Life & Science

The World Mind That Came In From The Counterculture


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." Journalist Jordan Mejias paid a visit to the man from the Third Culture. (Published in FAZ).

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 spirit that 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.

Continue Reading on English Translation FAZ

Edge @ DLD George Dyson, Stewart Brand, John Brockman, Hubert Burda, and Kevin Kelly at DLD11 (©

John Brockman hosts a conversation around "information" with Svante Paabo, the Swedish genomics researcher, and Anton Zeilinger (Quantum physics and Quantum teleportation) at DLD14. Tune in on the beat of our community on the DLDpulse and find regular updates on the DLD14 programme and speakers here.

Mentioned in this article

Dyson bw
George Dyson
Bellingham, WA
Open uri20121220 15740 uyik89
Kevin Kelly
Stewartbrand carre2
Stewart Brand
The Long Now Foundation
Co-Founder and President
The Long Now Foundation
Brockman bw
John Brockman
New York
Venter bw
Craig Venter
The J. Craig Venter Institute
The J. Craig Venter Institute
Open uri20121219 11674 1f4q599
Daniel Kahneman
Princeton University
Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs
Princeton University
New York
Helen twitter
Helen Fisher
Rutgers University
Research Scholar
Rutgers University
New York CIty
Open uri20121219 18348 z8co1w
Freeman Dyson
Royal Air Force, Duke University
Physicist and mathematician
Royal Air Force, Duke University
Princeton, NJ
Dawkins bw
Robyn Blumner
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
executive director
Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science