Clint Smith: The danger of silence

Speaker

Clint Smith is a slam poet and educator whose work blends art and activism.

Summary

In a 1958 speech, Martin Luther King said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. By being silent you allow ignorance and hate to take hold – silence is taken as agreement with what you are hearing. As a teacher Clint teaches his children about the danger of silence and encourages open communication in his classroom with the following commitment:

  1. Read critically
  2. Write consciously
  3. Speak Clearly
  4. tell YOUR truth

Clint reflects on his own failures to tell his truth. For lent one year Clint gave up his speech, and realised that he had refused to speak up so much that he may as well be silent. He talked of times where he ignored or held his tongue against a gay friend being bashed, ignored a homeless person, let a woman insult his “unintelligent” students at a fundraising event. He speaks faster and louder – in slam poetry style – on what he could have said to help these people against ignorance. Silence is not about picking your battles, but letting them pick you. In the end, silence is the sound you make when you’ve already lost – when you’re already dead “run out of body bags”.

Live every day as if there is a microphone under your tongue, you don’t need a soapbox, you just need your voice

My Thoughts

Worth watching – he speaks very quickly and powerfully with a lot of message for such a short talk. I will take his message on board and not be afraid to talk against wrongs.

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Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Speaker: Jill Bolte Taylor – a neuroanatomist interested in how the human brain relates to schizophrenia and severe mental illness. She is also an author, having published books on her stroke “My Stroke of Insight” and ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Full Bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Bolte_Taylor

Length: 20:11

Summary

Note this talk is an animated story of Jill’s experiences during a stroke – where one hemisphere of her brain was ‘switched off’. This summary cannot do the full talk justice – if it interests you, watch the full video.

Jill Bolte Taylor starts by trying to work out what makes her brain different from her brother’s – who is schizophrenic. She elaborates by bringing a real human brain to the stage – showing it is divided into 2 distinct halves, with minimal connection between the two. Each half functions differently:

  • Right Hemisphere is a parallel processor. It focusses on the current moment, using pictures and learns through kinaesthetic movement. It is well connected to senses to build an understanding of what is happening at the moment. It connects us with the world around it.
  • Left Hemisphere acts as a serial processor. It thinks linearly and methodically, looking at the past and future. It picks through the details of the current time – arranging and sorting these, and connecting them to the events of the past and future. It thinks in language and words. It looks as us as an individual, isolating us from the world.

Jill had a stroke which disabled the left side of her brain – waking up to a throbbing pain behind her eyes similar to ice cream headache. She used an exercise machine while on a stroke, and focussed on how strange her body looked – as if she was out of her body. She noticed that every movement was slower, laboriously focussing to execute every movement. She couldn’t work out where her body ended and the rest of the world began, thinking about the energy of the world around her. Soon her left hemisphere recovered and started to realise that she was in danger, before dropping out again. During the stroke, she was disconnected from her normal brain chatter – the stress and emotional baggage.

When she realised she was having a stroke, she decided to study her brain from the inside. She tried to read her business card, but her vision as broken to ‘pixels’ – and she couldn’t differentiate it from the background. She was having difficulty picking out objects in vision – couldn’t read the numbers, couldn’t keep track of the numbers she had dialled. When she eventually got the phone working, she couldn’t understand the other end, nor speak clearly herself. Eventually an ambulance was called, and she blacked out.

When she woke, she was alive and the stroke was over. She thought back on the stroke as a moment of Nirvana – where she felt connected to the world, and that her spirit was larger than her body. She started to wish everyone could have that moment where their left brain switched off.

Arthur Benjamin: The Magic of Fibonacci Numbers

Speaker: Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin

Length: 6:25

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

Math should be taught for 3 reasons:

  •  Calculation: to work out an answer
  • Application: to apply the method
  • Inspiration: for the fun, beautiful patterns and logical thinking behind it.

Arthur argues Inspiration is underappreciated. He shows the beauty of Fibonacci numbers and how it ties to nature

  • number of petals on a flower tends to be Fibonacci number
  • patterns in numbers: sum of squares of a Fibonacci number equals another Fibonacci, and cumulative sum of all squares equals product of 2 consecutive Fibonacci numbers.

Maths isn’t just solving for ‘x’, it’s also about figuring out ‘y’ (why?).

Critique

Arthur is excited by the numbers, and gets bonus points for being called a ‘Mathemagician’. The idea of the talk was to refocus maths on finding patterns then investigating how they come about – making it more fun and feel relevant to the world around it.

A fun talk, and especially to fit so many interesting points in 6mins.

Dong Woo Jang: The art of bow-making

Speaker: Dong Woo Jang

Length: 8:29

Rating 2 / 5

Summary

Dang discusses high pressure South Korean schooling, and his unique form of meditation: bow-making. He uses found wood from the ‘concrete jungle’, harvests with improvised tools, then turns them into bows at his apartment. After designing a perfect bow, he comes to the realisation it is identical to an ancient Korean design, which increases his interest in Korean history.

Critique

A very entertaining talk, by a good speaker. I’d put it in the ‘inspirational’ category – it is a good story, well told, and makes you want to do something, but doesn’t really present any new ideas.

It does make me want to try my hand at bowmaking though 🙂

How to learn anything in 20 hours

Speaker: Josh Kaufman

Length: 19:27

Rating 4 / 5

Summary

You can get to a passable level in a new skill with 20 hrs practise. You just need to

  1. Deconstruct the skill into its important parts. Reduce the skill to an achievable level
  2. Learn enough to know when you are on the right track
  3. Focus, push through the “Feeling stupid” phase of learning, and practise

Critique

A good idea, and presented well. His example of learning to play ukulele from its 4 most common chords was good. Also very inspiring – the idea to just learn what you want – you don’t need to become an expert.

I then went to think about what I want to learn. That’s when it gets tricky. It should definitely work to get to a beginners level for artistic or performance skills – eg music, drawing, photoshop, juggling, martial arts, language.

It’s harder to imagine for tasks which take longer to do or rely on more theoretical knowledge, where you can’t rely on feedback and practise so much. eg learning chemistry, electronics, building. I’d be keen to see an example or a wiki of more people deconstructing and performing a skill, to see if it can be done.

In the end though, his ‘can do’ attitude is inspiring and I recommend the talk.