Dangerous ideas

What is your dangerous idea?

The brilliant minds of The Edge community have been pondering that question and have come up with no less than 117 essays.

Here are a few of my favourites:
Carolyn Porco: The greatest story ever told.

At the heart of every scientific inquiry is a deep spiritual quest – to grasp, to know, to feel connected through an understanding of the secrets of the natural world, to have a sense of one’s part in the greater whole.

And we don’t have one god, we have many of them. We find gods in the nucleus of every atom, in the structure of space/time, in the counter-intuitive mechanisms of electromagneticsm. What richness! What consummate beauty!

These are reasons enough for jubilation … for riotous, unrestrained, exuberant merry-making.

So what are we missing?


We have no loving ministers, guiding and teaching the flocks in the ways of the ‘gods’. We have no fervent missionaries, no loyal apostles. And we lack the all-inclusive ecumenical embrace, the extended invitation to the unwashed masses. Alienation does not warm the heart; communion does.

But what if? What if we appropriated the craft, the artistry, the methods of formal religion to get the message across? Imagine ‘Einstein’s Witnesses’ going door to door or TV evangelists passionately espousing the beauty of evolution.

Could it work? Could we create institutions that filled the roles of religion but which were based on science rather than faith? That is one hell of a dangerous idea. Not to mention weird and wonderful.

Philip Zimbardo: The banality of evil is matched by the banality of heroism

This view implies that any of us could as easily become heroes as perpetrators of evil depending on how we are impacted by situational forces. We then want to discover how to limit, constrain, and prevent those situational and systemic forces that propel some of us toward social pathology.

It is equally important for our society to foster the heroic imagination in our citizens by conveying the message that anyone is a hero-in-waiting who will be counted upon to do the right thing when the time comes to make the heroic decision to act to help or to act to prevent harm.

This is a wonderful shift in thinking: Rather than thinking of people as potential nazis or executioners (common thinking has it, that under the right circumstances all of us could become either), think of people as potential heroes and foster that potential.

Simon Baron-Cohen: A political system based on empathy

What would it be like if our political chambers were based on the principles of empathizing? It is dangerous because it would mean a revolution in how we choose our politicians, how our political chambers govern, and how our politicians think and behave. We have never given such an alternative political process a chance. Might it be better and safer than what we currently have? Since empathy is about keeping in mind the thoughts and feelings of other people (not just your own), and being sensitive to another person’s thoughts and feelings (not just riding rough-shod over them), it is clearly incompatible with notions of “doing battle with the opposition” and “defeating the opposition” in order to win and hold on to power.

Yes! I think more and more these days on how to create a better way of politics. This is an important insight.

Also check out last year’s question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”

2 thoughts on “Dangerous ideas”

  1. What a great list!

    For a variant of the evangelical scientific movement, see the work of Michael Dowd (former evangelical Christian minister) and wife Connie Barlow (science writer, once atheist, now “creatheist”!) who have been on the road for five years preaching and teaching the sacred (and science-based) Great Story of evolution, turning on hundreds of people a week. http://www.thegreatstory.org. I’ve been working with them for a year to actually weave these folks into a movement. Who knows, maybe door-knocking Darwin’s Witnesses aren’t far behind! :)

    For a variant of a political/governance vision based on empathy, see THE TAO OF DEMOCRACY or the articles on democracy at http://www.co-intelligence.org/CIdemocracypolitics_theory.html. What’s interesting about this approach (a vision I wove out of many other people’s work) is that it doesn’t require people to be better than they are, but only to participate in activities that help them keep in mind the thoughts and feelings of others and which tap into the power of ordinary people to co-create common ground and common sense wisdom. We actually don’t have to depend on the positional battle anymore if we don’t want to…

  2. Thanks for the tips Tom – that’s excellent reading on two subjects that are very much on my mind these days!

    Stay tuned for a brand new democratic initative I’ll be launching very soon that changes democracy from top-down politics to collaborative democracy.

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