In order to write this blog, I actually took notes during the talks. In fact, it is possible that I took more notes during today’s talks than I did in four years of college. I was not good at taking notes in college, so I don’t claim that anything I quote here is necessarily exactly what the speakers said. Hopefully, however, I did get the gist. It was hard to decide whether to comment on each talk or pick one talk about at greater length. I decided to put here some quotes from the day and then discuss the talk that had the most impact on me.
As has often been the case, I don’t think I heard the word God the whole day. Instead, a number of presenters instead used the words nature or science. They used those terms in quotes such as “Nature has solved the problem of free riders in evolution” (Jonathan Haidt) and “Nature sets limits on growth” (Paul Gilding).
Jonathan Haidt’s talk was very interesting, but particularly interesting was an informal survey he took at the start of it. He asked people to raise their hands if they considered themselves religious. By his count, 3-4% of the people in Long Beach raised their hands. In Palm Springs, I counted about 10 out of over 500. He joked that he was surprised there were so many people at TED calling themselves religious. In contrast, most of the people raised their hands when asked it if they considered themselves spiritual. It was interesting to confirm my suspicion that there are not many Christians at TED.
There were a few talks I really enjoyed including Peter Diamandis (of X-Prize fame) who talked about how technology and the empowerment of billions of people would solve the world’s problems. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I also loved Susan Cain’s talk about introverts and how they (we) need to be valued more by an extrovert-oriented society. Billy Collins made me appreciate poetry, possibly for the first time. Check out http://www.bcactionpoet.org/forgetfulness.html. Andrew Stanton (writer of the Toy Story movies, Little Nemo, and WALL-E) was also very good in explaining the importance of story telling. I’ve long thought that the Bible is so heavily weighted towards stories because they resonate so well with us.
The talk, however, that hit me the hardest was the opening one by Brian Greene. He is a physicist who loves to explain things like string theory to the general public. He talked about the possibility of a multiverse where our universe is one of many universes. He explained how the amount of dark energy in our universe is exactly the right amount necessary for life to exist. Further, that we are in a “remarkably privileged era” for being able to comprehend the universe and, by extension, the multiverse. To me, this just screamed anthropic principle—that the universe was finely tuned to sustain life. He stated that over time, information will be lost and it would be impossible to derive things like the Big Bang Theory. It is amazing to me that God created the universe and placed us in it in the ideal time to reveal His creation to us. Of course, that was probably not the intent of Greene’s talk. Indeed, he used the word nature rather than God when things got too metaphysical. Still, it was very cool to me to think about.
Between and after the talks, I forced myself to talk to people. I even made a point of talking to Kelly and Rives, the hosts of TEDActive. I mentioned to Rives about being among the ten people who raised our hands as being religious. He said I should come early tomorrow and be one of the people giving 30-second talks. I need to think about that.
All-in-all, it was a day where my mind has been in overdrive. Now, if I can just get some sleep before doing it again tomorrow!