Friday, June 11, 2010

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

By Darby A.

Everyone loves the idea of happiness. People go to great lengths just to grasp its understanding and existence. Some people think money can make them happy, where others believe that happiness is created just by living. Could both be true? Daniel Kahneman goes into as much detail as he can to explain the complexities behind happiness, and the effects that it has on the decisions we make in our daily lives.

Daniel begins his TED Talk with introducing us to our two selves: our experiencing-self and our remembering-self. He explains that our experiencing-self is about living in the present, the here and the now, and that are remembering-self is about the stories that our experiences have created. Each self generates its own happiness, making the word happiness a little more complex. An example Daniel gives for this is about a vacation. Say you're on a two week vacation. The first week was a blast and both of your selves are happy. Let's say the second week was just as good as the first. Your experiencing-self registers that it had twice the amount of fun, but your remembering-self thinks the exact opposite because the second week was no different from the first, meaning the story didn't change. The most important things in a story are the changes, the significant moments, and the ending. He gives a few examples of how important the ending is to one's remembering-self. One of the examples was of a man listening to a symphony. For the first 20 minutes he thought it was the most glorious music he had ever heard, but right at the end there was a screeching sound. He believed that the screech had ruined the experience, but Daniel corrected him by saying that the screech had ruined the memory. The man had still experienced those glorious twenty minutes, but it was the memory of the screech that made him dislike the memory. Another example he gave was of two colonoscopies. Patient B's surgery was longer than Patient A's. When looking at the charts, you could clearly see that Patient B had suffered more. When asked how much they thought to have suffered Patient A responded with a higher pain level. This was because the pain of the surgery was at its peak when the operation ended, leaving Patient A with a worse memory of the experience. Daniel makes the point that both selves need to be seen as distinct entities and not as one, for when this happens, the whole idea of happiness gets confused.

The remembering-self does not only recall your memories, but helps you to make future decisions. When we make decisions, we look back out our memories to help us choose. Daniel gives an example where a patient, who has gone through two colonoscopies with two different doctors, is having yet another colonoscopy. To help the patient decide which doctor to choose, they will look back at the memory of each surgery, seeing which one they enjoyed more, and then make their decision. He goes on about how the two selves bring two different concepts of happiness into our world. There is always a different choice when concerning the two selves depending on if you're thinking in terms of time, or in terms of memories The remembering-self is how satisfied a person is when they think about their life. The experiencing-self is how happy the experience is. In recent years, researchers have started to recognize this distinction. The main lesson that they have all learned is that the two are really different. A person could tell you how satisfied they are with their life, but you would never know how happily they are living it. Daniel gives a few more examples to further explain the two selves concept before he concludes his TED Talk.

The topic that Daniel Kahneman explained was quite complex and tricky to grasp, if you weren't listening the whole time. He knew what he was going to say next, other than the casual glance at his computer screen. He spoke with clarity and an understanding that kept the audience with him throughout his TED Talk. He was able to communicate many ideas about the topic, making you wonder if what he was saying was just the basics, and maybe even wanting to know the rest of it.

After watching this TED Talk, my idea of happiness has been changed. There are times in all our lives where we feel unhappy, but look at our lives and see no reason to be unhappy. I didn't really understand why that happens until now. I would recommend this video because it is extremely informative, and the idea of the topic is completely unique. I suggest watching it when you're not tired because it's hard to follow. Daniel Kahneman did a great job in the way he presented his information, by keeping eye-contact with his audience and giving examples, so that everyone understood what he was saying. Happiness holds many complex meanings, and when the clarification behind those meanings is not distinct, then we will lose the true meaning of the word happiness.

Robert Sapolsky: The uniqueness of humans

By Darby A.

Every species is unique in one way or another, but how are we defined as unique? What makes our species more unique than any other? Through a variety of examples, Robert Sapolsky gives us a better understanding of the qualities that make us unique, and also the ways in which those same qualities don't.

To get us acquainted with his experience, Robert talks about his 30 years of experience of being around baboons and the like, and how it starts to change the way you look at other human beings. By working with these monkeys he has come up with the basic building blocks that define all species as unique. These building blocks are; aggression, theory of mind, the Golden Rule, empathy, pleasure in anticipation and gratification postponement, and culture. For each block, he goes into an in depth explanation of what makes us no longer unique and the part in which humans are unique. He emphasized the point that to see our uniqueness we must come to the understanding that there is nothing different about us, and that we are like every other species out there. Our uniqueness does not come from our genes, which some believe, and he shows us with the example through fruit flies. Fruit flies have almost exactly the same genes, meaning that is we based our uniqueness on genes, there would be no such thing as unique.

Aggression: The ways in which we are no longer unique is that we are not the only species who can kill a member of the same species, organize violence, or conduct genocides. He gives us an example using chimps, where there is this one male chimp who is harassing all the high ranking chimps in a group. Robert shows us a picture of what is left of him, which is mostly his face and a few scraps of skin. The other example he gave was of chimps making border patrols, so they can not only protect their clan, but attack anything that came near. How humans are unique is that we can be passive aggressive, or we can look the other way. We are capable of many subtle things. He gives us an example to show us how humans can damage each other unlike anything ever seen before. A man goes to work everyday outside of Las Vegas. He's reminded to pick up the dry cleaning, to take out the trash, and then leaves for work. His job is to drop bombs on the other side of the world all day long. Once he's finished this, he just makes it to his daughter's ballet performance, and tells her how much he loves her, and then repeats the whole process the next day.

Theory of Mind: is when you realize that somebody else has different thoughts and information than you do. What makes it no longer unique is its very existence. He goes into an example that includes a high ranking monkey and a low ranking monkey, each on the opposite sides of a room. There is a banana in the room, but there is also a mirror. In one case it is opaque and in the other it is transparent. He shows us how the two monkeys use theory of mind of whether to go for the banana or not. Where humans come in is that we use secondary theory of mind. This is when we realize that person A has information that person B does not, and that person B thinks that person A is doing this, when they are really doing something else. A better representation of this is that humans are the only species that are able to sit through a play like a Midsummer's Night Dream, and are able to understand it.

Golden Rule: What is no longer unique is the tit for tat rule. This is the rule that follows the 'do unto others what they would do to you' line. Robert gives two examples of this, one using vampire bats and one using fish. In each case, if the others think that the one is cheating they in turn will cheat the next time. Humans are unique in this case because they have the capacity to understand that the circumstances in which someone else's reward may not be the reward that they would have.

Empathy: An example is how we are no longer unique is in the observations of de Waal's (primatologist) chimps and the innocent bystander. In one scenario, you have a chimp that harasses a high ranking chimp, and gets pummeled because of it. The rest of the clan feels that he deserved the beating, and do nothing about it. In a second scenario, you have an innocent bystander, who gets beaten up by the high ranking chimp for no reason. Within an hour, the rest of the chimps will comfort the innocent bystander by grooming him. By doing this, they are acknowledging the fact that they understand motivations and what victims are. What makes humans unique is the extraordinary measures we go to when we show empathy. Robert shows pictures and explains with each one how we empathize with the creatures in the picture. He shows us that we go to the extent where we feel empathy for a painting of a horse.

Pleasure in Anticipation and Gratification Postponement: What is no longer unique is when dopamine is released into the brain as we are problem solving. He shows us that dopamine levels rise in the anticipation of the reward, and not during the work or the time of the reward, using monkeys. When maybe is added into the equation, dopamine levels sky-rocketed through the roof. How humans are unique is the amount of time in which we can hold onto the dopamine between work and the reward. We have quite the capacity that enables us to hold onto it even beyond our deaths.

Culture: Chimps are just one species that show us how we are no longer unique in one way. They pass down their own cultural transmission of tool-making and the like, vocalizations, and group temperament. There is this one chimp group where half of the males were killed. The males that were killed happened to be the most aggressive ones in the group. Due to the fact that there were more females, and the males that were left we the more gentler ones, you would see that the adult males in the group groomed each other, which is not seen anywhere else. The young ones of the group would take up this tradition and pass it down themselves to the younger ones that came after them. Humans are unique here because of the complexities of human culture.

After the basic building blocks came the ways in which we, as humans, are different from any other known species in the world. One of the things that we do is we are able to go through the same routine everyday for 30 days without changing it. His example of this is of a couple who comes home from work, talk, eat dinner, talk, go to bed, talk, have sex, talk, and then go to sleep. Apparently, a giraffe would be repulsed by this kind of behaviour. The one quality, above all others, that makes us the most unique species out there, is the contradiction that we live by. The contradiction being that the more something is impossible to be, the more it must be. The most irrational and magnificent example of this that he has ever come across is that of a Catholic nun, who works at a maximum security prison. She minsters the most horrible and dangerous men that are on death row. When people ask her why she works there she simply says that the less forgivable the act, the more forgiveness must be given, the less love there is, the more love is needed. What it all comes down to is that the "harder it is to take the impossibility of something to be the very proof that it must be possible, and must become a moral imperative, the more important it is." Robert Sapolsky ends his talk with a strong finish as he connects all that he has said to his audience. They would be officially educated soon and wise enough to know that one person cannot make a difference, but because of this impossibility it must be possible, and is the importance that they, and everyone alike, recognize it in that way.

Robert Sapolsky is an outstanding speaker. He uses humour throughout his talk and delivers it in a way that flows with the rest of what he's saying. He uses connection from his topic to himself, mentioning his children in a specific building block, and connects his overall conclusion to the circumstance of his audience. He maintains a steady pace while sharing his knowledge, talking with non-stop enthusiasm and experience. By the end of his talk, you can come to the conclusion the Robert Sapolsky is a very dedicated and intelligent man.

We have all been told one time or another that we are unique. Robert Sapolsky takes us into a different realm of unique, giving us the basic understandings of where our uniqueness comes from. I would recommend this video to everyone with high commendation. He gives us the details and proof into our uniqueness that would surely enrich everyone's minds.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Dan Gilbert asks, Why are we happy?

By Samantha K.

Dan Gilbert begins his talk by stating that "...
in two million years the human brain has nearly tripled in mass, going from the one-and-a-quarter pound brain of our ancestor here, Habilis, to the almost three-pound meatloaf that everybody here has between their ears." He carries on to explain that the human brain not only tripled in size, but was restructured with a new part called the frontal lobe. Now he draws more attention to the pre-frontal cortex, which most importantly acts as an experience simulator. He describes this by explaining that "Human beings have this marvelous adaptation that they can actually have experiences in their heads before they try them out in real life." Apparently, this is a skill our ancestors did not possess.

He says he is going to run a quick "diagnostic" before he continues. He explains to the audience: "
Here's two different futures that I invite you to contemplate,and you can try to simulate them and tell me which one you think you might prefer. One of them is winning the lottery. This is about 314 million dollars. And the other is becoming paraplegic." Then he displays some statistics that show how happy lotto winners and paraplegics are after one year. As expected, the lotto winners are happier. He then states that he made these statistics up. He finally reveals the real outcomes and states that after one year, lotto winners and paraplegics are equally happy.

He explains that "The research that my laboratory has been doing, that economists and psychologists around the country have been doing, have revealed something really quite startling to us. Something we call the impact bias, which is the tendency for the simulator to work badly. For the simulator to make you believe that different outcomes are more different than in fact they really are... In fact, a recent study showing how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness." Why? He asks. "Because happiness can be synthesized." He goes on to talk about Sir Thomas Brown and what he wrote in 1642: "I am the happiest man alive. I have that in me that can convert poverty to riches, adversity to prosperity. I am more invulnerable than Achilles; fortune hath not one place to hit me." He says that human beings have something that we might think of as a psychological immune system. "A system of cognitive processes, largely non-conscious cognitive processes, that help them change their views of the world, so that they can feel better about the worlds in which they find themselves." Like Sir Thomas, we have this machine. Unlike Sir Thomas, we seem not to know it.

"We synthesize happiness" He states, "but we think happiness is a thing to be found... we believe that synthetic happiness is not of the same quality as what we might call natural happiness. What are these terms? Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted, and synthetic happiness is what we make when we don't get what we wanted."

He did an experiment with a group of patients who had anterograde amnesia. These are hospitalized patients. Most of them have Korsakoff's syndrome, a polyneuritic psychosis that basically means they can't make new memories. They remember their childhood, but if you walk in and introduce yourself, and then leave the room, when you come back they don't know who you are. They took some Monet prints to the hospital. And asked these patients to rank them from the one they liked the most to the one they liked the least. They then gave them the choice between number three and number four. Like everybody else, they said, "Gee, thanks Doc! That's great! I could use a new print. I'll take number three." They explained we would have number three mailed to them. They gathered up their materials and went out of the room, and counted to a half hour. Back into the room, they say, "Hi, we're back." The patients say, "Ah, Doc, I'm sorry, I've got a memory problem, that's why I'm here. If I've met you before, I don't remember." "Really, Jim, you don't remember? I was just here with the Monet prints?""Sorry, Doc, I just don't have a clue." "No problem, Jim. All I want you to do for me is rank these from the one you like the most to the one you like the least." What do they do? Well, they check and make sure they're really amnesiac. They ask these amnesiac patients to tell them which one they own, which one they chose last time, which one is theirs. And what we find is amnesiac patients just guess. These are normal controls, where if they did this with you, all of you would know which print you chose. But if they do this with amnesiac patients, they don't have a clue. They can't pick their print out of a lineup.

He explains; "Here's what normal controls do: they synthesize happiness. Right? This is the change in liking score, the change from the first time they ranked to the second time they ranked. Normal controls show 'The one I own is better than I thought. The one I didn't own, the one I left behind, is not as good as I thought.' Amnesiacs do exactly the same thing. Think about this result. These people like better the one they own, but they don't know they own it. What these people did when they synthesized happiness is they really, truly changed their affective, hedonic, aesthetic reactions to that poster. They're not just saying it because they own it, because they don't know they own it. Now, when psychologists show you bars, you know that they are showing you averages of lots of people. And yet, all of us have this psychological immune system, this capacity to synthesize happiness, but some of us do this trick better than others. And some situations allow anybody to do it more effectively than other situations do. It turns out that freedom -- the ability to make up your mind and change your mind -- is the friend of natural happiness, because it allows you to choose among all those delicious futures and find the one you most enjoy. But freedom to choose -- to change and make up your mind -- is the enemy of synthetic happiness."

He gives another example of another experiment he did at Harvard: "We created a photography course, a black-and-white photography course, and we allowed students to come in and learn how to use a darkroom. So we gave them cameras, they went around campus, they took 12 pictures of their favorite professors and their dorm room and their dog, and all the other things they wanted to have Harvard memories of. They bring us the camera, we make up a contact sheet, they figure out which are the two best pictures, and we now spend six hours teaching them about darkrooms, and they blow two of them up, and they have two gorgeous eight-by-10 glossies of meaningful things to them, and we say, "Which one would you like to give up?"They say, "I have to give one up?" "Oh, yes. We need one as evidence of the class project. So you have to give me one. You have to make a choice.You get to keep one, and I get to keep one."

Now, there are two conditions in this experiment. In one case, the students are told, "But you know, if you want to change your mind, I'll always have the other one here, and in the next four days, before I actually mail it to headquarters, "I'll be glad to swap it out with you. In fact, I'll come to your dorm room and give -- just give me an email. Better yet, I'll check with you. You ever want to change your mind, it's totally returnable." The other half of the students are told exactly the opposite: "Make your choice. And by the way, the mail is going out, gosh, in two minutes, to England. Your picture will be winging its way over the Atlantic. You will never see it again." Now, half of the students in each of these conditions are asked to make predictions about how much they're going to come to like the picture that they keep and the picture they leave behind. Other students are just sent back to their little dorm rooms and they are measured over the next three to six days on their liking, satisfaction with the pictures. And look at what we find. First of all, here's what students think is going to happen. They think they're going to maybe come to like the picture they chose a little more than the one they left behind, but these are not statistically significant differences. It's a very small increase, and it doesn't much matter whether they were in the reversible or irreversible condition. Wrong-o. Bad simulators. Because here's what's really happening. Both right before the swap and five days later, people who are stuck with that picture, who have no choice, who can never change their mind, like it a lot! And people who are deliberating -- "Should I return it? Have I gotten the right one? Maybe this isn't the good one? Maybe I left the good one?" -- have killed themselves. They don't like their picture, and in fact even after the opportunity to swap has expired, they still don't like their picture. Why? Because the reversible condition is not conducive to the synthesis of happiness.

So here's the final piece of this experiment. We bring in a whole new group of naive Harvard students and we say, "You know, we're doing a photography course, and we can do it one of two ways. We could do it so that when you take the two pictures, you'd have four days to change your mind,or we're doing another course where you take the two pictures and you make up your mind right away and you can never change it. Which course would you like to be in? " Duh! 66 percent of the students, two-thirds, prefer to be in the course where they have the opportunity to change their mind. Hello? 66 percent of the students choose to be in the course in which they will ultimately be deeply dissatisfied with the picture. Because they do not know the conditions under which synthetic happiness grows."

He says that that "The Bard said everything best, of course...'Tis nothing good or bad / But thinking makes it so.' It's nice poetry, but that can't exactly be right. Is there really nothing good or bad? Is it really the case that gall bladder surgery and a trip to Paris are just the same thing? That seems like a one-question IQ test. They can't be exactly the same." He then continues; "In more turgid prose, but closer to the truth, was the father of modern capitalism, Adam Smith, and he said this... 'The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life seems to arise from overrating the difference between one permanent situation and another ... Some of these situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others, but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardor which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice, or to corrupt the future tranquility of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse for the horror of our own injustice.'" In other words: yes, some things are better than others.

He thinks that we should have preferences that lead us into one future over another. But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast because we have overrated the difference between these futures, we are at risk. When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our ambition is unbounded, it leads us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things of real value. When our fears are bounded, we're prudent, we're cautious, we're thoughtful. When our fears are unbounded and overblown, we're reckless, and we're cowardly.

He presents his entire talk very well. He effectively communicates by using hand gestures, eye contact, and walking around the stage. He also uses a slideshow to provide a visual for the audience. His tone of voice is comfortable and he does not use notes of any kind, showing that he is very knowledgeable about his topic. This helps the talk run smoothly.

Dan Gilbert closes his talk by stating; "The lesson I want to leave you with from these data is that our longings and our worries are both to some degree overblown, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Swami Dayananda Saraswati: The profound journey of compassion

By Mike B.

Dayananda Saraswati is a Hindu teacher of Vedanta and Sanskrit in the tradition of Adi Shankar. He is well known as a very wise, and intelligent disciple of Swami Chinmayananda. He is a 'whole ' man. By whole, I mean he has discovered his meaning in life; he has found purpose for himself and is contented. He is strong and he is solid. He is solid in his beliefs and his words. He speaks what he will, and moves others as he does. The Swami is very motivational; he is an idol.

In his talk the Swami gives his views on many things; compassion, love, empathy, and happiness. He elaborates on how they are interdependent -which is how they must rely on each other to be present in a person. He starts out by speaking on the helplessness of a child and how it needs it's mother to survive. The baby is a consumer; it takes without the ability to give back. The baby believes the world surrounds them and that everything is dependent on it, but as the child grows up, its trust in its mother is violated and so it blames itself, "A wordless blame, which is more difficult to really resolve, the wordless self-blame."

The baby must overcome this as it becomes an adult. It must also find a way to contribute. The ability for a human being to grow depends on their ability to contribute. They must give. In order to give, one must feel, "Secure, one feels big, one feels: I have enough." Once a person is stable, then that person can give. Once you are secure, then you can feel compassionate and can act in that way. The Swami then gives an example of empathy. He describes a scene from a Wimbledon final tennis match. The two opponents fight to the finish with one man eventually prevailing. Then the crowd cheers, the man celebrates and all is joyous for him until he sees his opponent with their head down. Then the victor comes to the net and, "You see, his whole face changes. It looks as though he's wishing that he didn't win." The reason why the man's face fell, is empathy. He sees how crushed his opponent is and he feels his pain. This is empathy and everyone has it. The Swami tells his crowd about the eminence of empathy, "No culture, no nation, and nationalism, nothing can touch it because it is empathy."

The next topics he speaks of our love and happiness. Love is not something you do, but something you discover. As the Swami says, "You can't say, 'Please love me.'" He also says that you cannot make someone act a certain way, but you can act compassionately or conduct yourself with empathy. The Swami encourages 'oneness' which is very hard to understand and harder to explain. It is somewhat of accepting everything around you, and by doing so he says that you will be accepted. He tells us that happiness is found on the way to becoming compassionate. He says that you find yourself in happiness and you are accepting of yourself, "even for a slapstick joke, accepts himself, and also the scheme of things in which one finds oneself."

He finishes his talk speaking about the, so called American manta, "You fake it and make it," He encourages the audience to do this if you don't have compassion. He says that after a while of 'acting it out', you gradually discover it will come naturally. The last piece of Swami Dayananda Saraswati advice will result in you discovering "compassion is a dynamic manifestation of the reality of yourself, which is oneness, wholeness, and that's what you are."

The Swami's speaking style was very confusing and somewhat contradictory at some points. I am not sure if he just struggled to find some of the correct words or if he has trouble in English; at times I had difficulties deciphering what he was trying to get at. One of the worst parts comes as he is trying to explain limitations. He speaks as follows, "Compassion is going to be limited. Everything is going to be limitless. You cannot command compassion unless you become limitless, and nobody can become limitless, either you are or you are not. Period. And there is no way of your being not limitless too." After hearing this part I had to pause and go back a few minutes to try to find context. Then I called up the transcript and still could not understand it. It was somewhat frustrating. I found this talk frustrating in other aspects as well. The Swami's… speaking style… is… spaced out as if… he is in deep…thought. At the start of his talk he will say about four words, then pause for about eight seconds. I might just be too impatient, but this was annoying to me. The Swami's persuasiveness was not the best I have ever heard. This was because he failed to stay on a straight topic path. He tended to speak for a little while on one thing then link it to another idea that linked to something about another thing, that linked to the thing he said first that linked to what he was now talking about. His train of thought was like a spider web, very confusing and random if you look at it up close, but all ties together when finished.

I liked the idea of this talk, however it was hard to find what that was, in most parts. I believe that the main message of it was that compassion will make your life better and will lead you to become 'whole', letting you become happier in the end. The Swami says "everything becomes meaningful. I have no more reason to blame myself." I really would not advise people to watch this video. I found that the Swami was very intelligent and carried a great message, but it would be better if someone else had edited it and presented it for him.

Rives controls the Internet

By Stephen M.

John Rives is a poet often featured on HBO's Def Poetry Jam and a large TED contributor. In this poem he describes the changes that would be made if he controlled the Internet and how these are possible if desired. Following a summary of this piece I will provide an overview on the speaking tools used by Rives and my own opinion of the talk.

John commences his poem by telling the audience of his inspiration for it:
"I wrote this poem after hearing a pretty well-known actress tell a very well-known interviewer on television, 'I'm really getting into the Internet lately. I just wish it were more organized.'" He goes on to tell us about how one could sell a broken heart on e-bay and use the proceeds to purchase a foreign phonebook on Amazon. Rives then connects the real world to the computerized one with another unrealistic fantasy "If I were in charge of the Internet, you could Mapquest your lover's mood swings." His magical Internet would allow Monster, Friendster and Napster to coexist as one site "That way you could listen to cool music while you pretend to look for a job and you're really just chatting with your pals." Delving even further into the improbable Rives begins his next subject "Heck, if I ran the web, you could email dead people." He says that you wouldn't receive an email back, but would get a reply saying "I miss you". After several other unrealistic topics including the Emperor of Oranges, .moms and .dads along with his deity like Internet presence he reaches the purpose of the talk. This is summed up in two sentences " It is not a question of if you can. It's, do ya? We can interfere with the interface." All of the before stated implausibilities can be achieved if we want them to be. To fulfill the presentation he conjures the final image of his Internet bliss " We can make "You've got Hallelujah" the national anthem of cyberspace every lucky time we log on."

The message that John is giving us is that we can make the Internet whatever we want it to be. His poem is about how he would like the Internet but at the concluding statements he uses "we" and not "I" to tell us that it isn't just him who wants to change the "it." Throughout the talk Rives demonstrates impressive public speaking ability to the audience. He never relies on either a teleprompter or cue cards and speaks with changes in tone and dynamics throughout the talk along with excellent gestures. He has good eye contact and keeps the audience entertained with both humorous and ridiculous propositions. Overall, the public speaking skills he employs are superb.

The audience in the room loved the poem and Rives received a standing ovation from them. The comments on the TED site are similar and praise his ability to make the Internet seem so friendly and not like the complex and depersonalized image we ourselves conceptualize. My own reaction was not, in fact one of amazement. Though he spoke well, used gestures and vocal expression I did not find it enjoyable to watch. This is due entirely to the fact that my interests do not include poetry. As a TED performance I would give this an 9 out of 10 based solely on the speaking skills.

I would recommend this video to anyone interested in humorous poetry or any kind for that matter. If you have no interest in poetry like myself, this is not for you. I can say that on the basis of a presentation it was very good.

Arthur Ganson makes moving sculpture

By Luke D.

Normally when one thinks of moving art, animation, be it traditional hand-drawn or CGI, comes to mind. However, with Arthur Ganson’s “Ted Talk”, we’re shown fantastic moving sculptures, given motion by an ingenious use of gears and pulleys. But what really makes his art fantastical is not the use of the machines but his humorous vision that goes into them. The humor is subtle but nonetheless, fun and inspirational. Also, Ganson has a lot of interesting things to say.

Ganson starts off telling of how he first became interested in art due to a fascination with movement. He used to make flipbooks as a hobby when he was a child and even displays one of them, entitled “Great Race” to the audience. It depicts a rather brutal scenario in which two cars are racing. One of them hits a rock in the middle of the road, which results in both cars crashing into each other and going flying. One of them explodes, while the other one, driverless from the previous accident, collides with an ambulance resulting in more, as Ganson puts it, “gratuitous violence”. The flipbook is a very entertaining part of the Ted presentation. It also provides good insight into how Ganson’s mind worked when he was small. The fascination with movement is quite evident as is his willingness to do what he can to bring a concept to life.

He then recalls his days in high school when he thought about becoming a surgeon as it would require him to work with his hands in a very intense situation. However, in college he took art courses. This is when he began to make his strange moving sculptures. These contraptions are made up of many different gears and found objects, all simultaneously in motion. The visual style reminds me slightly of clock-punk fiction with the continuous turning of the gears and wheels.

One of the first sculptures we’re shown depicts a small plastic figurine of a man perched upon the top of a skeletal building structure. As one turns a handle at the bottom of the sculpture, the man “walks” across the roof. His jittery, humorous movement patterns recall that of the animated characters of South Park. Ganson uses this piece to explain that most of his works include “found objects” such as the figurine in this piece. This is because he’s constantly thinking about how an object would move if given the ability to do so. “…it's almost like doing visual puns all the time,” he explains.When I see objects, I imagine them in motion; I imagine what can be said with them.” I’ve found myself thinking such thoughts before as well.

The next sculpture features a walking wishbone that Ganson found himself playing with after dinner one night. He was intrigued with how the structure of the bone served as its own locomotion. He created a machine that assisted the wishbone in its walking. The final image that is created is a haunting but still slightly humorous one, of a small beast of burden (the wishbone) pulling a turning, industrial machine many times its size across an endless landscape. It’s quite a surreal and, although somewhat sad, inspirational image.

He also shows us a very bizarre film of a conceptual piece called “Cory’s Yellow Chair”. This is a small model of his sons yellow chair. The model chair falls into several pieces due to machines and gears pulling it apart. The pieces are all pulled out farther and farther away until, as if by some gravitational force, they come back together in the complete form of a chair. It’s quite wonderful to behold. Only in certain shots can we see the gears of the machine moving, so it really looks more like some cool retro stop-motion animation.

Those are but a few of Ganson’s fantastic conceptual sculptures that we’re shown in the Talk. The imagination and artistic talent that Ganson exhibits with his creations is quite wonderful. He not only has an interesting and original artistic vision, but his ability to manifest his ideas with spinning wheels and gears so effectively is quite fascinating as well.

He also spends some time talking about some colorful life experiences he has had thanks to his works of art. These include inventing a tool to help bend wires for his projects and one to help hold them in place as he did so (before he came across a spot welder…) and joining a group in Boston called the “World Sculpture Racing Society”.

The group’s goal was to publicly display art. Ganson’s creation was quite interesting and once again, very conceptual. “So I made -- this is my first racing sculpture, and I thought, ‘Oh, I'm going to make a cart, and I'm going to have it -- I'm going to have my hand writing 'faster,' so as I run down the street, the cart's going to talk to me and it's going to go, 'Faster, faster!' " So that's what it does. But then in the end, what I decided, was every time you finish writing the word, I would stop and I would give the card to somebody on the side of the road. So I would never win the race because I'm always stopping. But I had a lot of fun.

Ganson ends off the talk with a final sculpture. This piece has something about it that makes it very moving while at the same time awfully subtle. It’s a wheeled machine moving in a straight line, back and forth continuously, rotating (or as Ganson more accurately puts it, “dancing with”) a chair high about itself, as very tranquil music plays in the background. Eventually the chair is gently returned to the ground. The whole atmosphere that the video created was very enjoyable to experience. Something about it was very reassuring.

Ganson has a very poetic view on how he creates his work. His own words themselves offer the same sort of strange but comforting vibes. It is very clear from the following statement that he’s not only passionate about his work but he has an excellent enlightenment on his art.

When I'm making these pieces, I'm always trying to find a point where I'm saying something very clearly and it's very simple, but also at the same time it's very ambiguous. And I think there's a point between simplicity and ambiguity which can allow a viewer to perhaps take something from it.

And that leads me to the thought that all of these pieces start off in my own mind, in my heart, and I do my best at finding ways to express them with materials, and it always feels really crude. It's always a struggle, but somehow I manage to sort of get this thought out into an object, and then it's there, OK. It means nothing at all. The object itself just means nothing. Once it's perceived, and someone brings it into their own mind, then there's a cycle that has been completed. And to me, that's the most important thing because ever since being a kid, I've wanted to communicate my passion and love, and that means the complete cycle of coming from inside out to the physical, to someone perceiving it.

This “Ted Talk” was very interesting and I highly recommend watching it if you appreciate art. The works of Arthur Ganson may take a few seconds to fully understand, but many of them are both amusing and somewhat moving. The only real drawback of the video is that Ganson likes to use the word “Uh” and “Umm” a lot. I found it pretty noticeable and it did take away just a little from the effectiveness of his speech. However, this is a minor complaint and my only one. It hardly makes the rest of the presentation of the art any less brilliant. Arthur Ganson’s “Ted Talk” is still awesome!

Carolyn Porco flies us to Saturn

By Hannah W.

As the leader of imaging for the Cassini Mission, Carolyn Porco shares the immense progress that the space community has reached since the launch of the Huygens probe. There has only been assumptions when it comes to two of Saturn's moons, Titan and Enceladus. But with this new technology they are able to test the compounds in the air and in the soil. With all of this new information, they have realized that it is quite likely that there is other forms of life than just on Earth.

Titan is Saturn's largest moon and has the same surface type as Earth. It has shores along large masses of fluids, thousands of kilometers of sand dunes and other landforms along those lines. Titan is covered in organic compounds and the "air" is made up of mostly nitrogen. Knowing this, they think that this moon might be able to sustain life. If this is the case it could mean huge things. Enceladus on the other hand is almost completely opposite of Earth. The hottest part of the moon is it's south pole, and its coldest along it's equator.

The Huygens probe was built in Europe and when launched it took seven years to get to Titan. Huygens was a landmark moment for space technology, it brought countries together in celebration of their success. This moment should have had it's own parade.

You can tell that Porco loves what she does and what she's discovered. As she talks and explains you can see that she has invested so much time into this project and she so wholeheartedly believes that her work will be the horizon of new and better outlooks for humanity. The fact that she actually believes in what she's talking about catches your attention, and once she has it she continues to surprise by making jokes and announcing these incredible discoveries.

Thanks to Porco's team, humanity might have a fighting chance after all. If Titan is almost able to support human life, if not already supporting some kind of life, what's to say that our other planets could do the same. These discoveries are amazing and I have no doubt that they, along with Porco, will do great things.

Roz Savage: Why I'm rowing across the Pacific

By Kayla H.

Roz Savage rows across oceans. Four years ago, she rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, and since then she's done two out of three stages of rowing across the Pacific Ocean - from San Fransisco to Hawaii, and from Hawaii to Kiribati and soon, from Kiribati to Australia. After she has accomplished this, she will have officially rowed over 8,000 miles, taken over 3 million oar strokes and spent more than 312 days alone on the ocean, on a 23 ft. rowboat. It's quite the accomplishment, but why did she decide to do this? In this talk, Roz Savage explains just that.

"For 11 years, I conformed. I did what people from my kind of background were supposed to do. I was working in an office in London as a management consultant. And I think I knew from day one that it wasn't the right job for me. But that kind of conditioning just kept me there for so many years, until I reached my mid-thirties and I thought, 'You know, I'm not getting any younger. I feel like I've got a purpose in this life, and I don't know what it is, but I'm pretty certain that management consultancy is not it'". It's clear that Roz Savage was certain that she did not want to continue with the way her life was, but how did she put it into perspective that she wanted to row across oceans, starting with the Atlantic? She explains this by stating that "I sat down one day and wrote two versions of my own obituary, the one that I wanted, a life of adventure, and the one that I was actually heading for which was a nice, normal, pleasant life, but it wasn't where I wanted to be by the end of my life. I wanted to live a life that I could be proud of. And I remember looking at these two versions of my obituary and thinking, "Oh boy, I'm on totally the wrong track here. If I carry on living as I am now, I'm just not going to end up where I want to be in five years, or 10 years, or at the end of my life." And with this statement, and with logical thinking, Roz Savage decided to row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Roz Savage continues to explain how she crossed the Atlantic Ocean, notifying everyone that it definitely was not easy. The route she mentioned she took was from Canaries to Antigua, which is about 3,000 miles. She explains it was hard because she had to get out of her comfort zone, which is indeed a hard task to accomplish. Not only did she just have to struggle with her comfort zone, it was 2005 - the year of hurricane Katrina. Roz explains that there were more tropical storms then ever before, and that her oars had snapped numerous times, each time having to find a piece of material to help keep them together for as long as she could while rowing. After suffering from tendinitis on her shoulders, and salt water sores on her bottom, Roz Savage finally made it across the Atlantic Ocean, and after such an accomplishment, she was feeling pretty good. People cheering her, she mentions it made her feel like a movie star, and that it was worth all of the work. But Roz had to do you top rowing across the Atlantic Ocean? Well, the answer is simple, just row across the Pacific.

It sounds simple enough, but there is one slight complication that Roz advised to the audience. On the world map, the Pacific Ocean is on the left and right sides. Now if you look on Google Earth, it gives you a better perspective. Turns out the Pacific Ocean covers about half of the Earth, 65 million miles to be precise. So it's definitely more of a challenge, as Roz mentioned while showing the audience on Google Earth. Because it is quite impossible to row straight across the Pacific, Roz mentions that she split her journey into three pieces, until she will eventually make it to Australia. She mentions that she's already finished two of the three stages across the Pacific, and that she did have some difficulties, but she has still been successful. So, after all of this talk about herself and how difficult it is to row across these oceans, etc...why exactly is she rowing across the ocean?

Roz Savage explains to the audience that naturally, she's doing it for the environment. "If I'm successful, I'll be the first woman ever to row solo all the way across the Pacific. And I try and use this to bring awareness to these environmental issues, to bring a human face to the ocean". "If the Atlantic was about my inner journey, discovering my own capabilities, maybe the Pacific has been about my outer journey, figuring out how I can use my interesting career choice to be of service to the world, and to take some of those things that I've learned out there and apply them to the situation that human kind now finds itself in". This line is shown through Roz Savages' idea to bring human face to the ocean, and how she is to launch a new initiative called "Eco-Heroes" where the idea here is that all Eco-Heroes will log at least one green deed every day. It's meant to be a bit of a game. There's going to be an iPhone app out of it. Roz says that "We just want to try and create that awareness because, sure, changing a light bulb isn't going to change the world, but that attitude, that awareness that leads you to change the light bulb or take your reusable coffee mug, that is what could change the world".

All in all, I found this presentation considerably encouraging. It makes you realize how someone can stand up and make a realization...that you are capable of doing something beyond what you are use to truly is inspirational. This is shown by Roz very well. She gives an understanding of peoples average lives, and when she shows how you can step outside of your box and make a difference, you really begin to understand what she's trying to say. Although, my only suggestion that I have is for about 3/4 of her presentation she talked mainly about herself, while the title of the video is why I'm crossing the Pacific Ocean, and giving reason to this statement. She did not talk very much about why she was doing it (which was for the environment) but more about herself, and how much of a struggle it was to realize she should step out of her comfort zone, and do something worthwhile. It is still an important message, but I felt that she could still talk more about why she was doing it, but overall still a well done performance.

Helen Fisher studies the brain in love

By Sarah S.

We all love. We love our family, our friends, and our partner. But why do we crave love so much? Helen Fisher takes a closer look at our physical need for romantic love in this TED talk, Helen Fisher studies the brain in love.

Helen Fisher and her colleagues have used the MRI brain scanner on 37 people, 17 were happily in love, and 15 who had just been dumped. She is starting a third study of people who have been married for 10 to 25 years, and still in love.

"Around the world people love. They sing for love, they dance for love, they compose poems and stories about love. They tell myths and legends about love. They pine for love, they live for love, they kill for love, and they die for love," that's how Helen describes love. It is very true, most of the songs out there have something to do with love in them; most books and movies have love in them.

Before starting to talk about the brain, Helen says one of her favourite poems, which she thinks is a very powerful love poem. Then she says that their first study of people in love was widely publicized so she will only say a little about it. They found activity at the base of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), and activity in some cells that produce dopamine, a natural stimulant. The VTA is part of the area associated with wanting, motivation, focus, and craving. It is also the same place that becomes active when feeling the rush of cocaine. Helen says it's more then just a high, it's an obsession. And the obsession gets worse after you have been rejected. So that is why they then took a look at people who have recently been dumped. There was activity in 3 brain regions, one was in the VTA, so they were still in love, another in an area associated with calculating gains and loses, and the last part, where you feel deep attachment to another individual. Basically, you have been dumped, and you still love the other person, and are still deeply attached to that person.

Helen learned a few things from her experiments that she would like to share with the world. The first is that romantic love, is a basic mating drive. This has you focus your mating energy on just one person at a time and then wanting to start the mating process with this person. She also believes that romantic love is an addiction. It is very good when it is all going right, but when its going wrong, it can be very bad. Love also has all the characteristics of addiction: the obsessive thinking about the person, the craving for that person. She wants the medical and legal community to understand that love is one of the most addictive things on earth. She would also like to tell the world that animals love too; shes looked at hundreds of different species to find this out.

Helen and her colleagues have already started their third experiment on people who have been married for 25 years, and say they are still in love. For the first 5 people, they found that they to have the activity in the brain related to intense romantic love. Helen, herself, is working on the question of why we fall in love with one person, and not another. She believes our biology pulls us towards someone.

Helen presents a very good argument that love does come from a part in our brain, and that after being dumped you seem to love the other person even more. She has science to back her up, as she has done all the experiments herself. It seems very logical, because our brain controls everything else we do, why wouldn't it control the way we love, and who we love.

Helen speaks very well. She uses a few pictures to show the parts of the brain, and of people in love. She mixes some humour into her talk, to make it easy to enjoy for the audience.

This talk was very interesting and quite good. I would like to know what the results were from the last experiment, and if Helen answered her question of why we fall in love with one person over another.

David Pogue says "Simplicity sells"

By Jason L.

Being a New York Times columnist, David Pogue was given the opportunity to test, rate and write articles about the newest and top technological devices.

The tap counter is someone who counts the number of taps it takes to complete a task. This is a major part of the talk; David says that it takes too many taps to finish a task on a PC. However on a Mac and a Palm, they focus on keeping it simple, because simplicity sells. If you think of many of the different types of MP3's, they include many more features than the Ipod's; for example: voice recorders, and FM Transmitters, but the iPod won. This shows that industries may now be getting the message that simplicity sells.

What makes the newest edition of speech recognition software so good? Well as they released the newest version they didn't change anything. This has never happened before in software, where they do not add any new features.
For years people had bought this software, tried it out, and 95 percent accuracy was all they got, which means one in 20 words is wrong. The company got sick of that, so they said, "This version, we're not going to do anything but make sure it's very accurate."

To keep the audience alive, he incorporates comic relief. He broke out in three funny songs that he wrote, providing an overview of what he was just talking about. In addition to that, David made some excellent comparisons between Mac and PC. Being on Mac's side, David explains that PC's are to complicated, and Mac's simplicity, "Sells". He describes the "Print Page" on a PC as a look alike to a 747 cockpit, and "why would shut down your computer by pressing, Start ?" "Your call will be recorded for quality assurance, Mm-Mmm. Your call may be recorded so that they can collect the funniest dumb user stories and pass them around on a CD," David explains, he adds funny quotes from real users that have called in to the Apple help centre. For example, a guy called, his computer had crashed, and he told the technician he couldn't restart it no matter how many times he typed 11. And the technician said, "What? Why are you typing 11?" He said, "The message says, 'Error Type 11."

The hard part is not deciding what features to add, it's deciding what to leave out. Companies need to focus on the important parts, and keep their software simple, and accessible for all users. The more features you add will not make it better, so we need to remember as a motivation that: simplicity sells.

Friday, June 4, 2010

John Francis walks the Earth

By Sam T.

To begin, the video being analyzed is called "John Francis walks the earth." From watching this video, I have developed thoughts about the video to which I believe that the ideas and concepts used in the video can be seen differently. I strongly disagree with what John has stated throughout his presentation. In the duration, of this essay I will clearly demonstrate why I feel this way towards John’s speech.

In summary of the video, John Francis starts off his speech by explaining why he started his action to develop a healthier and cleaner environment. John had experienced two oil tanks that collided together resulting in all the oil spilling throughout the water. John didn’t like what he saw, so therefore John had decided to not drive an automobile or talk for seventeen years. He felt by not talking or driving an automobile that he would be making a great change to the earth. John also believed that with his actions towards the environment he would be decreasing global warming and increasing the knowledge of society. John concludes throughout his speech that he has a great respect for the world and also respect for others. From John’s speech, the comparison between the respect to the environment and respect towards others is defined thoroughly throughout. In conclusion, by the end of John’s speech he concludes that he sees the worlds by if people have a great respect of others than people will also have a great respect for the environment. For example, if a citizen treated others with great respect then the citizen would be respectful to the environment. Also, John had concluded that we have to become activists in saving our Earth.

Therefore, from making conclusions based on the video, I strongly disagree with John’s thoughts and results towards respecting others will result in having a great respect for the environment. For example, I feel that a person will respect others but will not have respect for the environment. In other words, a citizen will listen, support and communicate positively towards others but also not do good things to the environment. Some negative actions that a citizen would do to not respect the environment would be not recycle or vandalize public buildings or driving to a place when walking can be done. On the other hand, I believe John did a great job engaging the audience by playing his banjo. By John playing the banjo, he had the audience’s attention from the beginning and allowed for the audience to understand what John was saying. Also, John as a speaker, I felt was not interesting enough to keep my attention throughout the whole presentation. John did take a long time to get his views and thoughts across about saving the environment. From the presentation, John has talked more about his journey not talking or driving an automobile than the connection to the environment. To conclude, the presentation from John was not a clearly understood speech in relation to saving the environment.

To illustrate, why I am strongly disagreeing with what John had talked about in his presentation four direct proofs from the presentation will be analyzed. First, John didn’t talk for seventeen years including to his family and friends. He had ended all his communication with his peers. Therefore, John would have not heard his own voice for seventeen years. Not talking for that amount of time would have not done anything for the environment in order to clean up the Earth. Second, John had discussed walking for the environment throughout his presentation. From John’s speech he thought that other people would have followed John throughout his journey to become activists in making the world a better place. John didn’t conclude in his speech that other people followed in his direction. Therefore, the actions that John accomplished didn’t develop a large population to respect the environment. Thirdly, John had taught a class without talking to the class and just using signs to teach the class a lesson. To me, that would be a very distracting class and I would not be able to develop a great knowledge on the topic being taught. As a teacher, teaching a class by speaking would allow the class to develop a great knowledge towards saving the environment. I don’t understand why John felt that not talking would allow the environment to become a better and healthier location for people to live in. Lastly, I believe that the metaphor, if no one is around to hear a tree falling does it make a sound clearly described the actions to which John portrayed throughout his journey to become an activist. As stated before, how does not talking enable people to have a greater knowledge for saving the Earth? To conclude, I feel that John wasted seventeen years trying to save the world and become an activist but really he didn’t have an impact on the environment.

In summary, John Francis did do a great job grabbing the audience’s attention in the beginning with his musical instrument but was unable to keep the attention throughout his presentation. Also, the points that John presented throughout his speech I believe were not truly stated. I believe that a person can respect others and not have respect towards the environment, or a person can have respect for the environment but doesn’t have to have respect for others. I strongly believe that a person will act upon certain situations depending on how the person was brought up throughout their childhood.