The most interesting things come from people interested in things. - artist Hasan Elahi at IdeaFestival 2012
Is the IdeaFestival a brain altering substance?
No, no. I don't mean that kind of alteration, although being buzzed for days afterward is one common side effect of attending the IdeaFestival.
But having read over the years how the brain physically changes in response to stimuli, how it's malleable and oh-so plastic, it's not so surprising that our neurons might work overtime during what in Louisville has become a full week of events that emphasize the joy in discovery. We know, for example, that people skilled in meditation can alter the size the brain responsible for empathy, which means that monks can physically grow more compassionate. I love that idea. Likewise, as judged by the activities of mirror neurons, power, or the feeling of power, can affect how we infer motive and thereby short circuit what we can learn.
What specific kind of change, then, can one expect at the IdeaFestival?
I know from personal experience that listening to Daniel Tammet explain how his mind and mine aren't all that different, or to Jane McGonigal gently insist that play is central to creativity, or watching Daniel Simons illustrate just how easy it is to miss what's right in front of our noses - I know that the festival can produce a feeling of being humbled. In some cases I've been nearly overwhelmed or awed by what I've heard. As Oliver Burkeman confirms in this recent video interview, awe is not always comfortable, but it does provide a sense of scale and place that is uniquely suited to subsequent mind opening. The people who speak at the festival are all very accomplished and, generally, scary smart.
Be still. I predict that the specific change you'll experience is a new found desire to ask questions, which at some point in the week will be quickly followed by this internal whisper.
So that's it.
Festival passes are going fast! If you're planning to attend this year, you may want to act now.
Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee