TED – My brain after day one

brain First let me start by saying if you want to read a detailed description of today’s events, please take a look at Ethan Zuckerman’s Blog and Bruno Giussani’s Blog. These two are the masters of real time blogging. They even wrote the book on conference blogging! At this site you’ll find my random thoughts regarding my first TED experience.

One question I had coming to TED is would it live up to my expectations. I’ve watched many of the TED Talks online, and read as much as I could about the conference. I was concerned that my expectations were just too high. Well I was wrong. The TED Talks are great, but wow, there is so much more to the conference experience – and I’m in Aspen, not even the main site. First the attendees are exceptional and I have met several inspirational people with their own fascinating stories to tell. Furthermore, TED isn’t just the published agenda of ~50 talks. There are about that same number of shorter presentations interspersed between the main talks. For example, Rives gave yet another stellar performance today. (Not to mention he walked up and shook my hand welcoming me to TED as I entered the main hall – very cool.) And finally, there is just the opportunity to share this wonderful experience with other attendees and discuss our reactions to the presentations. Here are a few things that I found most interesting today…

The start – from the blackness of the stage, the light is brought up on Michael Stuhlbarg who provides a moving interpretation of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

Louise Leakey – “men and women walk very slowly over vast areas in Africa looking for fossils”. After hearing about the painstaking work that is done to find, uncover, and identify these artifacts, I’m very grateful to her and other paleoanthropologists for reconstructing our heritage.

Wade Davis – his description of the Polynesian navigators was striking – sailors who can name 250 stars in the sky, who understand and describe several variations of the wave/swells of the sea, and who can discern the direction to a given island by the reflections, from miles away, of the waves hitting the island.

Chris Jordan – providing photographs that help translate enormous statistics regarding various social issues into images we can start to feel and relate to… 1 million plastic cups used in the airline industry every six hours – a photograph of one million plastic cups that looks like a series of intertwining tubes from a great distance; one out of every 4 incarcerated individuals are Americans for a total of 2.3 million people – a series of photographs of 2.3 million folded prison uniforms; 1100 Americans die each day from smoking; 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries per month – these surgeries are becoming a new trend in high school graduation gifts for women – arranging 32,000 Barbie dolls into floral patterns. As you zoom out, they resolve into a picture of breasts.. These are difficult statistics to wrap your mind around but Jordan has found ways to make these numbers more interpretable, and meaningful. You can see a video of a recent presentation by Chris Jordan on Pop Tech! here.

Roy Gould and Curtis Wong from Microsoft announcing and demonstrating the Worldwide Telescope. This free application takes the best photographs of our night sky/universe and weaves them together seamlessly. Using this free download you’ll be able to tour the universe your own, follow a tour previously saved by astronomy experts, or create and share your own tour of the universe. At one point I started thinking we might see an Amazon-like message… people who have visited the Andromeda galaxy have also visited these three other celestial objects. This talk is already available online here.

Patricia Burchart – a particle physicist, who did a wonderful job explaining explaining ordinary matter, dark matter, and dark energy. I learned and understood more physics in this presentation than my years in college.

Jill Bolte Taylor – a neuroanatomist, pictured here describing the structure of a real human brain was the highlight of my day. After explaining the general functions of the brain she then proceeded to describe in exquisite detail her own experience of having a stroke. She explained how she moved between a feeling of nirvana (right brain hemispere) and times of clarity (left brain hemisphere). How she spent 45 minutes moving between these states as she struggled to understand which business card was her own so she could call someone at work for help. How she could no longer interpret numbers and had to match the “squiggles” of the characters on the business card to the “squiggles” on the phone pad. “So who are we? We are the life horsepower of the universe, and we have the power to choose moment by moment who we want to be in the world, we can choose the consciousness of our right hemisphere or that of our left hemisphere. These are the “we” inside of me. Which would you choose? Which do you choose? And when? I believe the more time we spend choosing the peace of our right hemisphere, the more peace we will project into the world and the more peaceful our planet will be. I believe that’s an idea worth sharing.” Her passionate and moving story clearly touched many of us – please read Bruno Giussani’s Blog and Ethan Zuckerman’s Blog for more detail on this remarkable presentation. I’m sure I’ll be watching this presentation over and over again.

NOTE: eman’s views has now moved to emansviews.com. I hope you’ll stop by. 

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