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Originally published Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 3:03 AM

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A long, erudite list of things to keep you up at night

The new essay collection “What Should We Be Worried About?” collects writings by thinkers, scientists, academics and others on what keeps them up at night, from our era’s short attention span to malevolent beings from outer space.


The Washington Post

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“What Should We Be Worried About? Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night”

edited by John Brockman

HarperPerennial, 499 pp., $15.99

Is it better to worry about what’s concrete and immediate or what’s nebulous and unclear? Is it better to worry about the things that hit home or the larger shifts in society? Or is it even worth it to worry at all?

Edge.org consulted an array of thinkers, scientists, academics and others, asking them what we should be worried about — or what they have stopped worrying about.

The answers have been gathered in “What Should We Be Worried About?,” a collection edited by Edge.org editor and founder John Brockman. The answers run the gamut from things we may see happening before our very eyes (Nicholas G. Carr, the author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” frets about how the immediacy offered by our gadgets will make us more impatient in our offline lives) to things we’ve seen brought to life in science fiction (Seth Shostak, an astronomer at the SETI Institute, touches on the worry some have that “malevolent extraterrestrial beings” will be drawn to Earth by transmissions sent to other star systems).

Other contributors focus on everyday, persistent scourges. Xeni Jardin, a journalist who has written about her treatment for cancer, writes that we should worry because we still have no cure, no better methods of treatment, and no clear sense of causes or prevention.

Some of the answers focus on how our modern world is changing society, including Carr’s concerns about impatience and psychologist Susan Blackmore’s worry that we’re losing “our role in this world” because we’ve outsourced so many of “our manual skills to machines.” Others, such as Timo Hannay, the managing director of Digital Science, step back and look at grand questions of existence.

And yet perhaps there’s no point to any of the worrying. Journalist Virginia Heffernan invokes FDR in writing that “we have nothing to worry about but worry itself. ” In that case, the greatest danger lies in going down the rabbit hole of concern.



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