IBM’s Deep Blue was a chess-playing computer that achieved remarkable success in 1997 when it defeated the world champion Gary Kasparov in 19 moves. Kasparov had never lost a match to a human in under 20 moves. He managed to beat Deep Blue in the next games but was again defeated the following year after Deep Blue received an upgrade—and the unofficial nickname “Deeper Blue”. This was a landmark moment in artificial intelligence, but at no point was the genius chess machine deemed worthy of “rights”. Although theoretically able to visualize 200 million chess positions per second, Deep Blue had limited general abilities and could not work on other tasks beyond what it was programmed to do—such as playing chess, in this case.
Mankind’s dependence on space-based services has grown exponentially in the last few decades. As early as 1994, the UN noted that “space has become an important factor in the social and economic well-being and development of many States”. Today, a growing number of experts argue that sustaining modern life in an increasingly interconnected world will not be possible without ensuring the sustainable use of outer space. From instant communication and the use of global positioning systems, to weather forecasting and environmental monitoring, space technologies bring us irreplaceable and far-reaching benefits, which must be protected responsibly.
Why do certain ideas and political paradigms endure while others become obsolete or are rejected?
This question has preoccupied political and philosophical scholarship for millennia. This article puts forward four conditions for the survivability of ideas. It argues that modern tools for understanding human nature, such as those offered by neuroscience, provide us with unprecedented insights about human predilections and needs. Based on these findings, we can better conceptualize why some ideas thrive while others do not and their possible implications to international relations. The human need for dignity is central to this explanation: no ideas can thrive if they do not guarantee and safeguard human dignity.
In 1859, Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection in On the Origin of Species, and J.S. Mill explored the flourishing of ideas in On Liberty. In Darwinian natural selection, features that do not contribute to the function of the individual vanish over the course of generations, as bearers of such traits lack the reproductive fitness to pass those features on to their offspring. Mill applied a similar argument to ideas: good ideas would survive the rigors of critical debate, but there were no means of discovering which ideas would endure apart from testing them. In my attempt to continue this debate, I turn to neuroscience. Advances in neuroscience and brain-imaging inform us about underlying predilections in our nature, which indicate that we will be more likely to choose and validate certain ideas over others. My task here is to unpack this premise and to do so by looking at four prerequisites for the selection of ideas.
In 1812 Napoleon Bonaparte, at the heights of his power, set out for the most adventurous, and ultimately fatal, military campaign. Napoleon’s Grand Army of over 500,000 men, the largest force ever mobilized to that date, was led to the lands of Russia. Historians have long investigated the misjudgements of this campaign and the question of hubris emerges as an underlying factor for Napoleon’s vehemence to pursue a disastrous campaign. Hubris is exaggerated pride, often combined with arrogance. Excessive confidence and reassurance, inspired from his established conquests and grandiosity, further inflated by narcissism, led Napoleon to conduct a military campaign that could be allegedly classified as irrational because it took place against the backdrop of a series of warnings and unfavorable forecasts from his lieutenants. The motivations for setting to conquer Czar Alexander’s Russia were less driven by the geopolitical necessity of defeating a rival power as by the impetus “to satisfy a hubris-infected personality” and an insatiable “hunger (…) for applause from others”.
In October 2005, two North African teenagers died of electrocution in one of the banlieues of Paris as they were running from the police through a dangerous power substation. An inquiry later established the teens were innocent, and the incident sparked some of the worst unrest seen in France over the past 40 years. The riots brought about much debate over the tense relationship between immigrant youth and the state, the recurring problems of “fracture sociale,” and a perceived lack of social justice. Above all, the protests were an expression of acute feelings of alienation experienced by a large section of society. The banlieues have been a breeding ground for deep frustration, maintaining a distinctly poor and marginalized status for decades. Unemployment is common and 36% of the banlieu residents are estimated to live below the poverty line—three times the national average.