrary to lifelong advice, when planning a new research project, I always start by going fishing. … [by using] broad-based descriptive studies to learn what to study and how to study it … [and undertaking] empirical research that does not test a specific hypothesis or is not guided by theory” — Robert Provine.

“Much of what I believed about human nature, and the nature of knowledge, has been upended by the Wikipedia … The Wikipedia is impossible, but here it is. It is one of those things impossible in theory, but possible in practice. Once you confront the fact that it works, you have to shift your expectation of what else that is impossible in theory might work in practice.” — Kevin Kelly.

“The 20th century has been obsessed with this idea of the objects, and [the consequent] hopes of architectural and artistic permanence” … “The 21st century will increasingly question this fetishization of the object. [… according to Doris Lessing, thinking about the future of museums] prioritisation of material objects from the past may not be enough to convey functional meaning to tomorrow’s generations.” — Hans Ulrich Obrist.

“Experimental art and experimental politics have traditionally been convivial bedfellows, though usually, in my opinion, with very little benefit to each other”… [but after living through decades of politicised left-wing art] “I’ve lost faith in the idea of ideological politics altogether: I want instead to see politics as the articulation and management of a changing society in a changing world, trying to do a half-decent job for as many people as possible, trying to set things up a little better for the future.” — Brian Eno

“I thought that kids’ pretend play, and grown-up fiction, must be a sort of spandrel, a side-effect of some other more functional [evolutionary] ability. … I still think that we’re designed to find out about the world, but that’s not our most important gift. For human beings the really important evolutionary advantage is our ability to create new worlds. Look around the room you’re sitting in. Every object in that room – the right angle table, the book, the paper, the computer screen, the ceramic cup was once imaginary. Not a thing in the room existed in the pleistocene. Every one of them started out as an imaginary fantasy in someone’s mind. … I think now that the two abilities – finding the truth about the world and creating new worlds – are two sides of the same coin.” … “I don’t think anymore that Science and Fiction are just both Good Things that complement each other. I think they are, quite literally, the same thing.” — Alison Gopnik.

“the sex differences are explained. Or so I thought. But I have now changed my mind. Talents, tastes and temperaments play fundamental roles. But they alone don’t fully explain the differences. […] Among males, the variance – the difference between the most and the least, the best and the worst – can be vast. So males are almost bound to be over-represented both at the bottom and at the top. [yet] the results of straightforward facts of statistical distribution get treated as political problems – as ‘evidence’ of bias and barriers that keep women back and sweep men to the top. (Though how this explains the men at the bottom is an unacknowledged mystery.)” — Helena Cronin.

… and Sherry Turkle turns in the sexiest response, literally, on the possibilities of future social acceptance of robot-human sex and marriage.