The answers from 108 "top intellectuals" range from brilliant to bizarre. It's a good read if you are lying in the garden wiggling your toes. If you don't have time for that, let me highlight some of the more interesting contributions.
To begin with I want to mention the usual suspects from physics who promote their pet ideas:
- There is Leonard Susskind whose dangerous idea is the anthropic principle, and that we are living in a vast multiverse of possible environments most of which are uninhabitable for life. Which he finds dangerous because it threatens "physicists' fondest hope - the hope that some extraordinarily beautiful mathematical principle will be discovered that would completely and uniquely explain every detail of the laws of particle physics" .
- Brian Greene finds it dangerous that people might take Susskind seriously "The danger, if the multiverse idea takes root, is that researchers may too quickly give up the search for [...] underlying explanations."
- Lee Smolin features the idea that the universal laws of nature have evolved by natural selection. I fail to see what's dangerous about that, but like the question he raises "What about the fact that laws of physics are expressed in mathematics, which is usually thought of as encoding eternal truths?" Consider what would happen if your bank starts claiming the laws of maths have just changed! Sounds like a dangerous idea to me.
- And Carlo Rovelli finds it dangerous that we might understand General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics.
Besides this one finds a whole number of sociological problems pointed out that grow increasingly important with technological progress, e.g.
- Philip Campbell mentions that public engagement in science and technology can seriously go wrong because "those half-baked [perceptions and discussions] carry influence on the Internet and in the media"
- Geoffry Miller extrapolates 'Runaway consumerism' in an excellently written piece, and explains that we haven't made contact with aliens because they've all gotten addicted to computer games. More seriously, he argues that progress in part of our civilizations turns more and more from real to virtual life. Neglecting reality, so his prediction, will be the doom of these civilizations which will be outlived by societies of 'practical minded breeders'.
- Marco Iacoboni writes about imitative violence. Research in neuroscience has shown that watching other people's actions is 'mirrored' in our brains. What then does all this violence shown in the media to us? It activates a mirror system that was probably meant for us to learn through watching...
- And Freeman Dyson warns us of the domestication of biotechnology with "cheap and user-friendly do-it-yourself kits for gardeners to design their own roses and orchids and for animal breeders to design their own lizards and snakes - a new art form as creative as painting or cinema".
Now lets go to the more bizarre pieces:
I'd like to mention Denis Dutton's contribution "A Grand Narrative", because I wasn't able to find out what he tried to say. Rupert Sheldrake thinks it is dangerous that we don't know "how green turtles find Ascension Island from thousands of miles away to lay their eggs." My award for the most bizarre essay goes to Rudy Rucker who speculates that "the mind is some substance that accumulates near ordinary matter - dark matter or dark energy are good candidates." I am looking forward to seeing the equation of state for mind-condensation.
The most embarrassing essay is Matt Ridley's promotion of neo-liberalism who proclaims that 'no society has grown poorer and more unequal through trade, exchange, and invention' and that the way to choose is as little government as possible because 'this is the process that has given us health, wealth, and wisdom on a scale unimagined by our ancestors'. One is tempted to ask, exactly who is 'us'?
Luckily, Ridley's writing is balanced by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's contribution who correctly points out that it is dangerous to believe that the free market is 'the ultimate arbiter of political decisions, and that there is an "invisible hand" that will direct us to the most desirable future [...]. This mystical faith is based on reasonable empirical foundations, but when it is embraced as a final solution to the ills of humankind, it risks destroying both the material resources and the cultural achievements our species has so painstakingly developed.'
Further, there are several self-referral answers which find it dangerous that an idea can be dangerous, or find it dangerous to promote dangerous ideas (i.e. by writing a book about them?). Randolph Nesse redirects the question to 'unspeakable ideas', which according to his definition are 'ideas that are dangerous to anyone who expresses them'. As an example he suggests an idea that 'offers dramatic data - you could respond to your spouse's difficulties at work by saying, "If they are complaining about you not doing enough, it is probably because you just aren't doing your fair share." In the earlier days, this was called honesty. I find it a dangerous development that saying the truth could be perceived as an 'unspeakable idea'.
And what is your dangerous idea...?