Brain Pickings

TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder, Day Two

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Redefining life, understanding consciousness, and why technology is humanizing education.

This week, we’re reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. Earlier, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s speakers and kicked off with exclusive coverage of Day One yesterday. Today, we’re back — sleep-deprived and intellectually overstimulated in typical TED fashion — with highlights, photos and notable soundbites from Day Two. Hold your heart and brace your brain.

Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio: 'A conscious mind is a mind with a self in it.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The day’s first session, Deep Mystery, opened with one of our favorite brain-tinkerers, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, whose work on consciousness we’ve previously covered and whose new book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, is an absolute must-read. Damasio spoke of the three three levels of self — the proto self, the core self and the autobiographical self. While we share the first two with other species, the third, which deals with memory and weaves complex mental narratives, is uniquely human.

Antonio Damasio: 'Consciousness is how we know we exist.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Consciousness is what we regain when we awaken from deep sleep” ~ Antonio Damasio

Philosopher Damon Horowitz: 'I want to know about wrongness itself. The idea of wrong.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Everything around you is connected, and that’s the profound weirdness of quantum mechanics.” ~ Aaron O’Connell

Biochemist Felisa Wolfe-Simon, whose recent discovery of arsenic-utilizing bacteria that thrive in otherwise poisonous environments rewrote science textbooks in a profound way, reminded us of the importance of questioning our most fundamental understanding of life.

Astrochemist Felisa Woldfe-Simon is responsible for one of the most important discoveries in modern life science.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

If all life on Earth was made of the same pieces, how can we look for something different? I can only find what I know to look for. It’s really hard to look for something when you don’t know what it is.” ~ Felisa Wolfe-Simon

We’re fascinated by language, so MIT Media Lab’s Deb Roy blew us away with some astounding research on how children learn language, some of which is reflected in his Human Speechome Project and some in his fascinating observation of his baby son’s speech development, meticulously recording his development for three years. Listening to the evolution of the child’s pronunciation of the word “water.” Essentially, Roy made a 90,000-hour home video to explore the evolution of human speech.

As our world becomes increasingly instrumented and we gain the ability to connect the things people are saying with the context in which they’re saying it, new social structures are being revealed. And I think the implications for science and commerce will be significant.” ~ Deb Roy

Groundbreaking documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, of Supersize Me and 30 Days fame, took us behind the scenes of his new film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold — an irreverent investigation of the make-believe world of product placement. In fact, he auctioned off the naming rights to this very TED talk, which EMC eventually acquired for $7,000. (Spurlock subsequently handed the check to The Sapling Foundation, TED’s parent entity, and joked that it was to be put towards his 2012 attendance.)

Embrace fear, embrace risk. Today, more than ever, we need to embrace transparency.” ~ Morgan Spurlock

Documentarian-provocateur Morgan Spurlock

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

When you’re traing your employees to be risk averse, you’re training your whole company to be reward-challenged.” ~ Morgan Spurlock

TED’s Tom Rielly brought this year’s remarkable class of TED Fellows on stage — exceptional doers and world-changers working across everything from documentary film to education to tissue engineering — for a well-deserved ovation.

Tom Reilly introduces 2011's class of fellows and senior fellows.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Astro-historian David Christian made a passionate argument for teaching kids Big History — essential knowledge about the origin of the universe. His 2005 book, Maps of Time, is an aboslutely must-read

Bill Gates with David Christian: Collective knowledge -- the ability to record information and pass it beyond the lifespan of the individual -- is what makes us different.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We can share what we learn with such precision that it can outlast the individual and remain in our collective memory. That’s why we have a history. I call this ability ‘collective learning.’ It’s what makes us different.” ~ David Christian

Polio is like a root fire — it can explode again if you don’t snuff it out completely.” ~ Bruce Aylward

The Khan Academy may just be the most important phenomenon in grassroots open education of our time, so it was an absolute pleasure to see its founder, Salman Khan, take the TED stage.

Bill Gates with Salman Khan.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Here I was, an analyst at a hedge fund, and I was doing something of social value.” ~ Salman Khan

Khan Academy founder Salman Khan: 'By removing the one-size fits all lecture from the classroom, these teachers have used technology to humanize the classroom.'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Khan was introduced by Bill Gates, who curated the entire Knowledge Revolution session — a new guest curation experiment at TED. Last fall, Gates eloquently captured just why the Khan Academy is such a formidable force of social change:

Learn math the way you learn anything, the way you learn to ride a bicycle. Fall off that bicycle and get back on. We encourage you to fall, we encourage failure, but we do expect mastery.” ~ Salman Khan

The day’s final session opened with a surprise talk directly from TEDxCairo. Wael Ghonim — the widely credited with sparking the Egyptian revolution by building a Facebook page for Khaled Said, the businessman slain by police brutality —

No one was a hero because everyone was a hero.” ~ Wael Ghonim

Internet activist Wael Ghonim delivers a powerful surprise talk.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Everything was done by the people for the people, and that’s the power of the Internet.” ~ Wael Ghonim

Deep-sea explorer Edith Widder studies bioluminescent creatures.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Bioluminescence expert Edith Widder delivered a fantastic follow-up to her 2010 TED Talk on the fascinating glowing world of the world’s deepest waters.

There’s a language of light in the deep ocean and we’re just beginning to understand it.” ~ Edith Widder

The day wrapped up with street artist JR, the most recent $100,000 TEDPrize winner, who showcased some of his incredible work and echoed our own beliefs about remix culture, and revealed his ambitious new global collaborative art project.

TEDPrize winner JR in Session 7: Radical Collaboration.

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

It doesn’t matter today if it’s your photo or not. The importance is what you do with images.” ~ JR

Keep an eye on our live Twitter coverage and come back here tomorrow evening for highlights from Day Three.

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