What scientists believe without proof

Earlier this year, the Edge’s John Brockman presented the scientific community with a question of faith:

What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?

Great minds can sometimes guess the truth before they have either the evidence or arguments for it (Diderot called it having the ‘esprit de divination’).

As answers from scientists and other thinkers rolled in, Brockman observed:

In the responses to this year’s question, there’s a focus on consciousness, on knowing, on ideas of truth and proof. If pushed to generalize, I would say it is a commentary on how we are dealing with the idea of certainty.

We are in the age of “searchculture”, in which Google and other search engines are leading us into a future rich with an abundance of correct answers along with an accompanying naïve sense of certainty. In the future, we will be able to answer the question, but will we be bright enough to ask it?

Ian McEwan’s response to the question begins: “What I believe but cannot prove is that no part of my consciousness will survive my death.”

Update: Isabella of Magnificent Octopus believes but cannot prove “that each of the respondents’ beliefs (as generated by World Question 2005) was anticipated by and explored within Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.”


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