To arrive at the edge of the world's knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves
So runs the motto of the Edge Foundation, home of the world question center and an offshoot of The Reality Club, all created by John Brockman to bring together what he describes as the third culture - the latest generation of intellectuals who inform the thinking public.
Yet this goal was not original to Brockman. Rather, it was inspired by an associate of his, artist James Lee Byars, who felt that a synthesis of all thought would arise not from collating existing knowledge into vast libraries, but through discussion by the sharpest minds. Having devised his list of the hundred brightest minds, he set about calling them to ask what questions they were asking themselves. 70 hung up.
Whilst Byars was attempting to ask his question by telephone in the 70s, Brockman picked up the torch in 1997 (the year of Byars' death) through a more suitable medium - the internet. The Reality Club had just migrated to an online existence, and Brockman took advantage of the new environment to pose the first of what would become an annual series of questions.
Today, the questions posed collect responses spanning tens of thousands of words from over a hundred digerati, ranging from mathematicians to cyberpunk authors through biologists, inventors, psychologists, cosmologists... and prompting countless others to ponder the issues themselves. The responses range from in-depth examinations of the cutting-edge of research to reflections on the age-old questions of religion, science and art, and act as a intellectual barometer of where current thinking lies. Accessible, readable in small chunks, often funny, and always engaging, the world questions provide a great discussion point every January. The archives on Edge also link to the considerable media attention the project generates, and the full text of each response, enough to fill books each year (I've given stats below).
1998- "What questions are you asking yourself?" Byars' original question
1999- "What is the most important invention in the past two thousand years?" ... and, "why?" 41 thousand words.
2000- "What is today's most important unreported story?" 71 thousand words!
2001- "What questions have disappeared?" 34 thousand words.
October 2001- "What Now?" Additional question immediately after the events of September 11
2002- "What's your question?" 60 thousand words.
2003- "What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?" — GWB Here, respondants were asked to give their answers as if the president had appointed them as his new scientific advisor. 62 thousands words.
2004- "What's your law?" Actually, two laws were requested- and they had to link to the respondant's field of expertise. 164 answers- and these tend to be much shorter!
2005- "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" 60 thousand words.
2006- "What is your dangerous idea?" 72,500 words.
2007- "What are you optimistic about? Why?" 110,000 words.
2008- "What have you changed your mind about? Why?" 111,000 words.
2008- "What will change everything?" 107,000 words.
Once you've thought about these yourself for a bit, the 'official' responses can be found online at http://www.edge.org/questioncenter.html