A prodigy at the piano, Marc Yu wowed IdeaFestival audiences last year with his mastery of complex music. In this IdeaFestival Conversation, he says any child can be as good as he is as long as she is dedicated. But, he added, "the thing is, you have to love music."
When is seeing not believing? Beginning at about the three minute mark of the video below, Harvard physicist Lisa Randall and architect/designer Chuck Hoberman engage in a brief discussion about what our sense of sight has to do with knowing. As Randall points out, scientific method offers passage beyond our immediate sense of the world. After all, our sense of sight is dependent on a particular narrow wavelength.
It's the mediated experience that ironically, can offer more and better evidence for the veracity of a claim, a proposition that artists and designers continually exploit.
The suggestion also strongly reminded me of the "Science of Magic" session at the 2008 IdeaFestival, where Teller brilliantly demonstrated, first with a trick, and then with an explanation of the trick, how our senses can easily be fooled.
Prodigious savant Daniel Tammet will offer his thoughts on thinking when the new and much improved IdeaFestival web site debuts in the next few days. Please watch for it and the simultaneous release of the speakers and agenda for IdeaFestival 2010!
Referencing a Wired UK article on "ultra mapping," Nokia's head of interface design, Adam Greenfield, stakes a claim to some pretty rich epistemological territory. Maps that dynamically pinpoint us render more than another coordinate or elevation. No, they are much more illustrious:
[A]ll those routinely gorgeous renderings of subway ridership or crime or air quality imply something very different when you can either find yourself within their ambit or cannot. At its rawest, the suggestion is this: either these issues affect me, or they do not. And this is true even if what is being mapped is a purely historical event. The implication is there, however faint.
Freakonomics points to some data that suggests - with one important qualification - that the answer may be yes. According to one study, healthier food has improved test scores and reduced student absenteeism in Greenwich, south London.
As it turns out, everybody holds a piece to the puzzle.
Building a platform that loosely organized the successful hunt for ten hidden balloons across the United States, Riley Crane recently appeared on Colbert to describe how collective intelligence won a prize offered by DARPA. The agency - no doubt feeling sheepish about its role in bringing the Internet to life - wanted to know forty years later how the Web might be used to solve real problems.
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.
As GPS and other location technologies (holography, anyone?) substitute virtual referent for physical reality, it raises questions about the role of context to knowledge, and whether, in the process of mapping everything, we add to or subtract from the understanding we get.
The Salon piece was strongly reminiscent of the ongoing debate over the place of books in public life.
Humans are metaphor machines, constantly seeking to understand one thing in terms of another.
Ever since Dr. Frankenstein gave his monster a brain, science fiction has dealt with how the mind might work in the future. But will mind control and mental telepathy ever become historical fact? In a recent article Clarkesworld Magazine took a largely skeptical view, pointing out that these prominent sci-fi tropes lean on some metaphors that have outlived their usefulness to science.
The brain, for example, is not just a series neuronal connections, or a computer-like structure, but a chemical vat as well. Precisely mapping the hundreds of trillions of synaptic connections in our wetware won't recreate the brain. The would-be Dr. Frankenstein would have to account as well for the emotions produced by those brain states, and that deductive roadblock is a notoriously hard problem known more widely to philosophers of science than to its practitioners.
Similarly, our bodies are not just transportation for our heads, but a crucial environment in which thought and emotion are situated. This embodied thinking has an epistimal corollary: We know more than we can tell. It's a fact that any experienced and skilled craftsperson can confirm.
Our walking-around bodies are doing some of the "computing," and yet few think of the human body in those terms.
Or take the idea of memories. They are not "film-like," but something really quite different. Clarkesworld Magazine:
However, as research has revealed in recent years, our memories don't work like video cameras at all. Instead, our brains identify the most novel or important elements of what we perceive and store those elements in locations scattered throughout the brain, while everything else is discarded. Even a momentary image we retain isn't stored as one piece. In his book Brain Rules, developmental molecular biologist John Medina says: 'If you look at a complex picture, for example, your brain immediately extracts the diagonal lines from the vertical lines and stores them in separate areas. Same with color. If the picture is moving, the fact of its motion will be extracted and stored in a place separate than if the picture were static.'
If that's the case, you might well wonder why you can vividly remember every detail of playing Monopoly with your cousin when you were twelve, or a toast at a wedding you went to last week. The answer, disturbingly, is that our brains make up details to complete the picture. Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert puts it this way in his book Stumbling on Happiness : '... information acquired after an event alters memory of the event ... First, the act of remembering involves filling in details that were not actually stored; and second, we generally cannot tell when we are doing this because filling in happens quickly and unconsciously.'
One - ahem - novel solution to this impoverished metaphorical condition might come from artists, who are constantly playing with new metaphors in the search for a descriptive match between churning thought and outcome. When it comes to the human brain, former IdeaFestival presenter Jonah Lehrer's book, "Proust was Neuroscientist," describes the many different ways this restlessness - and often poorly received art - has strongly hinted at discoveries later confirmed by science. Artists often ask better questions.
Better questions will be on tap at the 2010 festival. The lineup of creative people like Jon Landau, who co-produced the Oscar winning film, "Avatar," or Sapphire, who wrote the book "Push" - on which the similarly awarded film "Precious" was based - might just surprise you with their insight into the human condition. Come prepared, in other words, to replace your worn out metaphors. Insight may follow.