the EdgePosted: April 16, 2011
Could you explain the Third Culture?
In 1959 CP Snow noted in his book The Two Cultures that, during the 30s, literary intellectuals took to referring to themselves as “the intellectuals”, as though there were no others. This new definition excluded scientists such as the astronomer Edwin Hubble, the mathematician John von Neumann, and the physicists Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr. In the second edition, Snow added a new essay, optimistically suggesting that a “third culture” would emerge and close the communications gap between the literary intellectuals and the scientists. Although I borrow Snow’s phrase, it does not describe the third culture that he predicted. Literary intellectuals are not communicating with scientists. Scientists are communicating directly with the general public, and in doing so they are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.
Which new writers, scientists and artists should we be following at the moment?
Research psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who won a Nobel Prize for the creation of behavioural economics, is one. Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Dean Kamen, Nathan Myhrvold, Jimmy Wales and Salar Kamangar all came to an Edge seminar to hear him lecture. Kahneman is not exactly a household name — yet among many of the leading thinkers in psychology, he ranks at the top of the field.
What is it that gets you interested in a person or their work?
I am interested in people who can take the materials of the culture in the arts, literature and science and put them together in their own way. We live in a mass-produced culture where many people, even many established cultural arbiters, limit themselves to secondhand ideas. Show me people who create their own reality, who don’t accept an ersatz, appropriated reality. Show me the empiricists (and not just in the sciences) who are out there doing it, rather than talking about and analysing the people who are doing it.
How do you find these people?
It’s all based on word of mouth and reputation. Edge, contrary to how it may appear, is not exclusive. Elitist, yes, but in the good sense of an open elite, based on meritocracy. The way someone is added to the Edge list is when I receive a word from a Steven Pinker, a Brian Eno, a Martin Rees, an Ian McEwan or a Richard Dawkins, telling me to do so. It’s as simple as that and I don’t recall ever saying no in such circumstances.