Sunday, 22 May 2011


The term 'scientific"is to be understood in a broad sense as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything, whether it be the human spirit, the role of great people in history, or the structure of DNA. A "scientific concept" may come from philosophy, logic, economics, jurisprudence, or other analytic enterprises, as long as it is a rigorous conceptual tool that may be summed up succinctly (or "in a phrase") but has broad application to understanding the world. 
[Thanks to Steven Pinker for suggesting this year's Edge Question]

That's the question asked by this year by Edge. With 159 answers to the question, I set out to find which scientific concepts were most useful to me. Here is my pick which are mostly related to scientific method. Clicking the link opens the article (and asks if you want to print).

Richard Dawkins :

Evolutionary Biologist; Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Science,...

Professor, Claremont McKenna College; Past-president, American Psychological...

David Pizarro :

Psychologist, Cornell University

People tend to recognise a pattern where a pattern doesn't really exist. Recognising that this Apophenia occurs often, could help us to overcome our bias to recognise patterns where they don't exist.

Cognitive Scientist; Author, Kluge: The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind...

'Confirmation bias' often misleads.

Antony Garrett Lisi :

theoretical physicist

we don't understand risk.

"We humans are terrible at dealing with probability. We are not merely bad at it, but seem hardwired to be incompetent, in spite of the fact that we encounter innumerable circumstances every day which depend on accurate probabilistic calculations for our wellbeing. "

David Dalrymple :

Researcher, MIT Mind Machine Project

The concept of cause and effect is better understood as the flow of information between two connected events, from the earlier event to the later one. Saying "A causes B" sounds precise, but is actually very vague. I would specify much more by saying "with the information that A has happened, I can compute with almost total confidence* that B will happen." The latter rules out the possibility that other factors could prevent B even if A does happen, but allows the possibility that other factors could cause B even if A doesn't happen.

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