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Immodest Ambitions

The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution

Edited by John Brockman

Simon & Schuster

413 pp.; $25

When scientists aspire to interpret reality for everybody and redefine "who and what we are," they invite hard questions.

John Brockman is a Manhattan literary agent who represents scientists who write books for the general public. The Third Culture is a collection of taped interviews with 23 scientists, many of whom are clients of Brockman's agency, about their own scientific theories, about what they think of one another, and above all about their common ambition to be recognized as the true intellectual leaders of modern culture.

Among those represented in this volume are biologists Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, George Williams, Brian Goodwin, Lynn Margulis, and Niles Eldredge. In consciousness studies there is the fabled Marvin Minsky, along with Roger Schank, Daniel Dennett, Nicholas Humphrey, and the mathematician Roger Penrose. In the much-hyped field of complexity, we find Murray Gell-Mann, Stuart Kauffman, Christopher Langton, J. Doyne Farmer, and Daniel Hillis. Then there are the cosmologists: Martin Rees, Alan Guth, Lee Smolin, and Paul Davies. Despite the absence of some superstars like Hawking, Crick, and Weinberg, this is a splendid lineup.

Brockman's title alludes to C. P. Snow's famous analysis of the gap between literary intellectuals and scientists. In the second edition of The Two Cultures, published in 1963, Snow included a new essay, more optimistic than his 1959 diagnosis, predicting the emergence of a "third culture" in which literary intellectuals and scientists would work together to transmit the insights of science to the general public. As Brockman observes, however, the "third culture" he has in mind differs noticeably from Snow's version. Brockman's authors intend to replace the literary intellectuals rather than cooperate with them. The opening sentence of this volume reads like an announcement of a hostile takeover: "The third culture ...

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