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Matthew Wieder

Student, Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

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Can we "engineer" our own interests through repeated exposure?

This week in my Bioelectricity class we learned about muscle contraction and how individual muscle twitches build on each other until tetanus (complete contraction of the muscle) is reached. Muscles are made up of small individual contractile units called sarcomeres which when they contract by themselves change the length of the muscle and produce a force that is negligible. However, when the sarcomeres contract in unison, the tension force produced is great enough to allow us to perform all of our normal day to day activities.

We also had a discussion in class about science education and how to get more young people excited about science -- often times in class there was a certain interaction with a role model who provided key influence either in a positive or negative direction.

This led me to think about the idea of life changing experiences. Is it ever a single experience, a specific interaction with a teacher or other role model that leads us to the career choices we make or, are we more influenced by the small events and sets of circumstances that "sum up" and provide this life altering influence?

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    Mar 29 2012: Great question! Engineered experiences do, I think, lead to the evolution of interest. I answer in the context of my experience with TED. It began online and evolved into attending a TEDx event. This inspired me to organize a TEDx in my city. I ended up going to the first of many TED Conferences where one small sentence changed what I realized was possible in human interactions - a small sentence which was a result of other interactions that started with bits (watching TEDTalks) that together impacted my interets so much that i drove 2 hours to that first TEDx and have now adopted "ideas worth spreading" as a daily philosophy.

    That small sentence is "So what inspires you?" and it is the first thing one stranger said to me at TEDGlobal. That just..doesn't happen. But it did. And from there something changed. Many little things changed. I began slipping little curiosities into conversations and experimenting with interactions. I began to realize that I can catalyze a conversation into a meaningful exchange if I open up and do the uncomfortable, asking questions that encourage others to go deeper than a chat - to really share who they are, what they are passionate about and why.

    This generates interest engineering. Before you know it you'll be writing philosophical emails to great minds and getting thoughtful responses. You will discover new ideas as those minds link you up with people and ideas you never knew existed. If you explore ideas you love with friends old and new and particularly explore who it is with whom you interact, you will find that engineering interest is two fold and can be instigated both internally and by others. Curate conversations.

    Seriously, try saying "what inspires you?" more often. Or ever. It takes guts. They'll give you a perplexed look and then you'll set fourth into a splendid conversation, bits of which may change who you become. And maybe you'll be that person who inspires interest in others. You're well on the way :)

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