Louisville's Keith Robbins filmed this panel featuring philosopher Sandy Goldberg, architect Emiliano Gandolfi, game designer Jane McGonigal and the artistic director for Diavolo, Jacques Heim at the 2008 IdeaFestival discussing breakthroughs, the importance of failure and their sources of creativity. In addition to some great conversation, this ten minute video features a favorite quote of mine.
Travel... is a basic human desire. We're a migratory species, even if our migrations are powered by jet fuel and Chicken McNuggets. But here's my question: is this collective urge to travel - to put some distance between ourselves and everything we know - still a worthwhile compulsion? Or is it like the taste for saturated fat, one of those instincts we should have left behind in the Pleistocene epoch? Because if travel is just about fun then I think the TSA killed it.
Joking aside, the beneficiaries of the travel compulsion, and in particular people who have spent an extended time abroad, have a higher likelihood of solving particular psychological problem know as the Duncker Candle Problem, which asks participants to find a way to use a box with a few thumbtacks and a book of matches to a attach a waxy candle to a corkboard. Earlier this year, two business schools discovered that students who had lived abroad could think outside the thumbtack box, as it were.
Well, so what?
According to the researchers, the experience of another culture endows us with a valuable openmindedness, making it easier to realize that a single thing can have multiple meanings. Consider the act of leaving food on the plate: in China, this is often seen as a compliment, a signal that the host has provided enough to eat. But in America the same act is a subtle insult, an indication that the food wasn't good enough to finish.
Such cultural contrasts mean that seasoned travelers are alive to ambiguity, more willing to realize that there are different (and equally valid) ways of interpreting the world. This, in turn, allows them to expand the circumference of their 'cognitive inputs,' as they refuse to settle for their first answers and initial guesses. After all, maybe they carry candles in thumbtackboxes in China. Maybe there's abetter way to attach a candle to a wall.
As it turns out, those who were able to attach the candle to the wall were able to overcome a functional fixedness and emptied the box of thumbtacks to arrive at a novel solution. Read Lehrer's entire post to find out how.
Why did information become the dominant metaphor for the recent age? David Weinberger provides his take in this video, providing an historical and intellectual background for the surprising depth of our commitment to the idea of information, and how, in an age dominated by technology, that commitment can present a problem. Ethan Zuckerman, who blogged the presentation, provides his abridged version here.
When it come to big ideas, Weinberger's view of miscellany is similarly penetrating and influenced my thinking about the nature of the Internet. Please check it out if you have a few moments. You won't be disappointed.
Author of Biocentrism and noted astronomer Bob Berman is now on stage at the Kentucky Center, Louisville.
"Did life create universe rather than the other way around?" That's the premise of the book Biocentrism.
Science for many centuries has been trying to develop unifying theories of nature without much success - he singles out String theory in physics for some scorn.
Science has shown that 13.7 billion years ago, universe sprang into being. Galaxy clusters are demonstrably racing away from us. "So lets say there was a Big Bang," and then we get "this," a picture of his grandmother. But if life is mysterious, consciousness even more so. Science doesn't quite know what to do with it - the greatest unsolved mystery in science is the conscious experience. How did random bits of matter "ever develop a taste for hot dogs?" We perceive the world through our consciousness, so if everything is filtered what do we make of the external world?
The easy part of consciousness is to explain the corresponding functions of the brain. The hard part is explaining the first person or subjective experience.
Einstein eventually settled into a "local realism," but wondered earlier if the Moon was there without anyone looking at it. The eyes do not see a perfect reflection of the world, but interpret it. The eyes, in fact, have no receptors for the color yellow, but rather, red and green, a point he makes with a couple of flashlights with red and green filters and a picture of the sulfurous surface of Jupiter's moon, Io. Similarly, the eyes are insensitive to violet. There a lot of color illusions. Color and light are photons that stimulate the eye, which messages the brain, which produces the experience of color. By itself, light has no visual properties.
The first person experience is, however, not understood. And we as observers are inextricably woven into that subjective experience.
The great physicist John Wheeler said that nothing is real until it is observed. Berman adds that "we feel forces, not solids."
Consciousness and the universe are correlative, they exist together and cannot exist alone. Giving one example, he says that center of every rainbow is the shadow of your head, not the shadow of someone else's head.
If any unified theory of the universe will not be complete until the conscious experience is incorporated.
Time and space are tools of animal perception and have no external reality. It's an ordering process, rather, of electrical input.
Likewise space: "How is it unreal? Let us count the ways."
define objects according objects according to language, culture and utility.
empty space is not empty. We know that space is covered by a 2 degree, roughly, cosmic microwave background. There is also a vacuum energy present. We don't experience it because it's everywhere, equally. It seethes with particles popping in and out of existence.
Space is relative, changing in relation to the speed of light.
Entangled particles, born together, are always remain in communication. That rate of communication is much, much faster than the speed of light, which has been empirically verified.
If all this is true, how can space and time be the starting points for a unified physical theory of the universe? Perhaps, he adds, we carry time and space like a turtle carries around its shell.
Having made the suggestion, he goes through an explanation of the double slit experiment to show that not all strange or unexplained phenomenon is a just so account of the world. However - and the transition here is a bit rocky - biocentrism and quantum theory are aligned in that they insist that our participation is central. Until that point, only probabilities exist.
Unless, he concludes, our "science begins to incorporate us as observers," no theory will be complete. A synthesis of biology and physics must occur.
At the always interesting Sputnik Observatory, Will Wright makes the connection between play and the insight that can flower in the presence of an activity or framework, like a game, capable of nurturing it. The creative activity - the development of understanding - is bottom up. Similarly, in this Long Now Foundation talk, in which Brian Eno contributes an accompanying and wonderfully elastic musical score, Wright identifies bottom up creation at work in biology, music (of course), math and psychology.
He also offers a wonderful take on science early in the video that got me to thinking.
It takes all the world's data - what we can see and touch and observe - and compresses it into the most elegant rule set possible.
Nice. From dazzlingly complex information, science in other words, makes meaning. The thought is this: that iterative, participatory process that is also the foundation of the IdeaFestival, which rewards an openness to data offered by rich creators and fascinating innovators before it suggests to you a previously hidden answer (or better yet a question you never thought to ask) two minutes and forty-six seconds after the curtain falls and your mind turns to lunch or dinner or the friends you planned to meet. Wham!
In Wired, Clive Thompson points out that a large study of writing and rhetoric concludes that students are not only writing more, thanks in part to the social web, but how they're writing differently.
[The study] team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.
...it's also becoming clear that online media are pushing literacy into cool directions. The brevity of texting and status updating teaches young people to deploy haiku-like concision. At the same time, the proliferation of new forms of online pop-cultural exegesis—from sprawling TV-show recaps to 15,000-word videogame walkthroughs—has given them a chance to write enormously long and complex pieces of prose, often while working collaboratively with others.