As I noted in my last post, I attended the Being Human 2013 conference yesterday in San Francisco. The conference is described as “the science and mystery of human experience” and featured great thinkers of our time (neuroscientists, anthropologists, etc.) discussing what it means to be human and attempting to explain or improve upon the human experience.
It was absolutely an enlightening experience and despite my painful wooden balcony seat, I’m very glad I went. You can watch the entire conference online at FORA.tv.
For me, the best part of the day (even in light of all the brilliant talks) was watching Marquese Scott‘s live performance. Marquese Scott is an epic dancer, in the vein of the innovative and illusionary David Elsewhere. The first time I saw Marquese Scott’s dance videos, I immediately dismissed them as edited or photoshopped. I think a part of me was still skeptical of what I’d see online going into his performance, and it totally blew my mind!
Other than some incredible dance moves, the conference had a lot of great talks. The unexpected standout for me was the physician Esther Sternberg. She moved the crowd to applause several times in her talk on how to cultivate our own well-being in our environments. One of the most memorable quotes from her talk was, “We need to work towards creating a landscape, literally and figuratively, that helps promote wellbeing.” She has written two books, Healing Spaces: The Science and Place of Well-Being and The Balance Within: The Science Connecting Health and Emotions, and I have added both to my to-read list. This was not some healing crystals type stuff (no offense to healing crystals), but solid research showing that your environment affects your health.
The underwhelming talk of the day (there had to be one, right?) was given by Paul Ekman. Paul Ekman, the psychologist who pioneered the science of micro-expressions, chose to talk about his current project of global compassion. He is publishing an e-book on the subject which hasn’t yet been released (when I searched for the title on Amazon, Moving Towards Global Compassion, they didn’t even have it available for pre-release). He mentioned many times that he has spent many hours talking one-on-one with the Dalai Lama, which is certainly awesome. However, the talk seemed fairly vague since there were some Buddhist concepts in his work he chose not to get into (I understand he only had a brief time to convey his points). The most interesting part of his talk was his speculation on why we may lose compassion as we age or lack a culture which cultivates compassion. He attributed this to media and entertainment (like video games) that encourage competition rather than collaboration. I would have loved to hear more about this, but he didn’t go into it. Certainly if competition is the opposite of compassion, that is a problem I would like to hear him talk about. I saw several people with copies of his book Telling Lies in the audience and I couldn’t help feeling disappointed I didn’t get to hear about micro-expressions from their master.
The most techno-promising talk of the day was David Eaglemen’s talk on “plug and play” sensory experience. He wore a vibrating vest, which he hopes will give deaf folks who choose to wear it a sensory experience of sound. He talked of all the sensory experience we aren’t having as humans–there are magnetic fields and ultraviolet waves around us that we aren’t seeing. He explained how people have expanded the human experience through various devices, like magnets placed in finger tips which allow people to feel magnetic forces. The only downer in this talk was when Eaglemen called Twitter “the conscience of the world.” Does he really think that? Certainly a bunch of people use Twitter each day (Twitter has 190 million unique visitors per month) but there are over 7 billion people in the world. Twitter may indeed be the conscience of certain limited social groups, but certainly not the planet.
To ensure we didn’t freak out while absorbing all this information, there were lengthy breaks between each segment so we could get up and mingle in a nice outdoor area with coffee and other refreshments. It was classy:
The day ended with a moving and (like everything else from the conference) mind-twisting performance by ELEW. He did a crazy-cool cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”, and played the piano not only from its keys but through its internal strings.
That’s the wrap up, folks! Until next year…