Janelle Monae - "When your heart is breaking"

Wow. Just wow. Thanks to Geoff Oliver Bugbee for this wonderful image of Janelle Monae in concert.

For many other pictures from the IdeaFestival, please visit our Flickr pool. It's open to your contributions.


Creativity Needs "Leaky Mental Filters"

One of the most interesting writers on the psychology of creativity is cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. In a recent article at Scientific American, quoted in part below, he discusses the potential relationship of non-clinical levels of psychopathology to creativity.

[Researchers] have found.. that while on-the-spot, timed creative cognition is associated with the ability to focus attention, real-life creative achievement is associated with the ability to broaden attention and have a 'leaky' mental filter. In other words, perhaps the very same characteristics that may hinder performance on IQ tests and standardized academic tests (e.g., broad attention, impulsivity, daydreaming, and fantasy-proneness) are the very same characteristics that increase the chances of real-life creative achievement. Further research should investigate this intriguing possibility.

While careful to point out that certain mental pathologies shouldn't romanticized for their supposed connection to creativity, Kaufman's point about "leaky" mental filters interests me because it suggests that our brains differ in degree, not kind. Prodigious savant and synesthete Daniel Tammet very quietly made similar points during his IdeaFestival 2010 appearance, parts of which may be watched here.

Elsewhere, Kaufman writes about the link between intelligence and "an openness to experience."

His interest in the subject grew out of difficult childhood. A self-described "late bloomer," he regularly argues for wide range of intelligences in his writing.

The little understood relationship between creativity, intelligence and the brain is certainly a big part of the story of Jason Padgett, who as a young adult was attacked and beaten outside a bar. Severely concussed, he later began to experience crippling social anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Like other synesthetes he also noticed that he had begun to see shapes and angles everywhere, and had somehow also gained the ability to intuit the complex mathematics behind natural phenomenon.

Padgett is one of the very few people in the world with acquired savant syndrome. He'll share his story at IdeaFestival 2014.

A limited number of Festival passes and Day passes are available, but you'll need to get one soon.

I hope to see you at IF14!

Stay curious.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Selfies at a Cometary Dawn

Comets have secrets to spill.

After a ten year chase, the European spacecraft Rosetta arrived at Comet 67P/C-G early last month, an event live-streamed by the European Space Agency. Having executed a number of maneuvers to gradually bring Rosetta to within miles of the comet, the spacecraft snapped a selfie just this week with its target in the background.

Why are comets interesting? They offer scientists a time capsule, a look at the chemical and mineral composition of material present during the earliest periods of our solar system, a time when our star had accreted a debris disk with a radius of (very) roughly 177 billion miles, but before much of that debris would gravitationally collapse into the planets we recognize today. In contrast with asteroids, comets contain volatiles that sublimate, or pass directly from a solid to a gas without going through a liquid state. That phenomenon is responsible for comets' tails.

Sure, you could examine the comet from afar, and the spacecraft, equipped with sensors to look at the body's spectra from the infrared to ultraviolet, will, but the mission of Rosetta is equal parts cosmogenic sleauthing and Buck Rogers. In November the mother craft will dispatch a smaller companion craft called Philae to the surface of 67P/C-G. The diminutive probe will lash itself to the gravitationally poor body, bore into the depths of the stone and gently begin to relieve, mission managers hope, the streaking comet of its primordial secrets. The findings will be passed to the orbiting Rosetta for transmission to Earth. If all goes well, scientists will get a first hand look at the state of nature billions of years in the past.

I hope you will make plans now to hear Lee Billings at IdeaFestival 2014! Author of the sensational book "Five Billion Years of Solitude," he'll discuss the current understanding of these ancient bodies, the discovery in the last twenty years of hundreds of extrasolar planets and touch, I'm sure, on the very ancient questions of life and its place in the universe that inevitably accompany these finds. You don't want to miss him.

Festival Passes and Day Passes are on sale now. You can find a complete agenda and the speaker line-up on the IdeaFestival web site.

I hope to see you at the IdeaFestival!

Stay curious.


Image credits: Upper right, ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA Lower left, Philae DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Your Digital Guide to IdeaFestival 2014

Now that IdeaFestival 2014 is almost here I thought a brief guide about how you can follow along would be appropriate.

If you are in the office or onsite with a notebook, keep the web site handy. There you will find the latest information on the agenda, speakers and sponsors.

About the latter, if you see a representative of one of the many organizations that support the festival, please thank them! They help make it all possible.

Point your smartphone browser to for a streamlined experience that includes session times, speakers, sponsors, blog posts and more.

Find the festival on Facebook (please like us!) and Twitter (please follow us!). An open Flickr pool has been created so that all those wonderful images taken during IF14 have a home. If you already have an account search for "IdeaFestival 2014" and join. We welcome your contributions. The pools from 2011, 2012 and 2013 are here, here and here, respectively.

While tweeting the festival, please use the hash tag #IF14 to refer to this year's event - and that goes for you Instagram and Vine users as well. Speaking of hash tags, we always #staycurious.

As in past years, the festival will feature a running commentary on our own Twitter wall in the Kentucky Center, the festival's home. Think of it as an event newsreel. Listed in no particular order below are a number of people who will speak or attend Thrivals and IdeaFestival 2014 who have active Twitter accounts. You may want to follow a few of them.

  • IdeaFestial @ideafestival, of course!
  • Janelle Monae @janellemonae
  • Ellen McGirt @ellmcgirt
  • Renee Blodgett @MagicSauceMedia
  • Kevin Smokler @weegee
  • Cariwyl Hebert @salon97
  • Creative Capital @creativecap
  • WaterStep @waterstep
  • Debbie Millman @debbiemillman
  • Lee Billings @leebillings
  • Claudia Hammond @claudiahammond
  • Jason Felts @IAMJasonFelts
  • Clive Thompson @pomeranian99
  • Stephen Cave @stephenjcave
  • Virginia Postrel @vpostrel
  • Tyler Cowen @tylercowen
  • Creative Capital @creativecap
  • Julia Christensen @juliacjuliac
  • Angie Fenton @angiefenton
  • Darell Hammond @DarellHammond
  • Robert Karimi @RobertFKarimi

See you soon!


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

Your Brain on Digital Media: Changed

There can be no doubt that we are changed by the technologies we use.

Corresponding to the significant sounds in our utterances, ancient alphabets allowed thoughts to be preserved and extended the human writ, which made possible civil institutions and empire building. More recently, the plow and refrigeration affected where we settled, as well as the quality and kinds of foods we ate. Paved roads and reliable motorized transportation expanded commerce and eased the flow of human capital.

In each of these cases the full revolutionary effects these new technologies could not have been known in advance. So it is in our current moment.

Clive Thompson, who will speak at IdeaFestival 2014, identifies three biases in the sudden bloom of information devices and, consequently, our always-on culture. Occupying trillions of waystations in the form of IP addresses, these tools do more than simply connect us to each other. They affect what and how we think.

Digital Tools Have a Mind of Their Own:

First, they allow for prodigious external memory: smartphones, hard drives, cameras, and sensors routinely record more information than any tool before them. We’re shifting from a stance of rarely recording our ideas and the events of our lives to doing it habitually.

Second, today’s tools make it easier for us to find connections—between ideas, pictures, people, bits of news—that were previously invisible.

Third, they encourage a superfluity of communication and publishing.

In the midst of this revolution, many not-quite-right-not-quite-wrong predictions are being made. And, as Thompson hints at in his third point, the surfeit of information comes at a cost. That's because insofar as we can intimately know anything, physical experience must play a role. Indeed, the irony of the current moment is that the creators of the artificial intelligences have come to understand that our minds can be found in our arms and legs, which is to say biologically distributed, and are striving to bring context to their intelligent machines, while the human beings who work online markets, in possession of the gift of consciousness, have ruthlessly pursued a highly constrained measure of the mind, which is our collective willingness to click on one suspect lede after another. The bargain, sadly, is one-sided. And since our machines are incapable of interpreting our silence, more's the pity. This surfluity and the resulting digital detritus certainly provides ample room for others to sow Onion'y fields of mocking plenty.

No one now knows what will be wrought by the current technologies, only that everyone now has access to a medium through which they may make their thinking known. As for me, I'm certainly looking forward to hearing Thompson expand upon the biases in our tools at IdeaFestival 2014. The medium will include a comfortable seat in an air conditioned theater.

Please be aware that the price for a IdeaFestival 2014 Festival Pass will go up at 10a ET, Thurs., Sept. 4! But between now and then you can get your discounted pass here.

Stay curious.


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee

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Copyright @ ICI, Inc. 2014