John Brockman’s ‘Third Culture’

John Brockman’s ‘Third Culture’

Written by Alfonso Elizondo


In 1995 the English author John Brockman published a book called The Third Culture, an oral history of a dynamic emerging system in which ‘third culture’ scientists identify very interesting and important issues in the present culture by communicating with each other and then with the general public.


Brockman argues that science, unlike the arts and humanities, had always remained on the sidelines of social and cultural life, so that the works of scientists and thinkers that Brockman groups under the name ‘third culture’ are trying to overcome that traditional lack of communication with the general public. Consequently, although men of letters still do not communicate with scientists, scientists have already communicated directly with new mass audiences.


For Brockman, the job of the intellectual should lead to his communication with the public, since one of his functions is to model the thinking of his contemporaries and ‘third culture’ thinkers are the new public intellectuals.


This emergence of a new scientific culture is occurring within a framework that was traditionally called ‘science’, which has now become ‘public culture’. Proof of this is to be found in the different publishing successes of those who may be considered ‘third culture’ intellectuals.


Brockman lists a long series of subjects featured in newspapers and magazines, such as, molecular biology, artificial intelligence, neural networks, the inflationary universe, fractal geometry, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, virtual reality, cyberspace, artificial life, chaos theory, mass parallelism, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis and the petaflop supercomputers.


Brockman believes that literary intellectuals are increasingly reactionary and are very often arrogant and ignorant about many of the scientific achievements of the current era. He thinks that they use their own jargon and that their work typically comments on comments made by others, to the point where they lose sight of the world of reality. He also believes that they have the arrogance to consider themselves the only thinkers, excluding the men of science.


The online magazine ‘The Edge’ is the communication channel of the ‘third culture’ and it aims to bring together the most complex and sophisticated minds in one space to exchange views on major current issues. Its headquarters is located in the Santa Fe Institute of New Mexico in the United States.


These new ‘third culture’ scientists have established direct communication with ordinary citizens without the intervention of humanist spokespersons or thinkers. The connection with citizens is taking place because of the level of development of today’s science and technology that affects the basic values ​​of the social structure and order, as well as the very survival of the human species.


At the present time, the field of medical and biochemical technology makes it possible to destroy the world and to change the evolution of the human being. So, the global population is interested and concerned that these data should reach public opinion. In recent years, readers of this type of book have grown greatly, to the extent that the ‘third culture’ has become a large-scale commercial operation that is very difficult to explain in sociological terms.


We must recognize that the ‘third culture’ is something more than a commercial phenomenon involving the sale of books in large quantities; it is a challenge to destroy the traditional boundaries between the common man and science as it allows direct communication between the science professional and the ordinary citizen who is focussed on his other needs, but who has an interest in science.


Sociology experts say that the idea of science has been transformed and changed from something abstract to something political and mundane. In this way, ‘third culture’ scientists will seek to find out how the human mind works and to improve their current condition. This logic could be extrapolated to the most common areas of the work of ‘third culture’ scientists since their results tend to lead to the design of new technologies.


One possible hypothesis of this ‘third culture’ could be that its protagonists now write books to be read by a large mass of people, whereas before this was done only by men of letters. Moreover, artists will not stop being artists, because they are applying new information technologies in their creations.


Addendum: In the second part of this article we will discuss the most famous ‘third culture’ scientists and the great contributions they have made to the world today.