IdeaFestival 2014 #8: Wake Up Curious: It Really is a Small World: The Subatomic World of Quantum Mechanics, Black Holes and “Spooky at a Distance” – Ben Malphrus & Roger McNeil

Ben Malphrus, Roger McNeil

Friday, October 3, 2014, 8-8m, Kentucky Center

Start your day with some strong coffee and a lively discussion with physicists Ben Malphrus and Roger McNeil into the subatomic world of quantum weirdness, black holes and a wild phenomenon called “spooky at a distance.” Despite its often bizarre nature, this world forms the foundation of this larger thing we call “reality.”

Key ideas

  • the universe is made of discrete particles, which cannot be divided further
  • we live in a probabilistic universe
  • 1/4 -1/3 of US GDP estimated to be related to quantum mechanics
  • Standard Model of Subatomic Physics
  • 6 types of quarks
  • if you can determine the exact mass of the electron, you will win the Nobel Prize!
  • light as wave / particle
  • double slit experiment
  • Einstein wrote 5 famous papers in 1905
  • our eyes are wonderful photon protectors
  • the same photon takes different paths at the same time
  • the act of observation creates the reality, the act of measurement collapses the wave function, in mathematical vs a physical sense (Copenhagen interpretation vs. multiverse/parallel universe) – systems theory, constructivism
  • superposition of states: Schroedinger’s cat thought experiment
  • you cannot know where something is and where it is going with infinite precision (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle)
  • quantum entanglement
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IdeaFestival 2014 #7: Surviving the great zombie apocalypse – Susan Eichhorn & Andrea Nicholas

Key ideas

  • zombies in popular media
  • exponential growth
  • epidemiological model: susceptibility, rate of infection, rate of zombie killings
  • Ebola: getting out of control?
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IdeaFestival 2014 #6: Time Warped, Claudia Hammond

Claudia Hammond

Session: Time Warped
Thursday, October 2, 2014
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
(Kentucky Center)

Few things are more perplexing to us than the concept of time. While we often think of time as being a kind of external objective reality…science and psychology tells us that it is, in fact, a relative and highly subjective experience. BBC reporter and psychologist Claudia Hammond delves into how our mind experiences, perceives and processes time…and is even capable of “time-travel”.


Claudia Hammond
is an award-winning broadcaster, writer and psychology lecturer. She is the presenter of “All in the Mind & Mind Changers” on BBC Radio 4 and Health Check on BBC World Service Radio and BBC World News TV. She is a columnist for BBC.com and regularly appears on Impact on BBC World News to discuss research in psychology. Hammond is on the part-time faculty at Boston University’s London base where she lectures in health and social psychology.

She is the author of two psychology books – Emotional Rollercoaster: a Journey Through the Science of Feelings and Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception.

@claudiahammond

Key ideas

  • Focus: subjective, relative experience of time vs external, objective reality
  • We actively construct our experience of time
  • oddball effect
  • role of emotion
  • synesthesia
  • ego-moving metaphor
  • telescoping
  • proportionality
  • reminiscence bump between ages 15-25
  • holiday paradox. Prospective / retrospective
  • creation of new memories
  • planning fallacy. Things always take longer – the bigger, the longer. Faulty premises.  We will have more time and be better organized
  • physics: time is an illusion – but our commonsense perception of it doesn’t change because of that. Example: Sunset
  • being taken out of time: absorption in flow
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IdeaFestival 2014 #5: Us vs. Them: How to move from commonsense morality to metamorality

Joshua Greene

Session: Us/Them
Thursday, October 2, 2014, 9-10am, Kentucky Center

Joshua D. Greene is Professor of Psychology, a member of the Center for Brain Science faculty, and the Director of the Moral Cognition Lab at Harvard University. He studies the psychology and neuroscience of morality, focusing on the interplay between emotion and reasoning in moral judgment. His broader interests cluster around the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. Greene’s publications have appeared in Science, Nature, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the MacArthur Foundation. In 2012 he was awarded the Stanton Prize by the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and in 2013 he received Harvard’s Roslyn Abramson Award for teaching. He is the author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them.

3 key ideas / arguments

1. The tragedy of commonsense morality

  • individual vs collective rationality
  • me vs us
  • The tragedy of the commons, Hardin 1968
  • morality is the solution to the tragedy of the commons – limits of communicative rationality (Habermas, critical theory …)
  • cooperation, but on what (whose?) terms?

2. Morality, fast & slow – Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahneman 2011)

  • public goods game
  • cooperation & decision time
  • moral machinery: 2×2 matrix: positive/negative feelings – self-/other-motivating
  • Moral machinery: Success & failure (Herman et al, Science 2008)
  • tribalism: us vs them
  • global failures – climate disruption, violence — the failures are not just global, but regional, national, and local — see poverty, hunger, homelessness, polarization … in the US; Greece and Spain in Europe …
  • distant tribes (Singer 1972, Unger 1996)
  • valuing life: rescue dilemmas (Amitai Shenhav); reward pathway tracks: expected moral value
  • saving lives: why diminishing returns? – mammalian reward circuitry (food)

3. What does a slow-thinking metamorality look like: Moral progress in manual mode – Common moral currency?

  • how to get beyond fast ‘intuitive’  morality? – see Jonathan Haidt on social intuitionism
  • Bentham one of the first to defend gay rights
  • moral insight or inflexible, point-and-shoot tribal morality
  • we have to step back from commonsense morality; don’t trust your intuition
  • key value: trust
  • modern morality: a psychological prescription: start small, build trust from the bottom

Comment

  • Wrong premise: Knowledge is not power. This is the foundational myth of modern society, and the modern social sciences, especially when it comes to the most critical global predicaments of the 21st century – see research on Anthropocene
  • Operates on the wrong level. The most important problems are not psychological, but social. They cannot be adequately addressed by appeals to morality and cooperation. These appeals do not lead to sufficient behavioral changes that meaningfully address the issues. Systems, not people, make society happen (King 2009).
  • The global system has been operating in overshoot for decades, and increasingly does so, leading to socioeconomic polarization, resource scarcity, environmental constraints, and escalating conflicts on all lower levels
  • These are not problems to be solved, but predicaments to be coped with. See wicked and supewicked problems
  • Perhaps violence is down (Pinker), but unsustainability is up and resilience is down.
  • The relevant research is Earth system science. It consistently and increasingly finds that the global system is locked into an increasingly difficult future regardless of what ‘we’ ‘choose’ to do.
  • The global system evolves, but cannot be controlled/governed. Unfortunately, this still is a widespread control illusion/social engineering delusion.
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IdeaFestival 2014 #4: Wake Up Curious: So It Goes – Julia Whitehead & Kevin Smokler on Kurt Vonnegut

Wake Up Curious: So It Goes

Julia Whitehead, Kevin Smokler

Thursday, October 2, 2014, 8 – 8.45 am, (Kentucky Center)

Kurt Vonnegut was one of America’s most interesting novelists and astute observers of the human condition. His unique style, wit and often biting social commentary have inspired and influenced countless individuals. Julia Whitehead, Founder and Executive Director of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, will lead a conversation on the life, ideas and enduring influence of Vonnegut. Moderated by Kevin Smokler.

Key points

  • How is Vonnegut still relevant today other than as an icon of the late 1960s?
  • Subjects he addressed in the 1970s are the same that we address today: environment, especially climate; militarism / pacifism; capitalism / democracy
  • Banned Books Week / The freedom to read
  • Vonnegut operated on a higher level: Not on a local or national level, but on a global / planetary level, focusing on the human, not ‘national’ experience
  • Unique combination of cynicism & humanism

Whitehead’s favorite Vonnegut aphorism:

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. (Mother Night, 1966)

My favorite Vonnegut aphorism:

The most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. Don’t you yourself like or dislike writers mainly for what they choose to show or make you think about? Did you ever admire an empty-headed writer for his or her mastery of the language? No.

So your own winning style must begin with ideas in your head.

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IdeaFestival 2014 #3: Jazz Musician Wynton Marsalis on Art & Creativity in America

Wynton Marsalis

Session: Wynton Marsalis
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
(Kentucky Center)

Wynton Marsalis is the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center and a world-renowned trumpeter, bandleader and composer. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1961, Marsalis began his classical training on trumpet at age 12, entered The Juilliard School at age 17, and soon after joined Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

He made his recording debut as a leader in 1982, and has since recorded more than 70 jazz and classical recordings, which have won him nine GRAMMY® awards and sold over 7 million copies worldwide. In 1983, he became the first and only artist to win both classical and jazz GRAMMYs® in the same year, repeating the distinction the following year. Today Wynton is the only artist ever to win Grammy Awards® in five consecutive years (1983-1987).

Marsalis is an internationally respected educator, a leading advocate of American culture, and a recipient of honorary doctorates from over 25 of America’s leading academic institutions including Columbia, Harvard, Howard, Princeton, and Yale. He has authored six books including: Jazz ABZ: An A to Z Collection of Jazz Portraits (Candlewick, 2005), illustrated by poster artist Paul Rogers; Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (Random House, 2008), with Geoffrey C. Ward; and most recently, Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! (Candlewick, 2012), also illustrated by Paul Rogers. In 1997, Wynton became the first jazz artist to be awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in Music for his oratorio Blood on the Fields, which was commissioned by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In 2001, he was appointed Messenger of Peace by Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and he has also been named a Cultural Ambassador for Jazz by the U.S. State Department through their Culture Connect program. In 2005 Wynton received The National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists by the United States government. Wynton’s creativity has been celebrated the world over. Britain’s senior conservatoire, the Royal Academy of Music, granted him Honorary Membership, the Academy’s highest decoration for a non-British citizen. The French Ministry of Culture appointed Wynton the rank of Knight in the Order of Arts and Literature and in the fall of 2009 he received France’s highest distinction, the insignia Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Marsalis was instrumental in the Higher Ground Hurricane Relief concert, produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center. The event raised more than $3 million for the Higher Ground Relief Fund to benefit the musicians, music industry related enterprises, and other individuals and entities from the areas in Greater New Orleans who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Marsalis helped lead the effort to construct Jazz at Lincoln Center’s home— Frederick P. Rose Hall—the first education, performance, and broadcast facility devoted to jazz, which opened its doors in October 2004.

In 2012 he joined CBS News as Cultural Correspondent and in July became Director of Jazz Studies at The Juilliard School. It is Wynton Marsalis’ commitment to the improvement of life for all people that portrays the best of his character and humanity.

I have enjoyed listening to Marsalis half my life.  Therefore it was such a treat listening to him perform in Van Meter last night, and now listening to him talk about his life and work at IdeaFestival.

It is very likely that this was the best Jazz Bowling Green has ever heard.  Many critics agree that his orchestra is simply best large Jazz ensemble performing in the world today.

Key points

  • Inspired by his parents
  • Jazz = improvisation, swing & blues
  • Jazz as synergy
  • blues as how you cope with adversity, build resilience
  • to cultivate creativity in education, offer attractive alternative forms. As in Jazz, agreement on form allows improvisation
  • music & intelligence: strong connection to memory & deep meditation
  • career advice for beginning musicians: Don’t have anything to fall back on
  • important to listen to the whole history of your instrument to develop your sound, your phrases, your story
  • Theolonius Monk is the ‘master of construction’
  • it is important to have a happy internal life
  • On his creative process: ‘I am always late.’ Needs a lot of stress, duress, noise so that he can concentrate better.  Copious background and outlines.  Very meticulous. Works very hard, gets more intense when he gets tired. Integrity is paramount.
  • Difference between playing music and playing with music. The importance of knowledge.
  • We have devalued value, listening. Become a person, come together, join others. There is too much noise today.
  • The old mythology does not work for the US.  It needs a new mythology, such as Walt Whitman’s. Tension between capitalism and democracy.
  • The importance of a positive frame of reference.
  • ‘There is no perfection on earth. The piano does not care about you or your teacher. What are you making out of it?’
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IdeaFestival 2014 #2: Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization, Stephen Cave 2012

Stephen Cave

Session: Immortality
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
10:30 AM – 11:30 AM
(Kentucky Center)

Dr Stephen Cave is a philosopher, writer and critic. He has worked both as an academic, studying and teaching philosophy at the University of Cambridge, and as a diplomat, negotiating international treaties on behalf of the British Government.

His first book, Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization is an inquiry into humanity’s resistance to the inevitability of death, moving across time and history’s major civilizations and religions to explore just what drives this instinct — and what that means for our future. Immortality was released in 2012 in English and other languages to wide international acclaim.

Stephen also writes essays, features and reviews on a wide range of philosophical and scientific subjects, from human nature to robot warriors and animal rights. He writes regularly for the Financial Times, and has also written for the New York Times, the Guardian, Wired and others. He has appeared on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, Deutschlandradio Kultur, Österreichischer Rundfunk and elsewhere.

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. (Susan Ertz)

Terror management theory proposes that the function of culture/civilization is to manage the terror that results from the awareness of death.

4 ‘immortality narratives:’

  1. staying alive / elixir
  2. resurrection
  3. soul
  4. legacy

Comment: The function of philosophy is learning how to die. In the Anthropocene, learning how to die means learning how to live. Learning how to live in the Anthropocene means learning how to build resilience.

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IdeaFestival 2014 #1: Exoplanets & Exoplanetology – Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars – Lee Billings 2013

lee billings, exoplanets

First presentation at IF by science journalist Lee Billings @leebillings on exoplanets and exoplanetology based on his 2013 book.

Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said that “Either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Either is terrifying.” Science writer Lee Billings explores the past and future search for life in the universe…and the profound implications this search holds for our civilization on Earth.

Key points

  • improbability of life in universe: 1 in a million chance to find yourself in a galaxy
  • infinitesimality of human life relative to age & size of universe
  • most of the universe is ’empty space, dark matter … things we don’t really understand
  • we know very little about exoplanets; very little data
  • inconvenient truth / challenge: no signal due to small sample size
  • we need a bigger mirror in space
  • how to fund telescopes for several billions of dollars?

Great question from Loren Gross (WKU Honors College, Agriculture ’15): Why spend so much money on something so unlikely if we can’t even deal with huge problems on Earth, such as Ebola, superbugs …

Billings initially framed his presentation more as a philosophical/existentialist question, but then focused more on the science, practicality, viability and feasibility of exoplanetology.

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WKU Honors College Scholars at IdeaFestival 2014 in Louisville: An Eclectic Network of Global Thinkers & Innovators, A Celebration for the Intellectually Curious

IdeaFestival: Stay Curious

The motto and approach of IdeaFestival is very similar to Honors education understood as transdisciplinary and transformative global education that cultivates global competence.

I am therefore very excited to attend IdeaFestival this week in Louisville with Brad Cockrel (Mechanical Engineering & Philosophy ’16), Loren Gross (Agriculture ’15), Gina Hatchett (Intl Business & Business Economics ’17), and Abby Kohake (Performing Arts ’16).

The speakers and events are very impressive and I am sure we will all benefit greatly from them for our own projects. As time permits, we will reflect on our experience on this blog.

Update, Wed, Oct 1, 2014, 9am, Opening of 12th IdeaFestival

The purpose of IF is to create ‘disruptive space,’ i.e. set the conditions that increase the probability of creativity and innovation, since reality is ‘fundamentally unpredictable.’ (Kris Kimel, founder of IF)

Key ideas

  • creativity
  • innovation
  • positive attitude
  • entrepreneurism
  • global

Follow IF on twitter at #IF.

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John Dewey on the True Purpose of Education and How to Harness the Power of Our Natural Curiosity

john dewey

Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, Sep 19, 2014

“While it is not the business of education … to teach every possible item of information, it is its business to cultivate deep-seated and effective habits of discriminating tested beliefs from mere assertions, guesses, and opinions.”

“Do not feel absolutely certain of anything,” philosopher Bertrand Russell instructed in the first of his ten timeless commandments of teaching and learning in 1951. And yet formal education, today as much as then, is for the most part a toxic byproduct of industrialism based on the blind acquisition of certainty and the demolition of the “thoroughly conscious ignorance” that gives rise to real progress, both personal and cultural. To fuel the internal engine of learning is a lifelong journey we are left to steer on our own as the education system continues to flounder. The quest to repair that broken system has never been addressed with more urgency and passion than it is today, and yet one of the most intelligent and timely takes on it comes from more than a century ago. [read more]

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