:I have been variously described as a "cultural impresario" and an "intellectual enzyme" (Steward Brand), both of which were meant as compliments. At another intellectual outpost on the Web, Arts & Letters Daily, the late Denis Dutton, the founding editor, wrote that I was "the greatest intellectual impresario in publishing in the world. In fact, there is not even any magazine editor who can compare with him in the current generation."
But I prefer what the poet Wallace Stevens wrote in "Man With the Blue Guitar.
Throw away the lights, the definitions,
And say of what you see in the dark
That it is this or that it is that,
But do not use the rotted names.
I avoid "the rotted names" and I leave the "this or that" to others. If I attempted to describe myself, it would end in awkwardness, confusion, and contradiction. (Actually, not a bad result). Also, I like to keep changing the subject, mainly to entertain and to surprise myself.
It terms of background, let's go back to 1944. At 3 1/2 years old, I was stricken with spinal meningitis and was in a coma for six weeks at Boston Children's Hospital. The doctor's had given up on me when, unexpectedly, I opened my eyes. I am told the first thing I said was "I want to go to New York".
I arrived there at age 20 in 1961 as a graduate student at Columbia University. I was struck immediately by, and impressed with, the argumentative and exciting culture in which conversations were being carried out month after month in the pages of literary magazines such as Commentary, Partisan Review, and the UK's Encounter. For the price of a dollar or two I was privileged to look over the shoulders of the intelligentsia of the day—Lionel Trilling, Stephen Spender, Hannah Arendt, Alfred Kazin—as they went at each other over important issues such as the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and/or more trivial pursuits as to who slept with whom on a particular Bloomsbury weekend, or who was still a Stalinist following the purge trials of 1937.
It's interesting to note that while I was ostensibly at Columbia to study economics and finance at the Graduate School of Business, my interests and instincts were strictly cultural and I made the most of the resources of a great university and New York City to educate myself in the areas that interested me and also to situate myself in the milieu where the action was taking place.
In 1964, after graduating Columbia (and serving a tour of duty the US Army), I arrived back in New York for good, intent on a career in the arts. But, within months, I was on Park Avenue, in an office, starting my own financial leasing company. I was also becoming very interested in the work of Marshall McLuhan and his close colleague the Eskimo anthropologist Edmund "Ted" Carpenter.
I quickly realized, but did not articulate, something the anthropologist Gregory Bateson told me ten years later, that of all our human inventions economic man was by far the dullest. A friend suggested I come downtown at night and help out at Theatre Genesis, an off-off-broadway theatre at St. Mark's on the Bowery, the avant-garde church that also was the home to a bustling poetry center.
New and exciting ideas and forms of expression were in the air. They came out of happenings, the dance world, underground movies, avant-garde theater. They came from artists engaged in experiment. Intermedia consisted more often than not of nonscripted, sometimes spontaneous, theatrical events by artists in which the audience was also a participant.
So every night I would show up in my three-piece banker's suite and help set up the theatre. The two other young guys working with me were the 21-year old Sam Shepard, a young playwright from the midwest, and his roommate Charlie Mingus, Jr.
One of the most exciting things happening around 1964 was the underground movie scene, which essentially was film made by artists. I approached Reverend Allen, pastor of St. Mark's, and convinced him that St. Marks needed a film program and that I should run it. The first program launched, and more than five hundred people showed up. It was a wild success.
This led to an offer to become the manager of the Film-Makers' Cinematheque, the home for underground cinema in 1965, where my mandate was to produce a festival that expanded the form of cinema. I commissioned thirty performance pieces by world class artists, dancers, poets, dramatists, and musicians. They were free to do anything they wanted, the only stipulation being that their piece incorporate cinema.
The result was the Expanded Cinema Festival, and it received major media attention. Within a year there were two Life Magazine covers and a New York Times Magazine cover on derivative works. Intermedia, the word I had coined and used as my logo, was hot.
A number of legendary art world figures became interested in the genre. Some of the people I worked with during that period included visual artists Les Levine, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Robert Whitman; kinetic artists Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik; happenings artists Allan Kaprow and Carolee Schneemann; dancer Tricia Brown; filmmakers Jack Smith, Stan Vanderbeek, Ed Emshwiller, and the Kuchar brothers; avant-garde dramatist Ken Dewey; poet Gerd Stern and the USCO group; musicians Lamonte Young and Terry Riley; and through Warhol, the music group, The Velvet Underground.
One of the artists I got to know during the Festival was the poet Gerd Stern, who had, on occasion, collaborated with Marshall McLuhan, incorporating live McLuhan lectures into USCO intermedia performances. Gerd, with his unkempt hair and abundant beard, was an odd counterpoint to the buttoned-down classics professor from Toronto, but they got along famously. Through Gerd and other artists, McLuhan's ideas had begun to permeate the art world, though it would be several more years before they hit the mainstream.
Gerd introduced me to anthropologist Edmund Carpenter, McLuhan's collaborator, who in turn invited me to Fordham University in 1967 to meet McLuhan, Father John Culkin, and other members of that charmed circle of communications theorists. The discussion centered on the idea that we had gone beyond Freud's invention of the unconscious, and, for the first time, had rendered visible the conscious.
McLuhan turned me on to The Mathematical Theory of Communication by Bell Labs scientist Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver, which began: "The word communication will be used here in a very broad sense to include all of the procedures by which one mind may affect another. This, of course, involves not only written and oral speech, but also music, the pictorial arts, the theater, the ballet, and in fact all human behavior."
He also pointed me to a book of Oxford Zoologist J.Z. Young's BBC Reith Lectures in 1951 entitled Doubt and Certainty in Science. One memorable line has stuck with me and informed my thinking since that day: "We create tools, and mold ourselves through our use of them."
The composer John Cage had also picked up on this set of ideas. He convened weekly dinners during which he tried them out on a group of young artists, poets, and writers. I was fortunate to have been included at these dinners where we talked about media, communications, art, music, philosophy, the ideas of McLuhan and Norbert Wiener.
McLuhan had pointed out that by inventing electric technology, we had externalized our central nervous systems; that is, our minds. Cage went further to say that we now had to presume that "there's only one mind, the one we all share." Cage pointed out that we had to go beyond private and personal mind-sets and understand how radically things had changed. Mind had become socialized. "We can't change our minds without changing the world," he said. Mind as a man-made extension became our environment, which he characterized as "the collective consciousness," which we could tap into by creating "a global utilities network."
Back in 1964 and 1965, he was, in some ways, envisioning the patternicity of what would become the Internet, long before the tools became available for its implementation.
Inspired also by architect-designer Buckminster Fuller, his colleague the futurist John McHale, and cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall, I began to read avidly in the field of information theory, cybernetics, and systems theory.
During this period I also seized on the opportunity to become the first "McLuhanesque" consultant and producer, and soon had a thriving business working with clients that included General Electric, Metromedia, Columbia Pictures, Scott Paper. I was also hired by President Nixon as a consultant to the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (the generals and admirals heading the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy).
One moment during those years stands out. During one evening at dinner, Cage reached across the table and handed me a copy of Cybernetics, by Norbert Wiener. Several years later, around 1967, I spent two days with Stewart Brand while he was assembling the first edition of The Whole Earth Catalog.
We sat and read the book together, underlining as we went along. Central to our interest was the notion of "feedback", the non-linear relationship of input to input. It was apparent the ideas in cybernetic theory were far more important than the applications for which the mathematical descriptions were designed.
Stewart Band I have been in touch regularly since then, a 50-year connection. Around that time a group of Wiener's colleagues at MIT and Harvard asked me to organize meetings between scientists and artists. I became the East Coast link between the arts and the sciences. Stewart, in California, founded The Whole Earth Catalog, a catalog of alternative products and innovative technologies, and coined the phrase "personal computer". Steve Jobs later described his Catalog as a "precursor to the World Wide Web".
I wrote a synthesis of these ideas in my first book, By the Late John Brockman (1969), taking information theory—the mathematical theory of communications—as a model for regarding all human experience. A main theme that has continued to inform my work over the years:
new technologies = new perceptions.
What are you most proud of?
In 2000, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published Frank Schirrmacher's manifesto "Wake-Up Call for Europe Tech", in which he wrote:
Over the next few months, to ensure we are informed slightly in advance, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung will be running a series of articles by the theoreticians of what John Brockman has dubbed the 'third culture.' Europe should be more than just a source for the software of ego crisis, loss of identity, despair, and Western melancholy. We should be helping write the code for tomorrow."
Schirrmacher, publisher of the newspaper, was considered to be "the culture czar" of Germany, and his manifesto, a call to arms, was the beginning of a effort by FAZ to publish articles by, and about, Third Culture thinkers and their work. His goal: to change the culture of the newspaper and to begin a process of change in Germany and Europe.
This program, a departure for his newspaper, was widely covered in the German press and caused a stir in German intellectual circles. FAZ had, until his manifesto, played an important role in shaping German culture, and that had meant, until that moment, culture with a capital "C".
Schirrmacher's sudden death at age 52 of a heart attack, sent shock waves through German intellectual circles. A tragedy for global culture.
:The third culture consists of those scientists and other thinkers in the empirical world who, through their work and expository writing, are taking the place of the traditional intellectual in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.
In the past few years, the playing field of American intellectual life has shifted, and the traditional intellectual has become increasingly marginalized. A 1950s education in Freud, Marx, and modernism is not a sufficient qualification for a thinking person in the 21st Century. Indeed, the traditional intellectuals in the West, are, in a sense, increasingly reactionary, and quite often proudly (and perversely) ignorant of many of the truly significant intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture, which dismisses science, is often nonempirical. It uses its own jargon and washes its own laundry. It is chiefly characterized by comment on comments, the swelling spiral of commentary eventually reaching the point where the real world gets lost.
I am interested in thinkers whose aim is to accomplish the extraordinary. In order to do so, you must seek extraordinary people. In my 1991 essay, "The Emerging Third Culture, and the 1995 book, The Third Culture; Beyond the Scientific Revolution, I presented remarkable people and remarkable minds—scientists, artists, philosophers, technologists and entrepreneurs who are at the center of today's intellectual, technological, and scientific landscape. These are the people who representative of The Third Culture.
The emergence of the Third Culture introduces new modes of intellectual discourse. Throughout history, intellectual life has been marked by the fact that only a small number of people have done the serious thinking for everybody else. What we are witnessing is a passing of the torch from one group of thinkers, the traditional literary intellectuals, to a new group, the intellectuals of the emerging Third Culture.
It is a large enough umbrella to also include the "Digerati," the doers, thinkers, and writers, connected in ways they may not even appreciate, who have tremendous influence on the emerging communication revolution surrounding the growth of the Internet and the Web.
The wide appeal of the third-culture thinkers is not due solely to their writing ability; what traditionally has been called "science" has today become "public culture." Stewart Brand writes that "Science is the only news. When you scan through a newspaper or magazine, all the human interest stuff is the same old he-said-she-said, the politics and economics the same sorry cyclic dramas, the fashions a pathetic illusion of newness, and even the technology is predictable if you know the science. Human nature doesn't change much; science does, and the change accrues, altering the world irreversibly." We now live in a world in which the rate of change is the biggest change. Science has thus become a big story.
Scientific topics receiving prominent play in newspapers and magazines over the past several years include molecular biology, artificial intelligence, artificial life, chaos theory, massive parallelism, neural nets, the inflationary universe, fractals, complex adaptive systems, superstrings, biodiversity, nanotechnology, the human genome, expert systems, punctuated equilibrium, cellular automata, fuzzy logic, space biospheres, the Gaia hypothesis, virtual reality, cyberspace, and teraflop machines. Among others. There is no canon or accredited list of acceptable ideas. The strength of the third culture is precisely that it can tolerate disagreements about which ideas are to be taken seriously. Unlike previous intellectual pursuits, the achievements of the third culture are not the marginal disputes of a quarrelsome mandarin class: they will affect the lives of everybody on the planet.
The emergence of this activity is evidence of a great intellectual hunger, a desire for the new and important ideas that drive our times. Educated people are willing to make the effort to learn about these new ideas. Book review editors, television news executives, professionals, university administrators are discovering the empirical world on their own.
Edge is a living document on the Web that displays "The Third Culture" in action. The "content" of Edge is the group of people who connect in this way. Edge is a conversation, a Third Culture conversation.
:Just last week, 45 years after initial publication, my first book, By The Late John Brockman, has been republished in an e-book edition in the US, UK, and Germany (under the title, ). At the time of first publication, the book was quite influential in avant-garde circles. The Zen philosopher Alan Watts wrote that it was "the most important book since Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus."
Hans Ulrich Obrist, Curator of London's Serpentine Gallery, wrote in the Foreword:
By The Late John Brockman (1969), was introduced in 1968 as part of a six-evening avant-garde event at The Poetry Center at the 92nd St Y in New York. Preceding and following Brockman on the programme, respectively, were evenings by John Cage and Jorge Luis Borges. This was the era of The Living Theatre, of Antonin Artaud's "theatre of cruelty", and the management of the Poetry Center had trepidation about Brockman's event—and rightly so. His "reading", a performance piece, orchestrated in collaboration with Ken Dewey's Theatre X and artist group USCO, was an attack on the values of the Poetry Center itself. The evening turned into a riotous affair—enraged audience members stopped the show five times, closing the curtains, stealing the scripts, harassing the performers, turning off the lights.
By The Late John Brockman, his second book, 37 (1971), and a third book intended as volume three of the trilogy, were published together in a paperback in 1973 under the title Afterwords. They were a response to the idea of cybernetics. The first book looks at all human theory through the lens of information theory; the second examines Heisenberg's theory of indeterminacy, and the third investigates the limits of words as tools for understanding.
When Heinz von Foerster, an architect of cybernetics along with Warren McCulloch, Norbert Wiener, and John von Neumann, reviewed the trilogy in 1973, he commented:
Brockman takes the mystery of language and puts it right back into its own mystery; that is, he ex-plains the mystery of language by taking language out ('ex-') of the plane of its mystery, so as to become visible to all before it slips back into its plane. This in itself is a remarkable achievement that has been denied to almost all linguists, for they stick to the description of the plane without seeing that it is the plane that holds their descriptions … All who are concerned about the violence committed in the name of language will appreciate the useful uselessness of Brockman's un-book.*
In the first edition of By The Late John Brockman, it is not only the content that is highly experimental, but also its format and layout. Each page contains a single paragraph comprised partly of quotes from works by figures from Marshall McLuhan to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Samuel Beckett and ee cummings, that is disconnected from its predecessor. A front-page review in the San Francisco Review of Books, stated:
In short, sharp strokes of words, he breaks through the very forest of meaning by denying meaning, eschewing traditional forms of activities, thoughts and emotions. It is not what he says that is so valuable; it is his whole manner of negating what can be said. His words backtrack on themselves, stalk their own meanings, and thrash about in the underbrush of our sensibilities. There is a total devastation of language, isolating and withering the very hands our dreams are made of. *
I am pleased and somewhat astonished that, 45 years later, during the first week of it's publication, the new edition of By The Late John Brockman was #1 on Amazon's Bestseller list in Aesthetics, ahead of the #2 book, by Aristotle.
In recent years I have served as editor of a book published annually related to the annual Edge Question. The Question and responses are published online at edge.org every January. Then, about fourteen months later, a book based on the online event is published in English and also translated into many languages.
Here are a few of the Questions:
• What scientific idea is ready for retirement?
• What should we be worried about?
• What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?
• What scientific concept would improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?
• How is the Internet changing the way you think?
• What will change everything?
• What have you changed your mind about? Why?
• What are you optimistic about? Why?
• What is your dangerous idea?
• What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"
I am always and ever optimistic. Why? It has something to do with the double optimism of science.
The first optimism of the science-based thinkers is conceptual: the more science they do, the more there is to do. Scientists are constantly acquiring and processing new information. This is the reality of Moore's Law—just as there has been a doubling of computer processing power every eighteen months for the past twenty years, so too do scientists acquire information exponentially. They can't help but be optimistic.
The second level of optimism concerns the content of science. Much of the news is either good news or news that can be made good, thanks to ever deepening knowledge and ever more efficient and powerful tools and techniques. Because the findings of science are not mere matters of opinion, they sweep past systems of thought based only on opinion. Science, on its frontiers, poses more and better questions, better put. They are questions phrased to elicit answers; the scientists find the answers, and move on.
Scientists debate continually, and reality is the check. They may have egos as large as those possessed by the iconic figures of the academic humanities, but they handle their hubris in a very different way. They can be moved by arguments, because they work in an empirical world of facts, a world based on reality. There are no fixed, unalterable positions.
Unlike the humanities academicians, who talk about each other, scientists talk about the universe. Moreover, conceptually there's not much difference between the style of thinking of a cosmologist trying to understand the physical world by studying the origins of atoms, stars, and galaxies and an evolutionary biologist trying to understand the emergence of complex systems from simple beginnings or trying to see patterns in nature. As exercises, these entail the same mixture of observation, theoretical modeling, computer simulation, and so on, as in most other scientific fields. The worlds of science are convergent. The frame of reference is shared across their disciplines.
:Edge was launched in 1996 as the online version of "The Reality Club," an informal gathering of intellectuals who met from 1981 to 1996 in Chinese restaurants, artist lofts, investment banking firms, ballrooms, museums, living rooms and elsewhere. Reality Club members presented their work with the understanding that they will be challenged. The hallmark of The Reality club was rigorous and sometimes impolite (but not ad hominem) discourse.
The motto of the Club was inspired by the late artist-philosopher James Lee Byars, who, in 1971, created "The World Question Center" which inspired the Edge motto:
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.
New technologies = new perceptions. Email, the Web, mobile devices, social media, today allow for a serious online implementation of Byars's vision.
Edge encourages people who can take the materials of the culture in the arts, literature, and science and put them together in their own way. We live in a mass-produced culture where many people, even many established cultural arbiters limit themselves to secondhand ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Edge consists of individuals who create their own reality and do not accept an ersatz, appropriated reality.
The Edge community consists of people who are out there doing it rather than talking about and analyzing the people who are doing it.
Edge bears resemblance to the early seventeenth-century Invisible College, a precursor to the Royal Society. Its members consisted of scientists such as Robert Boyle, John Wallis, and Robert Hooke. The Society's common theme was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation. Another inspiration is The Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal club of the leading cultural figures of the new industrial age — James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Priestley, and Benjamin Franklin. While different than the Algonquin Roundtable or Bloomsbury Group, Edge offers the same quality of intellectual adventure.
Through the years, Edge has had a simple criterion for choosing contributors. We look for people whose creative work has expanded our notion of who and what we are. A few are bestselling authors or are famous in the mass culture. Most are not. Rather, we encourage work on the cutting edge of the culture, and the investigation of ideas that have not been generally exposed. We are interested in "thinking smart"; we are not interested in received "wisdom". In communications theory information is not defined as data or input but rather as "a difference that makes a difference.'' It is this level we hope our contributors will achieve.
The ideas presented on Edge are speculative; they represent the frontiers of knowledge in the areas of evolutionary biology, genetics, computer science, neurophysiology, psychology, and physics. Some of the fundamental questions posed are: Where did the universe come from? Where did life come from? Where did the mind come from? Emerging out of the third culture is a new natural philosophy, founded on the realization of the import of complexity, of evolution. Very complex systems,, whether organisms, brains, the biosphere, or the universe itself, were not constructed by design; all have evolved.
There is a new set of metaphors to describe ourselves, our minds, the universe, and all of the things we know in it, and it is the intellectuals with these new ideas and images, those scientists and others doing things and writing their own books, who drive our times.
Most importantly, Edge is a conversation, unlike any other, in which the most important thinkers on the planet ask each other the questions they are asking themselves. It is available online and the public has an opportunity to follow the conversation as it unfolds. No charges, no ads, no cookies, no collection of any kind of personal or even impersonal information on our readers.
In the words of the novelist Ian McEwan, edge.org is "open-minded, free-ranging, intellectually playful… an unadorned pleasure in curiosity, a collective expression of wonder at the living and inanimate world… an ongoing and thrilling colloquium."
:Among our activities is the occasional "Master Class". The first was in 2007. Daniel Kahneman was the teacher and the subject was "Thinking About Thinking". The students? The founders and architects of the companies rewriting our global culture: Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Space X, Twitter, PayPal, Wikipedia, and Facebook. Why did Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Larry Page (Google), Sergey Brin (Google), Nathan Myhrvold (Microsoft), Sean Parker (Facebook), Elon Musk (Space X, Tesla), Evan Williams (Twitter), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), among others, travel to Napa that year, and again in 2008, to listen to Kaheneman?
Because all kinds of things are new.
Entirely new economic structures and pathways have come into existence in the past few years: new ideas in psychology, cognitive science, behavioral economics, law, medicine that take a new look at risk, decision-making, and other aspects of human judgment. And why Kahneman?
"Danny Kahneman is simply the most distinguished living psychologist in the world, bar none," writes Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert."Trying to say something smart about Danny's contributions to science is like trying to say something smart about water: It is everywhere, in everything, and a world without it would be a world unimaginably different than this one."
"It's not an exaggeration to say that Kahneman is one of the most influential psychologists in history and certainly the most important psychologist alive today," adds Harvard research psychologist Steven Pinker. "He has made seminal contributions over a wide range of fields including social psychology, cognitive science, reasoning and thinking, and behavioral economics, a field he and his partner Amos Tversky invented."
:I'm not in a position to talk about individuals I work with today, but I can talk about thinkers I encountered in the 1960s and 1970s who influenced the way I think today.
It's all covered in: "Einstein, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, and Frankenstein". The natural, physical world (Einstein), the world of art and poetry (Gertrude Stein), the limits of language (Wittgenstein), everything else (Frankenstein).
Others: the composer John Cage, cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall, media theorist Marshall McLuhan, video artist Nam June Paik, composer Lamonte Young; poet Wallace Stevens, artists Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol.
:Here is but one of many examples.
In the summer of 2007, Edge convened a meeting at my farm. The event took place at Eastover Farm in Bethlehem, CT and the topic was "Life: What a Concept!" It was described by Germany's largest national newspaper, in Süddeutsche Zeitung, as "one of those memorable events that people in years to come will see as a crucial moment in history. After all, it's where the dawning of the age of biology was officially announced."
Physicist Freeman Dyson envisioned a biotech future which supplants physics and notes that after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. He referred to an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer, a subject explored in his abovementioned essay.
Craig Venter, who decoded the human genome, surprised the world in late June of that year by announcing the results of his lab's work on genome transplantation methods that allows for the transformation of one type of bacteria into another, dictated by the transplanted chromosome. In other words, one species becomes another.
George Church, the pioneer of the Synthetic Biology revolution, saw of the cell as operating system, and engineers taking the place of traditional biologists in retooling stripped down components of cells (bio-bricks) in much the vein as in the late 70s when electrical engineers were working their way to the first personal computer by assembling circuit boards, hard drives, monitors, etc.
Jordan Mejias noted in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
"These are thoughts to make jaws drop...Nobody at Eastover Farm seemed afraid of a eugenic revival. What in German circles would have released violent controversies, here drifts by unopposed under mighty maple trees that gently whisper in the breeze."
Andrian Kreye wrote in Süddeutsche Zeitung :
"Soon genetic engineering will shape our daily life to the same extent that computers do today. This sounds like science fiction, but it is already reality in science. Thus genetic engineer George Church talks about the biological building blocks that he is able to synthetically manufacture. It is only a matter of time until we will be able to manufacture organisms that can self-reproduce, he claims. Most notably J. Craig Venter succeeded in introducing a copy of a DNA-based chromosome into a cell, which from then on was controlled by that strand of DNA."
:My advice to any teenager in the US: learn Chinese. My advice to those in their 20s: find a way to spend time working in China. In the 1960s, the nexus for the bright, young people, was Cambridge, Mass, NYC, Berkeley, and Paris. Today, the center of gravity has shifted on one hand to Silicon Valley, and on the other hand, to Shanghai and Beijing.
And that dichotomy speaks to the similarities and the differences that exist today between our cultures.