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TED Tuesday: Ideas worth spreading for the week of 4/20

April 20th, 2010

I’ve found that it’s easy to get a new feature on the site working and going when it involves just linking a couple of lectures from TED that I find worthwhile and commenting on them.  After a one week turn to entertainment, I return to the bread and butter of my interest in TED, science.  I kicked off and was inspired to start this feature by a few pieces on Science, Free-thinking and Religion.  This week I turn the post over to one repeat TED lecturer: David Deutsch.

Professor Deutsch is a mainstay in the physics department of Oxford University and at Clarendon Laboratories.  His book The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes and Its Implications just got added to my Kindle wish list for rocking (potentially). Anyone who’s read my blog knows I’m a fan of the multiverse theory and a person fascinated by things I don’t understand.  Nothing is more so than quantum mechanics, which is a key portion of the Theory of Everything that scientists like Deutsch seek out.

Anyway, at TEDGlobal2009, Deutsch went into how and why scientific discovery revolutionized and continues to revolutionize explanation and transforms the world.  His discussion of what truly is knowledge and scientific understanding is actually quite graspable, even for the layman.

There is something about those that arise from Oxford and their ability to reach out to the public.  Here is Deutsch doing just that.  July 2009, Oxford, England.

Another Deutsch lecture, after the jump.

Back at TEDGlobal2005, Deutsch discussed the important topic of planetary fragility and sustenance of the human species.  This is a topic somewhat controversial and eminently important topic.  While the impurities of human existence on Spaceship Earth were rather unquestioned in 2005, in the years since, it has become a matter of true controversy, with the extraordinary campaign by right wingers and big industry to strike out at scientists and climatologists who ring the alarm bells.

Listen, I don’t pretend to understand the complexity of either climate models or the billions of variables that impact the environment in a world where the butterfly effect is rather established as true.  I also don’t doubt that every scientific field (particularly those which involve major breakthroughs) will experience hiccups and missteps.  Anyone who doesn’t understand this concept ought to give a quick read of this WIRED piece on the importance of failure in discovery and the neuroscience thereof.

The point is that we are either impacting our planet or not (we are) and that that potential impact may or may not have a material impact on our environment and planet (it is) and that some extraordinary or regular features of planetary existence may override, offset or make immaterial that impact (it probably will).  Yes, in the end, our pollution of the planet and our release of greenhouse gasses will not be a feature on a geological scope of time (just as the Voyager craft will probably be around longer than any other evidence of human existence, landmarks to humanity are not long for this world).  But that does not mean that we cannot have a tremendous impact on a more immediate scale and on a scale which impacts generations to come.

Back to Deutsch, his talk is entirely on the idea of survival of civilizations and the information that is necessary to extend our civilization.  He puts that information squarely in the realm of science and that science, and physics in particular, is the area that can allow human civilization to avoid disaster and terminus.  To be quite clear, his lecture is not on global warming, but rather on survival, information and science in a broader scope.  Most notably, he talks not about blame or bemoaning the challenges of a changing climate, but rather the steps to mitigate and adapt to a changing world.  July 2005, Oxford, England.

To close, I’ll pop on the TEDGlobal2005 Martin Rees lecture on the end of human civilization that Deutsch referenced above.  Contrast Rees with Deutsch who closed his lecture with a discussion of two great tablet, one inscribed with the words “Problems are soluble” and the other with “Problems are inevitable.”  Rees is quite admonishing of humankind with a perspective of the development of our civilization drawing us inevitably to our own end.  July 2005, Oxford, England.

One will note that Rees does not merely condemn the dangers of scientific advancement.  Quite to the contrary, he simply points out that advancement is a delicate and moral balance of the benefits and dangers of discovery and exploitation of such discovery.

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