John Brockman: A Portrait : The World Mind That Came In From the Counterculture

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At the age of three John Brockman announced: „I want to go to New York!“ For decades he has been a leading light behind the scenes in the city’s intellectual life. Bild: wowe

Be imaginative, exciting, compelling, inspiring: That’s what John Brockman expects of himself and others. Arguably, the planet’s most important literary agent, Brockman brings its cyber elite together in his Internet salon „Edge.“ We paid a visit to the man from the Third Culture.

          7 Min.

          The Internet had yet to be born but the talk still revolved around it. In New York, that was, half a century ago. „Cage,“ as John Brockman recalls, „always spoke about the mind we all share. That wasn’t some kind of holistic nonsense. He was talking about profound cybernetic ideas.“ He got to hear about them on one of the occasions when John Cage, the music revolutionary, Zen master and mushroom collector, cooked mushroom dishes for him and a few friends. At some point Cage packed him off home with a book. „That’s for you,“ were his parting words. After which he never exchanged another word with Brockman. Something that he couldn’t understand for a long time. „John, that’s Zen,“ a friend finally explained to him. „You no longer need him.“

          Norbert Wiener was the name of the author, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine the name of the book. Page by page Brockman battled his way through the academic text, together with Stewart Brand, his friend, who was about to publish the Whole Earth Catalog, the shopping primer and bible of the environmentally-driven counterculture. For both readers, physics and mathematics expanded into an infinite space that no longer distinguished between the natural and human sciences, mind and matter, searching and finding.

          Like the idea of the Internet—which was slowly acquiring contours during these rambling 1960s discussions—the idea of Edge, the Internet salon around which Brockman’s life now revolves, was also taking shape. Edge is the meeting place for the cyber elite, the most illustrious minds who are shaping the emergence of the latest developments in the natural and social sciences, whether they be digital, genetic, psychological, cosmological or neurological. Digerati from the computer universe of Silicon Valley aren’t alone in giving voice to their ideas in Brockman’s salon. They are joined in equal measure by other eminent experts, including the evolutionary biologists Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker, the philosopher Daniel Dennett, the cosmologist Martin Rees, the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, the economist, psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, the quantum physicist David Deutsch, the computer scientist Marvin Minsky, and the social theorist Anthony Giddens. Ranging from the co-founder of Apple Steve Wozniak to the decoder of genomes Craig Venter, his guest list is almost unparalleled even in the boundless realm of the Internet. Even the actor Alan Alda and writer Ian McEwan can be found in his forum.

          The bridge of the third culture

          A question is sent out to all salon members at the start of every year. This year it is: „What scientific idea ready to be retired?“ The „editorial marching orders,“ written by Brockman, reveal the heart of Edge: „Go deeper than the news. Tell me something I don’t know. You are writing for your fellow Edgies, a sophisticated bunch, and not the general public. Stick to ideas, theories, systems of thought, disciplines, not people. Come up with something new, be exciting, inspiring, compelling. Tell us a great story. Amaze, delight, surprise us!“

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