A few weeks ago Edge.com asked prominent thinkers what their Dangerous Idea was. The poser of the question was Steven Pinker, and he’s on Radio Open Source today (you can listen on the web, wait ’till 7 PM EDT). I offered my 2 cents in the comments, the basic gist of which was that the explosion of information and the ability to access it in the modern world makes secure understanding and knowledge more difficult than in the past. Professionally obfuscatory paradigms like Post Modernism and neo-Creationism can arise precisely because trust and good faith are more crucial in a world where one person can’t understand even one discipline in depth.
Another point I also wanted to make is that there are two genres of “Dangerous Ideas,” ideas not particularly dangerous in academia but dangerous in the context of the wider culture, and ideas that are universally verboten. All those who assert rejection of the soul and free will are dangerous ideas also know that the former is probably normative among many intellectuals, and the second is not particularly revolutionary, both philosophy and religion have examined it for centuries. Now consider Pinker’s response, the first part in regards to sex differences is probably widely accepted outside of academia, while the second portion in regards to intergroup differences tracking race or ethnicity has been a cultural third rail for several decades. I believe that understanding of some intergroup differences more salient than lactose digestion capacity will arise out of the genomics, and there are already hints of this in the HapMap. I suggest intellectuals now move to making the public more conscious of probability distributions and bayesian logic.
Update: A reader would have you know that I was noted as the “best comment” on the thread for this particular episode of Radio Open Source. The archives aren’t up yet, but just go to their site and scroll down their left bar, it should be there soon. About 45 minutes into the show Brendan reads comments from the thread and states that I had the best one 🙂 Seed doesn’t pay me the big bucks for nothing!
Update II: OK, listen here (24 MB mp3).