Brockman’s ‘Third Culture’ II

Brockman’s ‘Third Culture’ II

Written by Alfonso Elizondo


John Brockman defines the ‘third culture’ based on the contributions of a set of scientists and thinkers who, according to him, are now taking the place of the traditional intellectual by engaging in analysis of the deepest meaning of the life of the human being.

According to Brockman, the strength of this ‘third culture’ lies in the fact that it admits disagreements about ideas that deserve to be taken seriously because it does not get bogged down in minor disputes, but focuses on those issues that will affect the lives of all inhabitants of the planet.

Brockman cites the scientific topics that have featured prominently in the writings of scientific culture appearing in newspapers and magazines in the last few years, such as molecular biology, artificial intelligence, chaos theory, neural networks, the inflationary universe, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, etc.

Among the representative intellectuals of the ‘third culture’ are the physicists Paul Davis, J. Dayne Farmer and Roger Penrose; evolutionary scientists R. Dawkins and S. J. Gould; biologists Brian Goodwin, S. Kauffmann, L. Margulis and F.J. Varela; computer scientists and psychologists such as Nicholas Humphrey and Steven Pinker and philosophers such as Daniel C. Dennet.

In the final part of his introduction to The Third Culture, Brockman quotes some of the opinions of these authors that coincide with his personal point of view. The first part of the book is dedicated to evolution and cites texts by S.J. Gould, R. Dawkins, S. Jones and L. Margulis, among others.

The second part entitled ‘A Collection of Kludges’ contains essays on intelligent machines, information, intention, language, consciousness, etc. by D.C. Dennett, F. Varela, S. Pinker and R. Penrose. The third part of the sources reproduces essays by M.Ress, Paul Davies and others, while the fourth part is titled “What Was Darwin’s Algorithm?” And the fifth consists of an essay by W. Daniel Hillis.

Brockman thinks traditional American intellectuals are reactionary, but he notes the great change in this regard that has occurred in recent decades, unlike what happened in the 60’s with the appearance of the intellectual-scientist.

Brockman says literary intellectuals still are not communicating with scientists, although the latter are communicating directly with the general public. The emergence of the ‘third culture’ and of the Edge Foundation, according to Brockman, points to a ‘natural philosophy’ based on an understanding of the current importance of complexity and evolution.

Addendum: At this point in time it is very difficult to accept that the institutional structure of most of the world’s political and economic models are at a very critical stage, and the old paradigms of autarchies, monarchies and all expressions of the oligarchic power of a few powerful people are becoming more and more reactionary every day and they seem to want to retain their power for all eternity.