Friday 24 April 2009

TED Talks Challenge

There is nothing that gives me greater hope for the future than TEDTalksDirector on YouTube.

One of the most profound miracles of the internet age is, I think, the erosion of nearly all barriers to an education. If you were born with an inquiring mind and access to the internet (these are not low barriers, but they are lower than ever before in history) you can obtain for yourself the equivalent of a bachelor of art or science degree, and perhaps a masters. Beginning with Harvard & MIT's Opencourseware materials, English-speaking students and scholars anywhere in the world have access to lecture notes, assignments and readings. Wikipedia and Google Books complement the sudden, massive, participatory democratization of education. I believe these are revolutionary changes, paradigm-shifters from which the entire globe will benefit, on the same scale as the invention of the printing press or the symbolic computing device.

The TED Talks are one symptom of this educational openness. It is a sort of Britain's Best Talent for ideas, where almost every speaker is a Susan Boyd.

Great ideas and great hopes are created by the rich cross-fertilization of symbols, cultures and media that used to require universities (to concentrate global talent) or world travel (to disseminate local attitudes and expectations). TED Talks have bringing some of the best thinking in all fields together every year.

I have listened to some of these talks dozens of times. Neuroanatomist Jill Bolt Taylor's insight into the mind caused by her own stroke has helped me understand religion, the nature of the human mind and reality as we experience it. Bonnie Bassler's secret, social lives of bacteria not only illuminates the physical and chemical reality in which we live, but also the demographic reality that generates these ideas.

But in this post I want to celebrate a more profound mixing, that of science and art, of gender and politics, in a recent lecture by Margaret Wertheim, who crochets coral reefs. Her talk typifies the smart, aware, enlightened approach to knowledge that finds inspiration in every aspect of the world around us, and reveals reality as a blessedly intricate web of ideas and connections, from lowly craft and hobby to higher mathematics.

I believe the fundamental basis for intellectual growth and happiness is participation and creativity. Just to be quite clear that beneath my polite exterior I am an insufferably arrogant individual, I have assigned homework to my readers, at least those who have bothered to make themselves known to me:

Osprey: Emily Levine: A trickster's theory of everything
Enjah: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow
HBA: Majora Carter: Greening the ghetto

I want you to watch these assigned videos and return to me, or post where you will, your views or reviews, reflections, arguments or off-subject comments. I will accept no refusal, but you have no deadline either, and if you find a talk you enjoy better, I will accept that too. Curse me and my strange, jumping bean interests, but I cannot watch smart people talk and not think of you.


HeadBurro Antfarm said...

Bugger me... this is a great idea! You are genius! I accept and will, once I have the hang of it, spread the word (and work) via my own blog!

Ellen McCormick Martens said...

ha HAH! At last, the gauntlet! I love TED Talks, and one of my special favorites is Paul Stamets on Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World

Young Geoffrion said...

Yes, Paul Stamets' Six Ways is one of my favorites too. The universe IS a mushroom!

Osprey said...

Yes, we all discovered TED long ago, and are the better for it.

HBA, if you remember ages ago when you were looking for something for a work project I gave you some TED urls and you watched them - so don't play the unwitting manzelle with me ;-D

HeadBurro Antfarm said...

Ohhh no Os - I know you had shown me the TED Stuff before, but couldn't remeember when, why or what. Still can't :)

I meant the idea of setting homework - love it :)

I've replied:

Young Geoffrion said...

Thanks for your reply, HBA, first one in! I'm extending posting privileges on Tempietto to you (temporarily so Lady Heady doesn't take advantage): do you mind posting it here as well?

HeadBurro Antfarm said...

Done and posted - and never fear, I am certain that Lady Heady is my burden to bear alone :)

Remove me now - unless you are going to set more homework :-D