Sometimes the scientific online community the Edge is self-referentially banal and sometimes it's absolutely brilliant. The latest edition of the World Question Center falls in the second camp: by asking 172 leading scientists "What's your dangerous idea?" John Brockman and his crew have managed to trigger a laundry list of interesting thoughts, provocative suppositions and, often, worldchanging possibilities.
Take for example this little tidbit of a suggestion by Daniel Dennett:
Think of all the work published in academic journals before, say, 1990 that is in danger of becoming practically invisible to later researchers because it can't be found on-line with a good search engine. Just scanning it all and hence making it "available" is not the solution. There is too much of it. But we could start projects in which (virtual) communities of retired researchers who still have their wits about them and who know particular literatures well could brainstorm amongst themselves, using their pooled experience to elevate the forgotten gems, rendering them accessible to the next generation of researchers. This sort of activity has in the past been seen to be a stodgy sort of scholarship, fine for classicists and historians, but not fit work for cutting-edge scientists and the like. I think we should try to shift this imagery and help people recognize the importance of providing for each other this sort of pathfinding through the forests of information.
Oliver Morton, who says, "our planet is not in peril", I believe makes a germane contribution (on the eleventh page) to the disussion of "geoethics" Jamais Cascio led in 02005-07. If we read Morton carefully, he helps us clarify our purpose in protecting the biosphere. We need to consider the question, What exactly are we trying to achieve? Are we trying to protect the long-term health of the planet itself, on a long geochronologic scale? Or are we looking out for human economic interest, during a geochronologic blink of an eye? Perhaps forestalling climatic change is appropriate for the latter goal, but not for the former.
Dennett's idea touches on something that occult philosopher Ramsey Dukes has proposed, which seems to me like an essential way of coping with ageing populations: instead of just throwing old people together in rest homes, develop communal homes based around different passions and interests. Then retired people can nuture hubs for anything from biology to history, painting to programming. They may be places that old people would want to go to well before they lost the ability to look after themselves. Obviously virtual communities would work alongside these, but actual communities seems like something worth pursuing.
"pathfinding through the forests of information" was the original purpose of weblogging.