Although most of the communities present in the “intellectual communities” section belong in the “art” domain, many of them are related to general intellectual issues, ranging from philosophical debates and scientific issues to social networks of bibliophiles. Our aim is to present, with your help, sites that promote scientific and rational thought and, through public dialogue, re-interprets and expands the boundaries of human thought, understanding, logic, technology, metaphysics and their multitude of applications and practices. Furthermore, knowing that the majority of our visitors come from the world of art, the art communities included here, vigorously promote the elements of participation, communication and dialogue.
Hacker News is not the typical community for a site like metamatic:taf; this because at first glance it is a community for computer maniacs. It was created in 2007 by Paul Graham to support his Internet startup investment fund and the initial aim was to become a place where people interested in computer science could get together and discuss technology related matters. Still, in the years that followed it became a worldwide community analyzing a plethora of matters ranging from technology to science to social issues.
The web site’s functions are pretty simple and this is what makes it very user-friendly: Users can create a simple profile and after that post links for articles they find in various places on the web; following that, the community members comment on the articles on Hacker News and vote for the opinions they find interesting. Every member has a public profile which shows the posts they have made as well as an average of how interesting their opinions are for the rest of the members.
Eliezer Yudkowsky is an American writer dealing in subjects such as artificial intelligence and singularity. In 2009 he created LessWrong as a web site that would promote ideas related to rationalism; the site is designed as a blog where articles are presented in chronological order and the members of the community contribute by offering their commentary. Besides the web site itself, the LessWrong project also includes real life meetings of its members in various places around the world as well as an unconventional forum where members discuss things and vote for subjects they consider interesting.
The best way to explore LessWrong’s contents is through the section labeled “Sequences”; this functions as an index table presenting in a condensed form various posts classified by subject and for every subject of this section there are tens of articles with hundreds of comments each. In subjects such as quantum physics, one of the most attractive to those interested in science, the articles are classified according to knowledge level (some of the areas covered ask for specific background) while there are also suggestions for articles with similar content from other categories.
Can computer generated digital creations be considered “art”? Hardcore art fans would probably answer in the negative but even a cursory glance at some works would be enough to leave us speechless. As computers evolve, techniques such as photorealism that up until a few years back would have been considered anything from impossible to incomplete are today commonplace resulting in computer generated creations being equal to classical painting. DevianART is the biggest digital art community on the Internet with more than 22 million members, more than 45 million visitors each month and 100 million works; also with time it has broadened its scope to include other fields like painting, photography, literature etc.
The web site has all the characteristics of a social network with members being able to upload their creations, to comment on other people’s creations, to vote for works they find interesting and to have discussions in fora or chats. The art works are classified in 20 basic categories with each one of them having several subcategories; this in an effort to organize the unbelievable wealth of creations that has been amassed in the twelve years the site has been online. Also worth noting is that many of the art works are available for sale in various dimensions.
Big think was created in 2007 as a public space of dialogue between the public and some top thinkers from various science and letters fields. It is also known as the “YouTube of ideas” because videos are the main medium through which the views which are the starting point for the dialogue are presented. Among big think’s backers is Peter Thiel, one of the founders of the famous Internet payments system PayPal and one of the primary investors of Facebook.
The web site’s basic function is pretty simple. One of the intellectuals sets a subject for discourse through a brief presentation which is presented both by text and video and after that, the public contributes to the dialogue expressing their views through the comments’ section while visitors evaluate the various opinions by vote. Although the way the system works reminds of the way blogs function what makes big think different is the quality of the commentary and the broad spectrum of the subject discussed; subjects that include the arts, the environment, business, politics, history, mass media, the Internet, science, technology, medicine etc.
Sputnik Observatory is an educational, nonprofit organization focusing on studies of contemporary culture; its aim is to record, archive and promote ideas that formulate contemporary thought. Its creator is Jonathan Harris one of the most successful web designers who has won three Webbys, probably the Internet’s most prestigious awards and the ideas examined come from a broad range of subjects such as quantum physics, neuroscience, biology, economics, architecture, digital art, music etc. while the discussions hosted on the web site include some of the most important thinkers of our age; thinkers such as Freeman Dyson, Will Wright, Lynn Margulis or Vint Cerf .
Hosted on the Sputnik Observatory are more than 500 discussions freely available as videos; visitors can browse them using criteria such as their subject. After the visitors create their profile they can comment on the videos and store their favorites –although the site boasts an impressive volume of content, audience participation is scarce something which might be attributed to the small length of the videos.
Although we tend to avoid including blogs in the web sites we suggest, Overcoming bias certainly bears an exception since it is one of the best examples of critical thought and fertile dialogue. Although the concept of blogging is undoubtedly related to the idea of commenting on others, it is very rare to see these comments actually contributing to a creative discourse; this is the reason it is worth promoting the few times this actually happens! The founders of the blog are Robin Hanson and Eliezer Yudkowsky, the latter being also founder of lesswrong we have also presented elsewhere which was created to cover the need for discussions dealing with logical issues.
The web site’s functionality is quite simple: for every article the founder posts there is commentary by the community which can also vote for the articles it considers more interesting. Most comments are brief while once a month open discourses are organized with no specific agendas and with the members being able to express their opinions in a lengthier manner. Overcoming bias’s range of subjects is quite broad covering almost everything from religion to politics to future studies and economics and also available is an excellent archive with articles classified by year, votes or subject.
When one lives in a country where public discourse is next to inexistent while at the same time society uses this term to describe various clowns shouting at each other in front of a television camera, it is important to occasionally see how this model has been implemented in truly developed societies. IQ2 is an organization staging public discussions based on the Oxford-Style Debates. The initiative was first tried in London in 2002 and since then it has spread in various cities, among which and much to our surprise was Athens, with some of our era’s top thinkers from various disciplines (sciences, politics, arts, journalism etc.) participating.
In the web site, visitors can find an archive with all discourses having been organized in the past; for each one there are videos with the participant’s positions (these videos are usually hosted on YouTube). In the American version of this initiative, more material for each discourse is available, material including resumes of the participants, articles and studies for every subject, photographs from the events as well as the public voting results; by voting, the viewers issue their final verdict for each debate.
How will life on planet Earth be after 100 years? Or after 1000 years –or more? How will the universe develop after 1,000,000 years? What will the technological advancements be in the next decades or the next centuries? How about their social repercussions? Future Timeline attempts to provide visitors with answers to these questions; as its name suggests it aims to predict future developments based on scientific data and analyses that have been offered by the scientific community but also on suggestions by various institutions that deal with future planning of different areas such as building infrastructures, transportation, healthcare etc.
A difference between Future Timeline and other future studies web sites is that its content is not only categorized according to subject but also according to chronology; for the 21st century predictions until 2039 are yearly and after that on a decade basis while for the centuries to follow they are on a fifty-year basis. For many predictions visitors can find links to articles presenting detailed accounts for each, while also available is an exceptionally good forum with thousands of publications and discussions pertaining to the web site’s topics.
According to laws of reason, could an omniscient and omnipotent god really exist? Why is it ethically right to eat beef or pork but not our pets? Why slavery existed? Is computer science really a science in the classical sense? If there is a god why does he allow for people with mental disabilities to be born? What does it mean that God transcends time? The community of AskPhilosophers attempts to provide answers to these questions, as well as to similar others; according to the web site’s manifesto, in our age exists a paradox about philosophy: although people come across philosophical dilemmas every day, very few of them actually study philosophy in depth.
The visitor does not need to become a member of AskPhilosophers to submit a question; there is a form where they can describe their question as well as a list with guidelines about how to better express themselves and after that, the questions get answered by a team of special panelists (for each panelist there is a brief resume as well as a tag cloud with the questions for which they have provided answers).
ArtWEEN is a social network about art for both private users and institutions that started operating in 2008. Every member is able to create personal networks with other members or groups and have discussions with them; when creating a profile members state which genre of art they are mostly interested in (modern art, renaissance, contemporary art, photography etc.)
Besides artists, on the web site there are also profiles of galleries that include exhibitions they hold or have held in the past, of other cultural institutions such as museums, of art students and of individuals who are just interested in art. Although the site’s design appears amateurish, the community behind it is considerably large containing more than 10,000 members and more than 70,000 works of art with new members and artworks been added on a daily basis; besides the above, a section with classified ads for artwork sales or collaboration requests is also available.