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60-Second Lectures: A Tapas Bar of Academic Insight

Consciousness, the unknown and why your childhood aversion to math is finally validated.

Last week, we featured BBC’s 60-Second Ideas to Improve the World podcast and it reminded us of a fantastic project from the University of Pennsylvania, our alma mater, called The 60-Second Lectures. Every semester for the past four years, the university has been inviting leading faculty to share their ideas on topics as far-ranging as poetry, pottery and political science in one-minute microlectures.

From obvious but necessary reality checks to aha!-inducing , the lectures offer a tapas bar of academia’s most compelling cultural insight. Today, we’re inviting you to sample them with five of our favorites.

PETER STRUCK ON THE UNKNOWN

Hope, fear, hubris and humility, after all, are aftereffects of the unknown. And if I need to face fear in order to make hope possible, I’ll take that bargain any day. In short: Give me ignorance, please, let me not know!”

TUKUFU ZUBERI ON CONFLICT

We have killed each other because of differences of religion, race, class, geography, wealth, education, to mention a few of the more contemporary justifications. These justifications are all based on ideas that we create.”

DENNIS DETRUCK: DOWN WITH FRACTIONS

I have a simple suggestion when it comes to teaching fractions in elementary school: Don’t. Imposing the study of fractions on kids does much more harm than good by replacing confidence and understanding with confusion and memorization.”

GINO SERGE ON WRITING NONFICTION

The important thing about writing a nonfiction book is you have to choose your story carefully and make sure it has good characters in it because you’re going to be spending a couple of years, at least, with these characters — and you better like them, you better be interested in them. Otherwise, it’s really a drag.”

SUSAN SCHNEIDER ON CONSCIOUSNESS

An explanation of consciousness cannot literally be that there’s a mind’s eye in the brain watching the show. And there’s no evidence that there’s a singular time or place in the brain where consciousness congeals — thoughts seem highly distributed throughout the cortex. So what, and when, and where is consciousness? And, for that matter, why are we conscious at all?”

(While we’re big proponents of asking the right questions, if you, like us, were a little disappointed that Schneider didn’t actually define consciousness, we have you covered with three people who did — see our recent troika on what it means to be human.)

For more micro-interestingness, explore the 60-second lecture archives or sample some more recent talks on YouTube.


Published October 13, 2010

https://www.brainpickings.org/2010/10/13/upenn-60-second-lectures/

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