IdeaFestival

"Merit" Today: Curiosity

Interviewed earlier this week by On Point, William Deresiewicz, author of "Excellent Sheep," talked at length about how too many top schools are failing their students.

Asked at one point what a reformed merit-based admissions process would look like, he said it would focus far less on achievement driven, academically rigid accomplishments and take, rather, a hard look at the applicant's curiosity, adding that curiosity and resilience were tied to future satisfaction in life and careers.

That sounds about right to us.

Reviewing the book, the New York Times made a similar point recently. "The Lower Ambitions of Higher Education:"

Mr. Deresiewicz spends a long time considering college admissions because a vast number of crimes, he suggests, are committed in its name. We’ve created kids who throughout their high school years are unable to do anything they can’t put on a résumé. They’re blinkered overachievers.

Once they’re in college, they don’t know what to do with themselves, so they jump through the only hoop that’s bathed in a spotlight: finance. He argues that many miss truer and more satisfying callings....

Little of what Mr. Deresiewicz has to say is entirely new. Ezra Pound got there first, 80 years ago, with the metaphor that supplies this book with its title. Real education must be limited to those who insist on knowing, Pound said in his book “ABC of Reading.” "The rest is merely sheepherding.”

My ears always perk when "those kids" rate a mention, but with its endless information churn and the tortured expertise of fault finding, of one-upsmanship and of unmasking error, "blinkered overachievement" seems to curse adult life and work as well.

It's not what you know, but what you do with what you know that matters.

So I couldn't help but relate Deresiweicz' view to the mission of the IdeaFestival, which is to cultivate curiosity, not self-satisfaction, to insist on knowing, not informing, to think anew as we seek an entree with the people and institutions in our own lives about the objects of our choosing and the activities that have meaning. Succeed at that and all the work will be worth it.

Deresiweicz, by the way, delivered an incredible address on leadership and self-knowledge to West Point Plebes in 2010. It's a must read.

I hope to see you at IdeaFestival 2014! Stay curious.

Wayne

Image of John Barker speaking at IdeaFestival 2012, Geoff Oliver Bugbee.

Don't Focus on the Puzzles, But the Mysteries

While looking for interesting material to tweet and Facebook yesterday, I came across this Creativity Post article on stoking the fires of curiosity. One quote stood out.

A society or organization that thinks only in terms of puzzles is one that is too focused on the goals it has set, rather than on the possibilities it can’t yet see.

I thought it echoed an important point heard last year from IdeaFestival presenter Ariel Waldman, whose entire presentation can be watched here.

At the heart of something good there should be a kernel of something undefinable. And if you can define it, or claim to be able to define it, then in a sense you have missed the point. John Peel

It's one of my favorite IdeaFestival 2013 quotes because it goes to the beating heart of discovery: it will always be the work of the curious, individuals for whom the "something good" is never an ending, but a new beginning.

While Ariel Waldman spoke at length of her love of space, the loosely drawn inner connections from her work with Science Hack Day also resonated with me because every discovery springs from an openness to experience, a willingness and capacity to feel things anew. It's what the IdeaFestival is all about. This is what I wrote last year, live-blogging her talk:

Segueing into Science Hack Day, an event for which she is probably more well known, she says that its mission is to regain a bit of the old excitement, of sheer possibility. The people who show up at one of those events are amateurs. They don't HAVE to know where their idea or project is going. She describes several hacks - building a wind tunnel to test a series of letters that will make a new typeface; or a lamp that lights up each time an asteroid passes the Earth; or a mask that would simulate synesthesia, aptly named, given the creepy image she display, 'syneseizure;' or a cocktail made with DNA. On the latter she issues a warning - 'it tastes disgusting.'

What if, she continues, one could listen to mapped sounds of high energy particle collisions? And in fact, she points out, one such instrument has been created, 'particle wind chimes.' There's more: given license to roam freely, to make new and maybe unorthodox connections, the creator of the particle wind chimes may have created something with real diagnostic potential in the hands of physicists. Formerly abstract concepts have been made available to the senses of researchers.

Find some time today to watch the video, which includes a terrific Q&A with MIT Technology Review editor Jason Pontin. You won't be disappointed.

Make plans now to encounter at IdeaFestival 2014. The price for a Festival Pass will increase on Sept. 2, so don't wait! I hope to see you there.

Stay curious.

Wayne

Tapping Eden

After ten years of space travel and multiple gravity assists to reach fantastic speeds, the European spacecraft Rosetta arrived at its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, very early this morning.

The event was streamed live by the European Space Agency.

Comets offer scientists a time capsule, a look at the chemical and mineral composition of material present during the earliest periods of our solar system.

And that look will be close indeed. In November a small companion craft called Philae will gently land on the surface, which has very little gravity, lash itself to the streaking body, bore into the comet and relay its findings to the orbiting Rosetta.

If that interests you, make plans now to hear Lee Billings at IdeaFestival 2014! Author of Five Billion Years of Solitude, he'll discuss the current understanding of these ancient bodies, the recent discovery 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.

Festival Passes are on sale now, but please don't wait too long! We're expecting to sell out again this year, and the price for a pass will go up on Sept. 2. The complete agenda and speaker line-up is available on the IdeaFestival web site!

Stay curious.

Wayne

Image: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

IdeaFestival to Host Zombie Study Group. Lunch Not Provided

This is a repost of a blog entry from earlier this summer. You have been warned.

In case you were wondering, the United States DOES have an action plan for the zombie apocalypse, according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Buried on the military's secret computer network is an unclassified document, obtained by Foreign Policy, called 'CONOP 8888.' It's a zombie survival plan, a how-to guide for military planners trying to isolate the threat from a menu of the undead -- from chicken zombies to vegetarian zombies and even "evil magic zombies" -- and destroy them....

Navy Capt. Pamela Kunze, a spokeswoman for Strategic Command, acknowledged the document exists on a 'secure Internet site' but took pains to explain that the zombie survival guide is only a creative endeavor for training purposes. 'The document is identified as a training tool used in an in-house training exercise where students learn about the basic concepts of military plans and order development through a fictional training scenario,' she wrote in an email. 'This document is not a U.S. Strategic Command plan.'

The IdeaFestival was caught off guard recently when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reached out to gauge the festival's interest in becoming a designated civilian training and planning center, tasked, among other duties, with understanding the adaptability and spread of harmful viral and beneficial organisms, and calculating the probabilities for human survival the future undead world. The federal agency, curiously, also asked for our thoughts on Sheldon Cooper's roommate agreement as a model for relationship between antagonistic parties with limited emotional range, a definitive statement on whether John Travolta's role in Battlefield Earth could be called acting and what the prospects for a reunion of the Fantastic Four might be. It was a serious conversation.

The expertise of the IdeaFestival in developing "fictional training scenarios" has also been recognized at the highest levels of the United States government. A joint statement from the White House and Congress said, "because of their unmatched commitment to imagining an alternate future, we find that the IdeaFestival and its attendees are uniquely suited to rebuild and expand economies following the outbreak of this virus. The old rules simply no longer apply. We commend them for having the foresight to draw from business, from the arts and from the sciences to think about what the future may hold," adding, "help us Obi Wan Kanobi, you're our only hope."

All of this is, of course, absolutely true with the exception of the part about cooperation between the White House and Congress, which deny ever working together.

Stay Curious.

Wayne

Festival Passes are on sale now, but please don't wait too long! We're expecting to sell out again this year, and the price for a pass will go up on Sept. 2. The complete agenda and speaker line-up is available on the IdeaFestival web site.

Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by eliduke

The IdeaFestival is Your Able News Source

This may explain some things.

As it turns out, one of the reasons so much bad news gets aired is that it gets our attention, faster.

"Mind Hacks" blogger Tom Stafford at BBC Future:

As you'd expect from [a hypothesized "negativity bias"], there's some evidence that people respond quicker to negative words. In lab experiments, flash the word 'cancer', 'bomb' or 'war' up at someone and they can hit a button in response quicker than if that word is 'baby', 'smile' or 'fun' (despite these pleasant words being slightly more common). We are also able to recognise negative words faster than positive words, and even tell that a word is going to be unpleasant before we can tell exactly what the word is going to be.

We don't learn by accumulating more information, which is the empty promise of too much online media, but by the integration of information into a larger personal whole with an emotional, cultural and cognitive dimension. In healthy environments and robust relationships, beliefs are challenged rather than continually affirmed. When we're consumed by the bad news, and I certainly have been guilty of this in my day-to-day, we're being sold the cause of, and solution to, the anxiety bad news can produce. In this case, more is not better. And the results are predictable, not the least because our field of vision gradually, imperceptibly narrows over time.

Because we can't embrace what we don't notice, the interesting, the new, the innovative - the future, in other words - suffers. These things have sometimes required an effort and a willingness to reject the solutions on offer. This year, the IdeaFestival will bring you glamor, exoplanets, tribes, virgin media, time warped, creative capital and a hole in the sky.

Why? The news, it's everywhere.

Stay curious.

Wayne

Image of Teller at IdeaFestival 2008, Geoff Oliver Bugbee


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