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Posts Tagged ‘TED’

12 JULY, 2011

Highlights from TED Global 2011, The Stuff of Life: Day One

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What 86,000 neurons have to do with privacy, the Magna Carta, and the world’s fastest piano player.

After warming up with two sets of must-read books by this year’s speakers and a look at some amazing work by the TED Fellows, this year’s TED Global, titled The Stuff of Life, is officially underway. Gathered here are the essential highlights of Day One, in photos and soundbites.

TED Curator Chris Anderson and TED Europe director Bruno Giussani open the first session of TED Global 2011, 'Beginnings'

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

SESSION 1: BEGINNINGS

Biologist Lee Cronin opened the day with a compelling look at the chemical origins of life, questioning our most fundamental assumptions about what constitutes living matter with a scientific lens underpinned by philosophical inquiry.

Life is flame in a bottle.” ~ Lee Cronin

Chemist Lee Cronin

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Biology doesn’t care about the design unless it works.” ~ Lee Cronin

Author Annie Murphy Paul shared insights from her book, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives. Fetuses, she argued, are learning about sounds, tastes and smells while still in the womb, and the meals a pregnant woman consumes constitute a kind of story that imparts information the fetus uses to organize its body and its systems.

We’re learning about the world before we even enter it.” ~ Annie Murphy Paul

Author Annie Murphy Paul

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Global Voices co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Rebecca MacKinnon, co-founder of visionary citizen journalism portal Global Voices, explored private sovereignty in cyberspace, how digital laws can challenge or extend the sovereignty of nation-states, and what we can do to uphold sovereignty in a cultural context where most private CEOs focus on maximizing profit, not freedom.

What people can and cannot do with information has more effect than ever on the exercise of power in the physical world.” ~ Rebecca MacKinnon

MacKinnon drew on history, pointing to the Magna Carta — which recognized that even the king who claimed to have divine rule still had to abide by a basic set of rules, setting off a cycle of political innovation and eventually leading to “Consent of the governed” — and called for the need to build “Consent of the networked,” which would require innovation not only in politics and geopolitics, but also in business management, investment behavior, consumer choice and even software design.

Each and every one of us has a vital part to play in building a world in which government and technology serve the world’s people and not the other way around.” ~ Rebecca MacKinnon

Soprano Danielle de Niese

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Richard Wilkinson, author of The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, spoke about improving the qualities of human life by reducing income differences, pointing out that the most important determinant of healthy community life is the scale of income differences between us.

Richard Wilkinson

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.” ~ Richard Wilkinson

Political theorist Phillip Blond argued that, for the past 30 to 40 years, Western societies have run on extreme individualism, leading to social maladies like enormous disparity, a welfarist culture, and ultimate breakdown after which the state has to pick up the pieces.

The state has turned class into caste and the market has converted owners into serfs.” ~ Phillip Blond

Political theorist Phillip Blond

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Blond pointed to relationships as the real basis for society and asserted that the economic problem isn’t so much about income inequality as it is about asset inequality, which is far worse.

Assets are the great drive of modern inequality — who owns and who doesn’t own. The bottom half of the UK owns just 9% of the nation’s assets.” ~ Phillip Blond

SESSION 2: EVERYDAY REBELLIONS

Opening the second session, Everyday Rebellions, artist Hasan Elahi, who has been publicly tracking every detail of his life for the past several years after getting erroneously placed on the FBI’s watchlist and is the subject of the book Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do, spoke about privacy, arguing that the only way to protect our privacy in the digital age by taking full control of its transparency.

Artist Hasan Elahi

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We’re all creating an archive of our own lives, whether we’re aware of it or not.” ~ Hasan Elahi

Quilliam Foundation founder and anti-extremism activist Maajid Nawaz, a former 13-year Islamic extremist himself, spoke about the “age of behavior” — a period when trans-national ideas and narratives are affecting allegiances and behavior — and argued that the people who have capitalized the most on this age of behavior have been extremists, using globally networked tools to disseminate their ideology. He identified four elements of social movements — ideas, narratives symbols and leaders — and pointed to an ultimate ideal where people vote in an existing democracy, not for democracy, a model in which democracy isn’t merely one of many political choices.

Anti-extrimism activist Maajid Nawaz

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

In history, identity was defined by religion and race. Now, in the age of behavior, it’s defined by ideas and narratives” ~ Maajid Nawaz

Raspy angel Asaf Avidan

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Israeli indie folk-rock musician Asaf Avidan, an absolutely remarkable voice channeling Janis Joplin, Cat Stevens and something else entirely, delivered an utterly spellbiding performance alongside cellist Hadas Kleinman. Their debut album, The Reckoning, is one of the finest indie records to come by in years.

Filmmaker Julia Bacha, who has dedicated her life to documenting how Israeli and Palestinians are finding ways for peaceful conflict resolution and emergence of nonviolent movements in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere, argued passionately for giving nonviolent behavior enough attention and exposure to shift the normative models for conflict resolution.

What’s missing is not for Palestinians to start adopting nonviolence but for us to start paying attention to those who already are.” ~ Julia Bacha

She noted that the one important characteristic violent and nonviolent resistance have in common is that they are both a form of theater, seeking an audience for their cause.

Filmmaker Julia Bacha

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

I believe at the core of ending the conflict in the Middle East and bringing peace is for us to transform nonviolence into a functional behavior by giving a lot more attention to nonviolent leaders today.” ~ Julia Bacha

SESSION 3: CODED PATTERNS

Physicist Geoffrey West, whose work on “turning the city into an equation” was profiled in The New York Times last winter, explored the economies of scale as they apply to cities and innovation, arguing that unbounded growth requites accelerating cycles of innovation to avoid collapse, but with the catch that it also necessitates a faster and faster pace of innovation.

Every week from now until 2050 more than a million people are being added to our cities.” ~ Geoffrey West

Urban physicist Geoffrey West

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We are the city — it’s our interactions and the clustering of our interactions.” ~ Geoffrey West

Architect Shohei Shigematsu examined the box as a building block of architectural innovation.

Architect Shohei Shigematsu

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

In order to make an iconic place, shape doesn’t really matter.” ~ Shohei Shigematsu

Kevin Slavin explored how algorithms are shaping our understanding of markets, behaviors and the world at large, calling for rethinking the role of math in life and society. He noted that there are 2,000 physicists working on Wall Street, many working on “black box trading”, which, as Slavin facetiously pointed out, makes up “70% of the algorithm formerly known as your pension.”

Algoworld expert Kevin Slavin

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

We would have to understand algorithms as nature — and, in a way, they are.” ~ Kevin Slavin

Neuroscientist Allan Jones exposed the processes and practices of his lab, which has devised a way to glean 50 million data points from any given human brain. But despite advances in neuroscience, Jones noted, the brain, with its 86 million neurons whose distribution determine its function, remains largely a mystery.

Brain scientist Allan Jones

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

The brain is truly an unexplored, undiscovered continent. It’s a new frontier, if you will.” ~ Allan Jones

Virtuoso pianist and composer Balazs Havasi, holder of the Guinness World Record for the Most Piano Keys in One Minute, closed the day with a riveting rock-classical duet with a master-drummer, rolled onstage in a glass box alongside the grand piano.

Pianist Balazs Havasi

Image credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED

Come back tomorrow for highlights from Day Two, or follow along on Twitter between 8:30AM and 7PM GMT for the live feed.

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12 JULY, 2011

Nathalie Miebach’s Sculptural Soundtracks for Storms

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What stormy weather has to do with Stormy Weather and the cross-pollination of poetry and precision.

Visualizations of music, creative takes on notation and physical data art are all running fixations here at Brain Pickings. Naturally, the work of Boston-based artist Nathalie Miebach, one of this year’s crop of extraordinary TED Global Fellows, is an instant favorite. Miebach translates weather and climate change data from cities into musical scores, which she then translates into vibrant, whimsical sculptures and uses them as the basis for collaboration with musicians across a wide spectrum of styles and genres.

Musical notation allows me a more nuanced way of translating information without compromising it.” She uses these scores to collaborate with musicians across a wide spectrum of styles and genres.” ~ Nathalie Miebach

External Weather, Internal Storms

Reed, metal, wood, data | 2009

Musical Buoy in Search Towards a New Shore (Dedicated to Melvin Maddocks)

Wood, data, reed | 2009

Hurricane Noel

3D Musical Score of the passing of Hurricane Noel through the Gulf of Maine, Nov 6-8, 2007. Meteorological data comes from two weather stations in Hyannis, MA and Natashquan, Quebec as well as an off-shore buoy anchored on George's Bank in the Gulf of Maine. Data translated includes wind, air temperature, barometric pressure, wave height, cloud cover, historical hurricane data and solar azimuth.

Each sculpture not only maps the meteorological landscape of a specific time and place, but is also a fully functional musical score to be played and interpreted by musicans on instruments as varied as piano, French horn and electrican guitar. You can hear and download the resulting tracks on Miebach’s site.

She's Coming on Strong

9'x9'x1', paper, wood, data, 2011

This piece is a musical score that tracks the paths of both Hurricane Grace and the Halloween Storm, which together created the 'Perfect Storm'.

Miebach uses basket-weaving techniques and materials to interpret the data in three-dimensional space, using the lens of art and craft to look at scientific with new eyes and glean new understanding.

Urban Weather Prairies - Symphonic Studies in D

16’x15’x15’, reed, wood, data, 2009

Urban Weather Prairies is based on data collected in Omaha, Nebraska, during a 2-month period (May /June 2008), while I was an Artist in Residence at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts. I chose to translate the data I collected in the format of an orchestra as a way to more truthfully articulate the somewhat idiosyncratic way I was making sense of my daily weather observations. Just like each instrument in a symphony plays part of the score, each sculpture and wall piece tells part of the story, with the entirety of the piece coming together through the larger behavioral patterns that slowly emerge over time. The wall space uses the rectangle as varies maps of Nebraska or urban centers of Nebraska.

What I like about this work is that it challenges our assumption about what kind of visual vocabulary belongs in art versus science.” ~ Nathalie Miebach

Together, Miebach’s sculptures explore the fascinating intersection of art and science — another recurring theme here — with equal parts poetry and precision, making science more accessible and art more cerebral — a pinnacle of the cross-pollination of disciplines at the heart of Brain Pickings.

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11 JULY, 2011

5 Must-Read Books by TED Global Speakers, Part 2

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From life before birth to living with death, or what marine life has to do with global equality.

With TED Global a mere 24 hours way, it’s time for the second part of this year’s reading list of books by TED Global speakers, a continuation of the first installment of five featured here last month. Here are five more powerhouses of cognitive stimulation for your vicarious TED experience, spanning everything from philosophy to economics to marine biology.

ORIGINS

We’ve previously pondered the grand questions of what makes us human and what makes us uniquely us. But most inquiries into these existential fundamentals have focused on insights from life after birth — after the commonly agreed upon marker for our entry into selfhood and the world. And yet there’s an increasing amount of evidence suggesting that our selves begin before our first breath. That’s precisely what Annie Murphy Paul explores in Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives — a fascinating journey into the emerging science of epigenetics and how it has changed medicine’s understanding of pregnancy and even psychology’s understanding of self, blending equal parts scientific rigor and human tenderness.

An excerpt from the book was a TIME cover story last year and The New York Times‘ Nicholas Kristof rightfully called it a “terrific and important new book.”

[P]regnancy is now something it’s never been before: a frontier. The nine months of gestation are at the leading edge of scientists’ efforts to cure disease; to improve public health; to end vicious cycles of poverty, infirmity, and illness; and to initiate virtuous cycles of health, strength, and stability. Life on a frontier can be nerve-wracking, no question — but it’s also among the most interesting and invigorating places to spend your time.” ~ Annie Murphy Paul

Engrossing and deeply enlightening, Origins tackles the age-old mystery of what makes us who we are with a compelling new vision for our beginnings at the intersection of science, philosophy and personal memoir.

THE SPIRIT LEVEL

How come some of the world’s most “developed” nations are also among the most dysfunctional? The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson explores the multitude of social problems that income inequality creates, but rather than a somber meditation on the statistics — like, for instance, the high positive correlation between income disparity and homicide, obesity, drug abuse, mental illness and high school dropout rates — at the heart of the book lies an empathic belief in the human ability to transcend self-interest, framed in a set of practical propositions for closing the equality gap.

The contrast between the material success and social failure of many rich countries is an important signpost. It suggest that, if we are to gain further improvements in the real quality of life, we need to shift attention from material standards and economic growth to ways of improving the psychological and social wellbeing of whole societies.” ~ Richard Wilkinson

Above all, The Spirit Level is the vessel for a powerful political message and a tremendously important call for social action, made all the more compelling by the crisp writing, meticulously culled evidence and remarkable timeliness of the issue.

CENSUS OF MARINE LIFE

Last fall, the world witnessed its very first Census of Marine Life — an ambitious global collaboration between researchers from more than 80 nations, the first concentrated effort to better understand the past, present and future of marine biodiversity. In Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life: Making Ocean Life Count, Paul Snelgrove explores the most dramatic and fascinating findings of the census, how new technologies and partnerships have enabled a richer understanding of the world’s oceans, and what humanity needs to do in the future to honor and conserve wondrous worlds that live beneath the ocean’s surface. At the heart of the book are the stories, manuscripts, imagery and ideas of the dozens of scientists involved.

Snelgrove’s presence on the TED stage is a fine reflection of TED’s continued commitment to marine sustainability and ocean conservation.

The Census of Marine Life is a different intellectual enterprise. Disregarding many objections from Mainstream Road, the leaders of the initiative used a metaphor to rally the interest of the relevant scienti?c community: to conduct a Census of marine life, an impossible task sensu strictu. By choosing an extremely broad subject, the living ocean, and setting a research vector, or direction, to count and account for the living in the ocean, the founders were able to form a community of researchers with quite disparate research interests and objectives, to weave a delicate fabric of research topics that brought together the main ingredients of scienti?c discovery: deploying new technologies, poking through disciplinary boundaries, transporting knowledge produced in one ?eld to another, attacking simultaneously the small and the large and the extremely large scales usually unavailable to single teams of scientists. Using as an epistemic Occam’s razor the distinction between the known, the unknown, and the unknowable, they collectively and systematically selected a limited number of bets to maximize results. This book demonstrates unreservedly their success.” ~ Paul Snelgrove

With dozens of breathtaking full-color photographs and glimpses of previously unknown species, convoluted migration routes and otherworldly habitats, Discoveries of the Census of Marine Life explores the ocean with equal parts urgency, poeticism and enthusiasm, stimulating, illuminating and enchanting at the same time, leaving you with a newfound respect and profound love for the extraordinary universe of life beneath the surface.

POST-SECULAR PHILOSOPHY

Last week, we explored 7 essential books on faith and spirituality. But where does philosophy fit into the conversation? The Western philosophical tradition, with its insistence on the secular, has remained largely wary, of not dismissive, of religion. In Post-Secular Philosophy: Between Philosophy and Theology, Phillip Blond gathers 15 essays distilling how iconic philosophers like Descartes, Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein, Heidegger and Derrida have placed God at the center of their thinking. Blond — who in the 13 years since the book’s publications has become a leading British political theorist, the mastermind behind David Cameron’s “Big Society” concept — pens a poignant introduction to the anthology, discussing the broader role of theology in secular philosophy and the often conflicted relationship between the two.

[I]t is a classical and cardinal point that the utterly dissimilar would have great difficulty in attaining any knowledge of one another, for mutual knowledge can only be achieved if ‘like is known by like.'” ~ Phillip Blond

Though the writing is anything but light and at times fringes on academia’s most prolix, the volume’s broad lens and sharp focus make it a powerful and read-worthy synthesis of the Western philosophical tradition’s tortured yet fascinating relationship with theology and religion.

Blond’s most recent book, Red Tory: How Left and Right have Broken Britain and How We Can Fix It, is being released in the US in 2012 as Radical Republic and reworked with an international focus. Blond is the opening speaker for this year’s TED Global.

FINAL EXAM

Facing mortality is hard enough for us ordinary people, but it’s particularly challenging for medical parctitioners, whose very mission in life is so profoundly antithetical to the concept of death. That’s exactly what transplant surgeon Pauline Chen examines in Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality. From her first dissection of a human cadaver to the first time she pronounced a patient dead to having to face taking responsibility for the accidental death of a patient in her care, Chen uses profound personal anecdotes as the linchpin to a deeper discussion of mortality in the context of medicine, but also in the broader context of human existence.

There is an essential paradox in medicine: a profession premised on caring for the ill also systematically depersonalizes the dying.” ~ Pauline Chen

Beautifully written, passionately argued and lined with equal parts humility and dignity, Final Exam is poetry for medicine, equally thought-provoking for those in the medical profession as it is for those of us in the profession of merely living with the diagnosis of the human condition.

If you missed the first part of this year’s TED Global reading list or last year’s roundup, it’s never too late to catch up with these 7 must-read books by TED Global 2010 speakers, as well as these two sets of must-reads by this year’s TED Long Beach speakers.

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