In 1814, the scientist Pierre-Simon Laplace came up with a thought experiment: Could “an intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion,” be able to know all things, past, present, and future? He concluded in the affirmative, and what became known as Laplace’s “demon” served as a popular illustration of scientific determinism: Given Newton’s laws of motion, knowledge of the future was limited only by a lack of information.
To anyone paying attention to the news these days, Laplace’s “demon” might sound like an early intimation of the modern-day surveillance state. Today, the Target chain can determine with near-precision whether a customer is pregnant by how much unscented lotion she purchases; Facebook has a good idea of not only when you’re about to date someone but also when you’re about to break up—and even how likely the breakup is in the first place. The digital demon may not know all things, but it probably knows too much for your comfort.
Focusing on the theme of “Too Much Information,” the spring issue of The Hedgehog Review devotes five essays to a close examination of the unprecedented and ever-increasing availability, use, and abuse of information relating to our public and private lives. Some of this information we disclose intentionally, some we do not, but all of it can be used, in the words of THR editor Jay Tolson, to “shape ourselves and our culture in ways that are less than benign.”
As always, we release online and in full selected content from various parts of the issue:
- "On the Need for Erasure," Wilfred M. McClay
- "The Beginnings of the End of Privacy," Sarah E. Igo
- "The Algorithmic Self," Frank Pasquale
- "Why We Confess: From Augustine to Oprah," Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig
- "Putin, Ukraine, and the Question of Realism," John M. Owen IV and William Inboden
- "Birth of the Foodie," Leann Davis Alspaugh
- "Twilight of an Idol," Chad Wellmon
- "Problematic," Matthew Schmitz
Wonder what else you'll find if you subscribe? Among other things: Ned O'Gorman on the rise of a politics without politics in modern public life, Adam Adatto Sandel on the prejudice against prejudice, Siva Vaidhyanathan on the rise of the Cryptopticon, and Eugene McCarraher on an "impressive if not entirely convincing" case for narcissism.
Subscribe today and let the online content tide you over until your copy arrives in the mail.