This was The Edge Annual Question – 2008
When thinking changes your mind, that’s philosophy.
When God changes your mind, that’s faith.
When facts change your mind, that’s science.
Read how some of the finest of intellectuals responded to this question on subjects close to them.
Extracts from some of my personal favourites amongst many others. Click on their names to read their complete response and to undertsand the context.
To assess genuine understanding of an idea one is inclined to resist, I propose a version of Turing’s Test tailored for this purpose: You understand something you are inclined to resist only if you can fool its proponents into thinking you get it. Few critics can pass this test. I would also propose a cross-cultural Turing Test for would-be cultural critics (a Golden Rule of cross-group understanding): before critiquing a culture or aspect thereof, you should be able to navigate seamlessly within that culture as judged by members of that group
It has always been clear that collectives amplify power — that is what cities and civilizations are — but what’s been the big surprise for me is how minimal the tools and oversight are needed. The bureaucracy of Wikipedia is relatively so small as to be invisible. It’s the Wiki’s embedded code-based governance, versus manager-based governance that is the real news. Yet the greatest surprise brought by the Wikipedia is that we still don’t know how far this power can go. We haven’t seen the limits of wiki-ized intelligence. Can it make textbooks, music and movies? What about law and political governance?
But, and here’s the thing I changed my mind about, is the tradeoff for silly high productivity that I have to run my projects the way we run the Summer of Code? Maybe. Can I keep my hands off and let things run their course? Is the team strong enough to act as this kind of mentoring to each other? I now think the answer is that yes, they can run each other better than I can run them. So let’s see what letting go looks like.