TED Community » Chris Woollcott

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United States, Seattle, WA
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An idea worth spreading

Dung beetles use the Milky Way to navigate.


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  • +4

    A comment on Talk: Steve Ramirez and Xu Liu: A mouse. A laser beam. A manipulated memory.

    Aug 23 2013: This is fascinating research, but my god do Ramirez and Liu overblow the implications of their research! I hope this is symptomatic of the expectations of TED and not of them as scientists. The hippocampus is only one of many neural correlates for memory, and there are only loosey-goose theories about how these specific regions function independently and as part of a dynamic group in humans.

    Stimulating/simulating a fearful “memory” in a mouse is one thing. Editing the sort of life-long associative ecosystem involved in, say, your experience with your ex is so different from the mouse-freeze as to make the eager futurist thrust of this talk seem absurd. I guess my real beef here is with TED, who I think increasingly encourages this sort of thing. That Ramirez and Liu didn’t even feel compelled to describe the controls of their study…

    Ramirez and Liu’s Nature article is fascinating. Here it is for free: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/74651#files-area

    HOWEVER, I believe the presentation was disingenuous, a product of a shock and awe ethos that is becoming the norm at TED.
  • +3

    A comment on Talk: Shilo Shiv Suleman: Using tech to enable dreaming

    Feb 25 2012: No doubt this sort of technology will encourage adventurous storytelling and interactive learning that has developmental advantages over sitting passively in front of a TV.

    As others have noted, however, I think there is something paradoxical about Shilo’s message-- mainly, that the interface of a machine can inspire in the same way her grandfather’s pocket watch did, or that children can be enchanted with the natural world through the augmented reality of a screen. In both these instances, I think 'Khoya' is actually at odds with its objective of enhancing children's imagination and their appreciation of nature.

    Games like this may actually preclude children from the simpler and deeper associative play that comes naturally and is vital at this age. Developmentally, then, there are probably consequences here worth taking seriously, esp if the child is under 5 and is only just beginning to learn how to interact creatively with the world. By now most of us have seen toddlers poking at their parents' iPads, and I know there are already apps available for this age group... which begs a question!

    Obviously, games like 'Khoya' are just the first step in a larger movement, and, to be clear, I applaud Shilo for pushing to raise the bar and for wanting to encourage the right things in our machines. it'll be interesting to see where this all goes.
  • +2

    A comment on Talk: Rokia Traore: "M'Bifo"

    Dec 1 2011: What a haunting song. I didn't understand a word and yet was very moved. This is music at its best. Beautiful, evocative, original, and performed with intelligence and grace. I highly recommend all 4 of Traore's albums, esp Bowmboi and Tchamantche.
  • +7

    A reply on Talk: John Bohannon: Dance vs. powerpoint, a modest proposal

    Nov 30 2011: I thought the choreographed interpretation of superfluids was actually quite instructive. Also, I suspect Bohannon is being a bit tongue and cheek here, especially after watching several of the dance-your-PhD postings on you tube, which aren't particularly dazzling (tho people are clearly having fun).

    I took a broader message from this talk: that there is a place for the arts in science, be it through song or dance or abstract painting or poetry etc. Scientists inspire artists, but the opposite is also true. I'm reminded of Pilobolus' "Symbiosis", a TED classic based on the idea of mutual dependence in biological systems, a wonderful work of art that I imagine inspires science in return: http://www.ted.com/talks/pilobolus_perform_symbiosis.html
  • +6

    A comment on Talk: Louie Schwartzberg: Nature. Beauty. Gratitude.

    Nov 28 2011: Beautiful visuals, but the message of Schwartsberg's video comes across as simplistic, in my opinion, a sort of glassy-eyed idealism. Perhaps I am biased by the sentimental music and narration (which really date the composition)-- but at one point the narrator croons about how fortunate we should feel that we have clean water to drink when so many don't, and, for me, this moment instantly made everything that came before and afterward feel hedonistic, especially in light of the earlier photo of the grinning faces of what appear to be members of the Maasai, a tribe that is well-known to struggle to find drinkable water. Anyway, the video seems to be celebrating a highly simplistic view of happiness that just isn't very utilitarian. I highly recommend the much more complex messages of David Attenborough and the equally jaw-dropping visuals of planet earth, blue planet, etc.
  • +3

    A comment on Talk: Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth -- visualized

    Nov 21 2011: Great images/animations! Particularly striking, in my opinion, is the infant wriggling through his mother's pelvic bones, a cool and jarring juxtaposition that made me think: in some respects, we as a culture are still kept at arm's length from the birthing process, just as we are, in a more extreme and damaging sense, from the process of death—the latter of which (the fear of death) might help explain Tsiaras' frustrating use of words like "magical" and "divinity". Anyway, these are terrific images.
  • +6

    A comment on Talk: Gabe Zichermann: How games make kids smarter

    Nov 20 2011: The power of video games to shape behavior is undeniable and, no doubt, will play a significant role in the future. But, as others have said, this talk is ridiculously ideological and speculative and lacks any kind of scientific rigor.

    I’ve played Skyrim and Uncharted 3 and COD and Warcraft: they are serious fun. But to claim that books are dead is just dumb. And I say that as a big fan of video games. For one thing, anyone who reads knows that prose and storytelling are evolving, too, and remain exceedingly relevant to young kids everywhere. Gabe’s “prescription” at the end of his talk—that parents surrender to the gamification of their children—is preposterous.

    I agree that PLAY is powerful, and probably our best educative tool, and that by extension video games, esp ones that incorporate a social element, can be useful. Having taught English at an LA public school, however, I also believe there is, as of now, no educative equivalent to a student learning to enjoy the process of sitting silently and evoking the complex world of an author. Moreover, I don’t think it’s ideological or old fashion of me to claim, as many do, that the sort of thinking books encourage is the sort of thinking we’d be foolish to leave behind.

    I am 7yrs younger than Gabe and have enjoyed playing video games my whole life. But Gabe’s insistence that reading is no longer important or necessary and that video games somehow constitute a natural replacement, together with his “prescription” for parents, makes this is one of the most destructive talks I’ve come across on TED.
  • +2

    A comment on Talk: Robin Ince: Science versus wonder?

    Nov 19 2011: It'll be fascinating to see how humans adapt as we become increasingly aware of the nature of consciousness and of the world and universe at large.

    I think a lot of people conflate wonder with a sense of mystery. Science may demystify natural phenomena, but, as far as the world and universe are concerned, it seems most of us agree this demystification serves only to develop the wonder we already have. For example, knowing just a sliver about plate tectonics and the unimaginable amounts of time necessary for mountains to grow can make hiking a summit a liberating and emotional experience.

    The thornier and more applicable issue here -- which Ince avoids for the most part -- arises when science goes into our heads. The lessons of neuroscience are inevitably personal, and while this is to me the most fascinating branch of science, it is also, well, thorny. Consciousness and free will and predisposition, etc, Etc, here we have some of our deepest existential questions coming under examination, in some sense, for the first time. And given the exponential rate of discovery, you have to wonder, 50 – 100 yrs from now: what might we irrevocably know about the nature of ourselves?

    I suspect humans will adapt to knowledge differently in the future, but it’s still fascinating to think about how all this escalating knowledge will play out. I think this question may become more relevant in the future.
  • +3

    A comment on Talk: Niall Ferguson: The 6 killer apps of prosperity

    Sep 21 2011: I just wish Ferguson could have done this talk without the swagger./ I think he and his wife, Ali, share a dogmatic quality that do their good ideas an injustice, a la Dawkins' sometimes-snide atheism.

    Like others here, I was particularly put off by Ferguson's seemingly flippant dismissal of the importance of geography over the long term. To say a society's institutions, etc, are more significant than it's geographic location is to be biased toward contemporary history. As Jared Diamond illustrates quite thoroughly, our contemporary histories are the product of much older histories, histories that depended less on institutions, etc, than on goats and pigs and disease and crops and flukes of timing and often accidental windows of enormous opportunity.

    But I agree with Ferguson that cultures today have opportunities to adapt quicker than ever before, and that obviously there are certain modes of thought that can facilitate this process-- the most important of which is probably empiricism, and, barring an asteroid impact, etc, I don't foresee the industrialized world ever really turning its back on science again, which means, given enough time, well what might htat look like?
  • +4

    A comment on Talk: Richard Resnick: Welcome to the genomic revolution

    Sep 15 2011: I have to say I find Resnik's tone throughout this talk frustrating. While I agree that a gene-sequenced world isn't far away and that it will have dramatically positive results in health care, I think he sensationalizes the significance of its Gattaca-like descent into the masses where the mind is concerned. Cardiomyopathy is a physiological condition and is a good example of something that can--and perhaps should--be screened for in our elected officials. But these so-called cheating genes and god genes, etc, are psychological and infinitely more intricate and interwoven and difficult to pin down with accuracy.

    Conceding some degree of free will, what you get when you screen for things like infidelity or religiosity is a percentage, which tells you how likely you are to behave in a particular way. But what a crazily associative place the mind is, and how insanely complex is the interaction between genes and between these genes and their environment. maybe someone predisposed to cheat would make a ravenous and loyal lover if he/she were dating a base jumper or some wild artist. Perhaps the god gene in an atheist produces someone like David Attenborough. (I'm partly joking here) The point is: we just don't know. We comprehend dna's role in consciousness about as well as we comprehend quantum mechanics, which is to say anyone who says they understand it, doesn't. In my opinion, Resnik's sensationalizing of the psychological component of gene-sequencing (which will become a distasteful multi billion dollar fad and make him very rich) is in poor taste and detracts from what will probably be the issue of our lifetime (and almost certainly a dangerously divisive one (think IQ)) and should therefore be treated with consideration..
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