We have even in the United States serious and growing water scarcity challenges. We have contamination problems with chemicals that we have not adequately regulated here in the United States. We have conflicts between states in the United States about who gets to use what water to do what. We have evidence that climate change is already influencing water demand, affecting water availability, changing extreme events. There are a whole suite of water-related problems, here, unrelated to these basic human need challenges that’re pressing in other parts of the world.
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If you were to ask me what the crisis in the present is, as an evolutionary biologist I have to go back millions of years and try to connect all the dots, going back to man as a single-celled organism to present time, and saying what is it that is causing modern consternation? More importantly, is there a pattern? Has this happened before? Were there some ordinary people like you and I, shopkeepers in Rome, who were standing around and saying, “You know, our leaders don’t seem to be on top of our problems. They seem to be getting worse one generation after another.”
The Center, one of our core goals, our mission statement, is to get people thinking more creatively and ambitiously about the future. What I mean when I talk about that is that we need to come up with better stories about the future. If you want to build a better world you have to imagine that world first.
What is it about our brains that makes facts so challenging, so odd and threatening? Why do we sometimes double down on false beliefs? And maybe why do some of us do it more than others?
What I’m trying articulate here is that there is a really fine balance between how do you spur and invigorate innovation, and then also address security at the same time. Because one cannot drown out the other. Because you’re going to have all kinds of issues.
I’m going to make an argument in this talk that dissent is valuable not merely to establish your moral dimension or to make a moral act or moral posture. It’s essential to scientific progress. So we can’t do without dissent; it’s not an affectation.
Mary Shelley’s novel has been an incredibly successful modern myth. And so this conversation today is not just about what happened 200 years ago, but the remarkable ways in which that moment and that set of ideas has continued to percolate and evolve and reform in culture, in technological research, in ethics, since then.