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Highlights from TED 2010: Day Two

Suspended animation, augmented reality, and what sheep’s knuckles have to do with the future of cultural problem-solving.

We’ve been busy live-tweeting from TED 2010, so yesterday’s highlights come mostly in photos and quotes — see Twitter for play-by-play updates.


Be skeptical. Ask questions. Get proof. Don’t take anything for granted. But when you get proof, accept it. We have a hard time doing that. ~ Michael Specter

Science tells us what we can value, but it never tells us what we ought to value. ~ Sam Harris

AIDS researcher Elizabeth Pisani shows the remarkable and life-saving effects of HIV treatment, but says that, contrary to popular belief, treatment is not all the prevention we need. In fact, it leads the infected to take their guards down, so they become less careful, which can be dangerous.

Pisani’s book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, sounds fascinating and eye-opening.

Pisani shows some counterintuitive HIV stats

Nicholas Christakis, whose social contagion studies we tweeted some time ago, talked about

Christakis’ book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, is a sociology and digital anthropology must-read.

Christakis calls obesity a ‘multicentric epidemic,’ reduced not to the behavior of individuals but to that of the ‘human superorganism.’

Ex-CIA covert operations officer Valerie Plame Wilson shares Global Zero, her advocacy for eliminating nuclear weapons.

One thing our country needs is better political debates. We need to rediscover the lost art of political argument. ~ Michael Sandel

If we weren’t afraid our servers might go down tomorrow, we’d dare say 4chan founder Christopher ‘moot’ Poole was endearing, but left us underwhelmed and missing a connect-the-dots idea. Hypothetically speaking.

Kevin Bales reveals some shocking facts about modern-day slavery: Today, there are 27,000 people in real, physical slavery. He points to four main causes: Overpopulation, extreme poverty, vulnerability of disadvantaged groups, and corruption.

‘What enables slavery is the absence of the rule of law. It lets people use violence with impunity.’ ~ Kevin Bales

Kevin advocates “freedom dividend” — letting people out of slavery and letting them work for themselves, which causes local communities to flourish. He says the total cost of enduring freedom for those 27,000 contemporary slaves is $10.8 billion, which is how much the US spent shopping this past holiday season.

We stand wholeheartedly behind Chris Anderson’s recommendation for Bales’ chilling and fascinating book, Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.

A TED first: Mark Jacobson and Stewart Brand (whose compelling new book, Whole Earth Discipline, we reviewed recently) entered a good old fashioned debate on the merits of nuclear power.

Brand for, Jacobson against

If all of the electricity in your lifetime came from nuclear, waste would fit in a Coke can. ~ Stewart Brand

Each got 6 minutes to defend his stance, followed by an audience grill and refuting arguments.

To power the entire world with wind you will need only about 1% of US land area. ~ Mark Jacobson

Despite his charisma, Brand ‘lost’ in the end — the audience skew moved from 75/25 in favor of nukes in the beginning of the debate to 65/35 by the end.

The Extraordinary Legion of Dancers, LXD, were extraordinary indeed.

LXD received the most enthusiastic standing ovation at TED 2010 yet.

Though without the impact of a live performance, you can see for yourself:

When I dance, I want people to question the reality of what they’re seeing. ~ Madd Chadd

Game designer Jane McGonigal delivered some staggering statistics on gaming: Since World of Warcraft launched, we’ve spent 5.33 million years solving it; to put this in time perspective, 5.33 million years ago, the first humans stood up.

In the game world, we become the best version of ourselves. ~Jane McGonigal

Today’s kids, McGonigal pointed out, spend some 10,000 hours gaming by the time they turn 21. At the same time, the average child with perfect attendance spends 10,800 hours in school by graduation — so there’s a parallel “education” going on. She advocates for using social games as something bigger than escapism from reality — a cultural advancement tool putting gamers’ problem-solving talents to work. She demoes World Without Oil, a collaborative social game made in 2007.

Ancient dice made out of sheep’s knuckles, invented in Libya, are world’s first recorded gaming device.

McGonigal premieres Urgent Evoke, a game developed in partnership with the World Bank. If you complete it, you get certified by the World Bank as “social innovator”.

Music icon David Byrne, a cultural hero of ours.
Byrne says people in 19th-century opera houses used to yell at each other just like they did at CBGB’s in the 70’s.
Photosynth mastermind Blaise Aguera y Arcas demoes some remarkable Augmented Reality technologies using Microsoft’s Bing
Inventor Gary Lauder says energy efficiency is about more than just vehicles: It’s also about the road. He points out that converting a traffic light into a roundabout — something well-adopted in Europe, but tragically scarce here in the US — reduces accidents by 40%. He proposes a new hybrid sign that blends a Stop sign and a Yield one.

In the developing world, 10-50% of vaccines spoil before delivery. Kids die. ~Nathan Myhrvold

Polymath Nathan Myhrvold delivers some known but still chilling statistics about malaria — it sickens 250 million people a year; every 43 seconds a child in Africa dies — and demonstrates a radical new way of fighting the disease: By laser-blasting infected mosquitoes.

Myhrvold orchestrates an incredible on-stage demonstration, wherein a mosquito is shot by a laser beam in a glass tank.
We’ve stitched together the slow-motion sequence of the mosquito blast. Click the image to look closer.
Singer-songwriter Andrew Bird, amazing as usual.

Stephen Wolfram, creator of revolutionary semantic search engine Wolfram|Alpha, argues raw computation combined with built-in knowledge changes the economics of the web and democratizes programming. He talks about the principle of computational equivalence — the idea that even incredibly simple systems can do complex computation.

Wolfram says you don’t have to go very far in the computational universe to start finding candidate universes for our own.

For the first time, Microsoft Labs’ revolutionary Pivot software is availble for the world to tinker with.

MacArthur genius fellow Mark Roth admits he didn’t know what TED was until Chris invited him to talk, but we quickly forgive him after hearing his incredible — literally — and surprisingly grounded sci-fiish work in “suspended animation,” a slowing life process and makes a living being appear dead without harming, then reanimates it. In layman’s terms, resurrection.

The amazing TED Fellows are a mind-blowingly multi-talented group, working in anything from crowdsourced citizen journalism to e-waste management to humanitarian documentary film-making.

For live coverage of today’s and and tomorrow’s TED talks, follow us on Twitter. And keep an eye on the TED website as the first of this year’s talks begin being uploaded.


Highlights from TED 2010, Day One

What one pound of tuna has to do with five years of chocolate milk, spider silk and a ukulele.

We’re thrilled to be reporting — and live-tweeting — from TED 2010, themed What The World Needs Now. Here are some highlights from an exhilarating and punchy first day, which opened with an appropriately bold address from Chris Anderson.

I don’t like what’s been happening in the world. What the world needs now is a restart.

Session one, Mindshift, opened with one of our big behavioral psychology heroes and winner of the Nobel in Economics, Daniel Kahneman. He delved into the cognitive traps of happiness.

The first cognitive trap about happiness is a reluctance to accept its complexity.

Kahneman went on to describe the differences — and conflict — between the experiencing self, which lives in the moment of the experience, and the remembering self, which frames that experience in our memory through the stories it tells about it. He asked us to consider a vacation at the end of which all of our memories would be erased by an amnesia-inducing pill and all of our photos deleted — would be still choose the same vacation?

We don’t actually choose between experiences. We choose between memories of experiences. We think of the future as dissipated memories.

In a surprise livestream from London, Prime Minister candidate David Cameron slung some cliches about transparency, accountability and choice as the three key game-changers in politics — we were not impressed. And, frankly, we don’t think TED should be dabbling in the messy and murky waters of purely-political (as opposed to social policy) agendas.

Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro followed with a mind-blowing rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

It is no doubt best experienced live, but you can get a teaser-taste here:

Activist Esther Duflo, founder of, made a powerful case for immunization and other interventions to stop preventable diseases that kill over 25,000 children every year. And she raised the difficult question of aid efficiency, saying we can’t actually know how effective aid in Africa is because we don’t know whether Africa would’ve been better or worse off without it.

An interesting nugget came from Duflo’s work on distributing mosquito nets. Turns out simply getting them to the community is only half the work. Getting people to use them is a different story, and there’s something to be learned from Kahneman here — behavioral economics of sorts: If you make the nets free, people won’t see them as valuable, so they won’t use them. So, do you make them free to maximize distribution, or do you sell them to increase their perceived value and thus incentivize people to use them?

Esther Duflo’s answers to preventable diseases that claim thousands of lives a year.

Duflo concluded with the compelling question of why, in technology, we spend so much time in experimeting to find the best solution, but we don’t do the same in social policy.

Michael Shermer followed with a fascinating talk about pattern recognition and its psychology of skepticism and belief. He zoomed in on agenticity — the tendency to project our own beliefs on invisible objects — and pointed to it as the cause of conspiracy theories, managing to slide in a few rather entertaining jokes along the way.

Contrary to some conspiracy theories, we now know 9/11 was not a plan of the Bush administration because… it worked.

Session Two, Discover, opened with cancer researcher William Li, whose groundbreaking work in angiogenesis is revolutionizing the war on cancer, fighting the disease by cutting out blood supply to the vessels that favor the cancerous tissue.

Li contended that diet is one of the most effective cancer prevention mechanisms and identified a number of antiangiogenic foods — ones that help nip the blood supply to cancerous cells.

Because fat tissue is highly angiogenic, Li advocated a hand-in-hand fight against cancer and obesity by attacking their common denominator — angiogenesis — through dietary prevention.

Cheryl Hayashi followed with an informative, though not particularly engaging, talk about spiders and spider silk, the only fascinating takeaway of which was the possibility of using spider silk — a highly flexible and resistant structural material — in flexible body armor in the future.

Carter Emmart, Director of Astorvisualization at the Hayden Planetarium, followed with the utterly fascinating demo of the Digital Universe Atlas, which we raved about on Twitter a few months ago:

In a short talk, Philip Kaplan demoed his latest venture, Blippy, a social tool that shows what your friends are buying online and off, which reminded us of Facebook Beacon debacle and thus only made us shudder with skepticism.

The TED folks played “Parisian Love,” Google’s Super Bowl spot, from the stage — turns out, not because Google paid for it, but because they just loved how it captures the digital age.

What followed was our favorite talk of the day — chef extraordinaire Dan Barber, who dove into the serious overfishing problem and its many sidekick consequences: bycatch, pollution, ocean depletion.

Dan Barber, the day’s highlight.

It takes 15 pounds of wild fish to get you one pound of tuna.

Barber pointed to smart, sustainable fish farming as a way of keeping fish on the menu and off the ocean’s death toll. He spoke of one such farm, which uses extensive, not intensive farming — along the entire ecological chain — even letting gorgeous pink flamingos feast freely on the fish.

We need a radical new conception of agriculture. One in which the food actually tastes good.

He also pointed to the failure of food distribution — not the mere lack of tonnage — as the reason why one billion people will go hungry today. To feed the world, Barber said, we should look not to the capitalist agribusiness model, but in the ecological model. And he got one of the most well-deserved standing ovations we’ve ever seen at TED.

The day’s last session, Action, spotlighted some recent TEDPrize winners and the phenomenal, actionable projects they’ve undertaken with the help of the grants and support they received.

Ideas are all very well, but what the world needs now is action. ~ Chris Anderson

Between these mini-presentations, TED announced the launch of SETI Quest, a new site aiming to engage the open-source community in a citizen-powered quest for alien life.

Wrapping up the day, chef-activist Jamie Oliver, winner of the latest TEDPrize, delivered some expected but still shocking stats: Today’s child will live 10 years less than his parent because of the food landscape we’ve created; obesity costs Americans 10% of healthcare bill — $150 billion a year, set to double in three years.

While I do this talk, four Americans will be dead by what they eat.

Jamie Oliver: ‘Meet my friend Britney. She’s 16 years old, she’s got 6 years to live. She’s eating her liver to death.’

Oliver addressed the tragic state of school lunches, where French fries are considered vegetables and the absence of utensils implicitly endorses fast finger-food. He showed a rather disheartening video, in which he asks elementary school children to name different vegetables; they call beets broccoli and tomatoes potatoes.

Jamie Oliver pours a cartful of sugar on the stage, the amount an average school child will consume in five years just from sweetened milk beverages.

Finally, Oliver shares his inspired and, we think, urgently important TED wish:

In a wonderful last session, the ever-amazing Sheryl Crow took the stage for some of her unmistakable magic.

This concluded a riveting first day, beautifully curated to ever-so-subtly-yet-powerfully illuminate the intricate connection between food, health and social policy. Tomorrow, we’re returning with complete live coverage on Twitter — so stay tuned.

Major thanks to Kent of TEDxLex for tech support today


The Six Pillars of the Wholehearted Life: Parker Palmer’s Spectacular Naropa University Commencement Address

“Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself… When you are able to say, ‘I am … my shadow as well as my light,’ the shadow’s power is put in service of the good.”

In 1974, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford alumnus Chögyam Trungpa founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado — a most unusual and emboldening not-for-profit educational institution named after the eleventh-century Indian Buddhist sage Naropa and intended as a 100-year experiment of combining the best methodologies of Western scholarship with the most timeless tenets of Eastern wisdom, fusing academic and experiential learning with contemplative practice. Under the auspices of its Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded by Allen Ginsberg, the university hosted a number of lectures and readings by such luminaries as John Cage, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac himself, for all of whom Buddhism was a major influence.

In 2015, Naropa University awarded its first-ever honorary degree of Doctor of Contemplative Education to author, educator, and Center for Courage & Renewal founder Parker Palmer — one of the most luminous and hope-giving minds of our time, whose beautiful writings on inner wholeness and the art of letting your soul speak spring from a spirit of embodied poetics. In May of 2015, he took the podium before the university’s graduating class and delivered one of the greatest commencement addresses of all time — a beam of shimmering wisdom illuminating the six pillars of a meaningful human existence, experience-tested and honestly earned in the course of a long life fully lived.

Annotated highlights below — please enjoy.

In his first piece of advice, Palmer calls for living with wholeheartedness, inherent to which — as Seth Godin has memorably argued — is an active surrender to vulnerability. Echoing Donald Barthelme’s exquisite case for the art of not-knowing, he urges:

Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.


What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”

Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.

To grow in love and service, you — I, all of us — must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success… Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice.

Palmer’s second point of counsel speaks to the difficult art of living with opposing truths and channels his longtime advocacy for inner wholeness:

As you integrate ignorance and failure into your knowledge and success, do the same with all the alien parts of yourself. Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself. Let your altruism meet your egotism, let your generosity meet your greed, let your joy meet your grief. Everyone has a shadow… But when you are able to say, “I am all of the above, my shadow as well as my light,” the shadow’s power is put in service of the good. Wholeness is the goal, but wholeness does not mean perfection, it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of your life.

As a person who … has made three deep dives into depression along the way, I do not speak lightly of this. I simply know that it is true.

As you acknowledge and embrace all that you are, you give yourself a gift that will benefit the rest of us as well. Our world is in desperate need of leaders who live what Socrates called “an examined life.” In critical areas like politics, religion, business, and the mass media, too many leaders refuse to name and claim their shadows because they don’t want to look weak. With shadows that go unexamined and unchecked, they use power heedlessly in ways that harm countless people and undermine public trust in our major institutions.

In his third piece of advice, Palmer calls for extending this courtesy to others and treating their shadowy otherness with the same kindness that we do our own:

As you welcome whatever you find alien within yourself, extend that same welcome to whatever you find alien in the outer world. I don’t know any virtue more important these days than hospitality to the stranger, to those we perceive as “other” than us.

In a sentiment that calls to mind Margaret Mead and James Baldwin’s timeless, immeasurably timely conversation on race and difference, Palmer adds:

The old majority in this society, people who look like me, is on its way out. By 2045 the majority of Americans will be people of color… Many in the old majority fear that fact, and their fear, shamelessly manipulated by too many politicians, is bringing us down. The renewal this nation needs will not come from people who are afraid of otherness in race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation.

His fourth piece of advice pierces the heart of something I myself worry about daily as I witness the great tasks of human culture reduced to small-minded lists and unimaginative standards that measure all the wrong metrics of “productivity” and “progress.” Palmer urges:

Take on big jobs worth doing — jobs like the spread of love, peace, and justice. That means refusing to be seduced by our cultural obsession with being effective as measured by short-term results. We all want our work to make a difference — but if we take on the big jobs and our only measure of success is next quarter’s bottom line, we’ll end up disappointed, dropping out, and in despair.


Our heroes take on impossible jobs and stay with them for the long haul because they live by a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard, I think, is faithfulness — faithfulness to your gifts, faithfulness to your perception of the needs of the world, and faithfulness to offering your gifts to whatever needs are within your reach.

The tighter we cling to the norm of effectiveness the smaller the tasks we’ll take on, because they are the only ones that get short-term results… Care about being effective, of course, but care even more about being faithful … to your calling, and to the true needs of those entrusted to your care.

You won’t get the big jobs done in your lifetime, but if at the end of the day you can say, “I was faithful,” I think you’ll be okay.

In his fifth point of counsel, Palmer echoes Tolstoy’s letters to Gandhi on why we hurt each other and offers:

Since suffering as well as joy comes with being human, I urge you to remember this: Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.

Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.

Sometimes we aim that violence at ourselves, as in overwork that leads to burnout or worse, or in the many forms of substance abuse; sometimes we aim that violence at other people — racism, sexism, and homophobia often come from people trying to relieve their suffering by claiming superiority over others.

The good news is that suffering can be transformed into something that brings life, not death. It happens every day. I’m 76 years old, I now know many people who’ve suffered the loss of the dearest person in their lives. At first they go into deep grief, certain that their lives will never again be worth living. But then they slowly awaken to the fact that not in spite of their loss, but because of it, they’ve become bigger, more compassionate people, with more capacity of heart to take in other people’s sorrows and joys. These are broken-hearted people, but their hearts have been broken open, rather than broken apart.

So, every day, exercise your heart by taking in life’s little pains and joys — that kind of exercise will make your heart supple, the way a runner makes a muscle supple, so that when it breaks, (and it surely will,) it will break not into a fragment grenade, but into a greater capacity for love.

In his sixth and final piece of wisdom, Palmer quotes the immortal words of Saint Benedict — “daily, keep your death before your eyes” — and, echoing Rilke’s view of mortality, counsels:

If you hold a healthy awareness of your own mortality, your eyes will be opened to the grandeur and glory of life, and that will evoke all of the virtues I’ve named, as well as those I haven’t, such as hope, generosity, and gratitude. If the unexamined life is not worth living, it’s equally true that the unlived life is not worth examining.

He closes, to my great delight, with Diane Ackerman’s exquisite words on the true measure of our liveness.

Palmer delves deeper into these pillars of the wholly lived life in his excellent book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (public library).

Complement his spiritually invigorating speech with other masterworks of the commencement address genre: Joseph Brodsky’s six rules for winning at the game of life (University of Michigan, 1988), Toni Morrison on the rewards of true adulthood (Wesleyan, 2004), George Saunders on the power of kindness (Syracuse University, 2013), Teresita Fernandez on what it really means to be an artist (Virginia Commonwealth University, 2013), Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life (San Jose State University, 2013), Kurt Vonnegut on boredom, belonging, and our human responsibility (Fredonia College, 1978), Bill Watterson on creative integrity (Kenyon College, 1990), Patti Smith on learning to count on yourself (Pratt University, 2010), and John Waters on creative rebellion (RISD, 2015).


David Foster Wallace on Ambition, Animated

“If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.”

On March 4, 1996, WNYC radio host Leonard Lopate sat down with David Foster Wallace (February 21, 1962–September 12, 2008) — cultural critic, articulator of the ineffable, tragic prophet of the meaning of life — to talk about Infinite Jest, the 1,079-page, three-pound-three-ounce novel that catapulted Wallace into literary fame. Now, the wonderful folks of Blank on Blank and animator Patrick Smith have teamed up with PBS Digital Studios to bring Wallace’s wisdom on ambition, education, and writing to life. Highlights below:

Like Neil Gaiman, who famously admonished, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving,” Wallace cautions against the lose-lose mindset of perfectionism:

You know, the whole thing about perfectionism. The perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything. Because doing anything results in– It’s actually kind of tragic because it means you sacrifice how gorgeous and perfect it is in your head for what it really is.

Like Sister Corita Kent, Wallace sees learning and teaching as intertwined:

I was a very difficult person to teach when I was a student and I thought I was smarter than my teachers and they told me a lot of things that I thought were retrograde or outdated or B.S. And I’ve learned more teaching in the last three years than I ever learned as a student.

Pair with Wallace on true heroism and why writers write.


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