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.
Art is not about communication. It's about communion. - Raphael Lozano-Hemmer, IdeaFestival 2013
In this IdeaFestival story, Transylvania University professors and artists Kremena Todorova and Kurt Gohde talk about their work on "Discarded," say the Lexington Tattoo Project is a "love letter to the city," and share a quick story from their lives about what inspires them to make public art.
While not quite as dramatic as the encounter they describe in the first half of the video - really, just listen! - I've always been amazed at the fortuitous meetings and interesting ideas that people describe as having occurred at the IdeaFestival. Anne Shadle, for example, got rid of cable. One long time fan and supporter, Jan Winter, started a thriving non-profit focused on child health that reaches every elementary school student in the commonwealth.
In the workaday world where it's all too easy to fall into ruts and routines, and the media, sadly, affirms rather than informs, the IdeaFestival succeeds by going a different way. It emphasizes the new connections. It gently challenges. And as Kremena says near the end of the video, the first step toward any new idea or person takes an act of will. The goal of the IdeaFestival in particular and worthwhile art in general is to expand our sympathetic imagination. It's not to win any of us to a particular idea, but to ask, rather, if we can still be won.
Two-thirds of the way through the video, a loud crash, which Kurt and Kremena described as a telescope falling over, changed the space time continuum the lighting in the room they were in. I edited out the noise, but you may see what I mean when you watch.
Saying that the craft has taught him how easily we are deceived in our day to day lives, magician Alex Stone argued during his IdeaFestival 2013 talk for an intellectual modesty. We often know a lot less than we think we do.
The lovely thing about magic, as well as theater, poetry and the arts in general, is that they have always worked a subterfuge, exposing, in exchange for our willing participation, our shared presumptions and intuitions. "Being fooled," Stone said during his talk, is a way of experiencing something deep.
And science is now plumbing those depths, gaining new insight into how the human psychology works.
The mind, for example, remembers the final act in any drama. I think it explains why the experience of close-up magic in the Bomhard Theater in the Kentucky Center or being waived ahead in a crowded grocery queue is so powerful. It's as if our minds have been read. And in truth, they have. Having been pulled outside ourselves, the magic, if only for a moment, is that we can encounter ourselves anew.
Look for the release of the full 2014 IdeaFestival agenda soon!
Though Europe's new "right to be forgotten" rules have created an uproar, it's easy to forget just how new the idea of total recall is. Writing at TechCrunch, Natasha Lomas contributes a couple of important points to a discussion largely moored to what is still a new phenomenon, a phenomenon that would see documentation and data live on in perpetuity.
I like how she connects the issue to creative enterprise:
Total recall shuts us down. It encourages conformity and a lack of risk taking. If trying to do something results in a failure that follows you around forever then the risk of trying is magnified — so maybe you don’t bother trying in the first place. It’s anti-creative, anti-experimental, even anti-entrepreneur. To cite a Steve Jobs-ism, it’s anti-foolish.
Name the human society where total recall is considered the norm. It’s far more human to forget. Forgetting allows for new beginnings. As a creative medium, a little forgetting goes a long way. While too much recall smacks of dystopia, or prison, or the dragnet digital surveillance programs set up in secret by our own governments. It’s hardly an accident that corporate power and state machinery are aligning along the same digital fault lines here.
An ability to forget, whether it's simply to move beyond a business failure or avoid information overload, is important to human flourishing, as Lomas writes. And the notion that total recall, rather than liberating us, would "shut us down" rings true to me. There are of course real public policy and legal questions being sorted out in Europe as Google tries to comply with the new continental rules. But the temptation to believe that the next piece of information or data point will make the argument or prove beyond any doubt the veracity of any particular belief is a particularly human weakness, and one that is exploited, for example, by social media. It's why long hours scanning Facebook updates leaves so many people so anxious. The picture is never complete. Even science, which many mistakenly believe seeks certainty, depends, rather, on an accumulation of evidence, not on finality.
The dogged entrepreneur and artist alike must be fools. They must believe in their specific cases that the past doesn't matter. True, depending on that past it may or may not prove beneficial in the long run. But in general, the habits that have always characterized humanity at its best - a grace under hardship or a willingness to extend mercy where none may be merited - have always required on a willingness to forget. It's effective precisely because it is extralegal.
The alternative, I think, would enslave us to reasons.
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.
Featuring a multitude of incredible speakers, affiliate events like Thrivals and IF Water, brain-tingling, spine-straightening presentations on the nature of time, the allure of glamour, immortality, "the end of average," "moral tribes," the hunt for life beyond our solar system and the coming zombie apocalypse, IdeaFestival 2014 promises to be the best ever.
Creative Capital will once again return with a lineup of artists who will make you think anew about the everyday.
Please don't forget to add your affiliate event tickets. The wonderful Janelle Monae will once again host Thrivals. Fabien Cousteau, grandson of the legendary explorer Jacques Cousteau, will present at IF Water.
Festival Pass prices will go up on September 2, so don't wait. Get you pass today.