To start off each year, a question is asked of the Edge membership. This year’s question is: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” Here are some favorite responses of mine followed by a couple of my own beliefs.
Rupert Sheldrake is Darwin’s man and believes that all natural processes, even physical laws, have evolved through natural selection:
I believe, but cannot prove, that memory is inherent in nature. Most of the so-called laws of nature are more like habits.
The idea that something like the value of Avogadro’s number is just a habit that the universe adopted after much practice is quite appealing.
Kevin Kelly thinks the DNA within in our body is slightly different in each cell:
I believe, but cannot prove, that the DNA in your body (and all bodies) varies from part to part. I make this prediction based on what we know about biology, which is that natures abhors uniformity. No where else in nature do we see identity maintained to such exactness. No where else is there such fixity.
Ray Kurzweil is trying to live forever and probably hopes to see the whole of the universe at greater than light speed:
We will find ways to circumvent the speed of light as a limit on the communication of information.
Kurzweil would probably disagree with Todd Feinberg’s belief:
I believe the human race will never decide that an advanced computer possesses consciousness. Only in science fiction will a person be charged with murder if they unplug a PC. I believe this because I hold, but cannot yet prove, that in order for an entity to be consciousness and possess a mind, it has to be a living being.
Jonathan Haidt on religion:
I believe, but cannot prove, that religious experience and practice is generated and structured largely by a few emotions that evolved for other reasons, particularly awe, moral elevation, disgust, and attachment-related emotions.
Seth Lloyd on science:
I believe in science. Unlike mathematical theorems, scientific results can’t be proved. They can only be tested again and again, until only a fool would not believe them.
I cannot prove that electrons exist, but I believe fervently in their existence. And if you don’t believe in them, I have a high voltage cattle prod I’m willing to apply as an argument on their behalf. Electrons speak for themselves.
And George Dyson thinks their may be a connection between the language a raven speaks and the language spoken by the indigenous human population:
Interspecies coevolution of languages on the Northwest Coast.
During the years I spent kayaking along the coast of British Columbia and Southeast Alaska, I observed that the local raven populations spoke in distinct dialects, corresponding surprisingly closely to the geographic divisions between the indigenous human language groups. Ravens from Kwakiutl, Tsimshian, Haida, or Tlingit territory sounded different, especially in their characteristic “tok” and “tlik.”
Here’s what I believe:
- Human beings are not the only instance of intelligent life in the universe. When I think of how big the universe is, it seems impossible to me that humans are the only ones here to observe it. Also, it’s damn arrogant.
- The things we call “the soul” and “consciousness” can be explained scientifically and then could probably be duplicated given the proper technology (i.e. a machine could have a soul). I guess you could say I come down firmly on the Kurzweil side of the Kurzweil/Feinberg continuum.
- Technology will outstrip humanity’s ability to control it. I have no idea what form this will actually take. Bill Joy believes technology might endanger humanity to the point of extinction (many prominent thinkers — Kurzweil, Hans Moravec, Freeman Dyson, John Seely Brown among them — disagree to various degrees). I don’t know if I’d go as far as Joy, but what makes me believe in this is 1) advances in technology consolidate more and more power in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals and, 2) culture moves slower than technology. That is, the potential for danger is rising faster than our ability to respond to it, and that could cause problems.
What do you believe?
This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.