Review: This Will Make You Smarter, edited by John Brockman

This is one of the annual Edge Question books, where the Edge website asks several prominent thinkers an interesting question. The result is a collection of short essays answering that question. Past questions have included “What do you believe but cannot prove?”, “ What have you changed your mind about?”, and my favorite so far, “What are you optimistic about?” The question that spawned this book was “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”

Like most of these Edge books there were a few answers that were thinly veiled screeds against religion, but for the most part, the answers were pretty good. They included things like the Pareto Principle (aka the 80-20 rule), the idea of positive-sum games, that you can demonstrate danger but cannot demonstrate safety, that correlation is not causation, and black swan technologies. There are about 150 in all, and they give good food for thought.

My recommendation is to read this a little bit at a time, perhaps an answer or two each day. It takes a while, but it keeps the brain from getting numb.