Notes from the best of 100+ TED talks

Here are my notes on the TED and TEDx talks that I recommend, from among the ~100 that I’ve watched.

The videos are listed in alphabetical order by the speaker’s first name. Favorites include Gary Wilson on porn, David Brooks on the social animal, Stephen Cave on death’s stories, and Kelly McGonigal on stress.

Unfortunately the page got too long so I had to remove the embedded videos and simply link to them. Sad face

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Adam Baker: Sell your crap. Pay your debt. Do what you love.
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  • the standard script: work hard, go to college, get a safe job, have kids, buy lots of stuff, buy a house, continue to work hard, retire after 30-40 years, that’s when the payoff comes
  • there are 2.2B square feet of storage space in the US – every US resident could stand shoulder to shoulder in storage space several times over!
  • he sold almost all of his stuff, and didn’t regret a single sale

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Aditi Shankardass: A second opinion on learning disorders
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  • 1 in 6 children suffer from a developmental disorder
  • most are diagnosed solely on observable behavior, not on neurology
  • a Harvard team does real-time EEG scans of behavior while children are learning, it’s non-invasive
  • one example: kid who was thought to be autistic, actually had many micro-seizures, when that was solved, he was able to behave normally!
  • thinks that 50% of autistic kids are actually suffering from brain seizures

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AJ Jacobs, a year of living biblically
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  • I’d always thought you change your thoughts and you change your behavior, but it’s the other way around…you change your behavior and you change your mind
  • Red Letter Bible – only Jesus’s words, based on different colored letters in old Bible; it’s often used to argue that Jesus was not against homosexuality (technically, he never said anything about homosexuality), that he was all about helping the outcast and the downtrodden
  • rituals are, by nature, irrational – the key is to choose the right rituals; whether religious or not, we all have rituals that Martians would think are strange (e.g., blowing out candles for your bday)

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Alan Kay: ideas worth spreading
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  • Shakespeare pointed out: we go to theater to be fooled…we look forward to it
  • simple but understandable might be neither…and vice-versa for complex and obtuse
  • we’ve invented brainlets, aka powerful ideas — reasoning frameworks, tools, technologies
  • he’s a big fan of Rosling’s data visualizations
  • we often confuse adult sophistication with actual understanding of some principle — a lot of math is taught this way
  • prefers to teach kids with hands on activities that blend art, science, math, team-work

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Dr. Alan Watkins: Being Brilliant
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  • uses the example of Sergio Garcia choking under pressure at The Players Championship
  • want to increase performance? change these things, in reverse order:
    • how you perform
    • how you behave
    • how you think
    • how you feel (feelings are awareness of your emotions)
    • what emotions you have (emotions don’t equal feelings, emotions are collections of data inputs)
    • your body’s physiology (most fundamental)
  • your heart rate variability (HRV) can predict when you die
  • HRV alters brain function; under pressure HRV becomes chaotic

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Alessandro Acquisti: Why privacy matters
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  • in future, ads will be like Minority Report…except it’ll be a composite of our 2 best friends (why? because we won’t recognize the face, but we will like it)
  • study asked students if they’ve ever cheated on an exam; in one group they were told their response would only be shared with other students; in the other group they were told their response would be shared with faculty as well
    • lower response rate in the second group. but if there was a 15-second delay between notification (of who will see the response) and asking the question (have you cheated?), then the response rates were the same!

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Allan Pease, Body language: the power is in the palm of your hands
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  • in handshakes, whose hand is on top is usually dominating; to maximize appeal, go in at complete vertical and match pressure of other person
  • in a study where a speaker gave the same instructions to 3 different audiences:
    • palms up — highest retention and cooperation
    • palms down — medium
    • finger pointing — lowest
  • forming a bridge (touch your fingertips together) gives you confidence and poise

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Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are
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  • 30-sec sound clips can predict whether a physician will be sued
  • 1-sec exposure to a politician can predict with 70% accuracy who wins Congressional races
  • your body language can change your physiology (hormones), actions, thoughts
  • hold a pen in your mouth, by activating “smile” muscles, you actually feel happier

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Andrew Hessel: Synthetic Virology
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  • the Pink Army Movement is the exact opposite of a traditional pharma company:
    • focused not on broad, but narrow-based drugs
    • not a closed system, but open-source
    • not for-profit, but non-profit
  • an oncolytic virus is a weak virus that can’t takeover a healthy cell, but can takeover a cancerous cell (which is by definition weaker than a healthy cell); the cancer cell then makes copies of the oncolytic virus, the cancer cell dies and the virus goes on to infect other cancer cells
  • cost of synthetically printing DNA is dropping dramatically
  • pharma is the opposite of Moore’s Law, costs of development have risen dramatically while # of approved drugs has fallen dramatically (me: a16z  jokingly calls this eroom’s law)

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Andrew Stanton: The clues to a great story
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  • stories are all about the ending
  • the greatest story commandment: “make me care”
  • at beginning, stories should make a promise, can be as simple as “once upon a time”
  • the audience WANTS to work for their meal, they just don’t want to know they’re doing it!
  • “Pixar’s Unifying Theory of 2 + 2”; don’t give them the answer  (4), make them do the work
  • “drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty”
  • every story needs a strong, unifying theme
  • before they made Toy Story, everyone in Hollywood thought animation = singing

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Barry Schwartz: The paradox of choice
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  • official dogma: to maximize wealth, maximize individual freedom; to maximize freedom, maximize choice
  • he went into a supermarket and counted 175 salad dressings, 285 cookies, 275 cereals
  • in one consumer electronics store, you can construct 6.5M stereo systems!
  • shifting of responsibility from, for example, doctor to patient; or from manufacturer to consumer
  • enormous marketing of prescription drugs, even though we can’t buy them
  • his students are stressed over every life decision — marriage, kids, what careers
  • choice has negative effects
    1. paralysis not liberation — in study at a big co, for every 10 more mutual funds offered, participation rate in 401(k) matching declined 2%
    2. opportunity costs subtract from satisfaction of what we choose
    3. escalation of expectations — your choices ultimately make you get better “stuff”, but you feel worse, because expectations are much higher
  • “secret to happiness is low expectations”
  • when you don’t make the perfect choice, in a world overwhelmed with choices, you blame yourself; there’s no excuse for failure
  • some choice is better than none, but more is not better
  • our pareto-improving move: more income and choice redistribution to societies with little choice

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Benjamin Barber: Why mayors should rule the world
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  • mayors are intensely pragmatic, national politicians must have an ideology
  • lots of mayoral coalitions and groups now coordinating effective action
  • well-known mayors doing a good job: Boris Johnson in London, Michael Bloomberg in NYC
  • usually from the neighborhood
  • big cities have been around longer than their countries: Rome than Italy…Beijing longer than China…

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Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to zero!
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  • total carbon emissions output is increasing, leading to higher temperatures; the impact is debated, but weather will get worse and be more unpredictable
  • equation is: Carbon Emissions = Population X Services X Energy Per Service X Carbon Emissions Per Energy
  • goal is 80% CO2 reduction by 2050
  • solutions include: research funding, market incentives, entrepreneurship, rational regulatory framework
  • most potential for “energy miracles”:
    • 1: carbon capture and storage
    • 2: nuclear
    • 3: wind
    • 4: solar voltaic
    • 5: solar thermal

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Bill Gross: the single biggest reason why startups succeed
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  • most important qualities (ranked)
    1. timing
    2. team execution
    3. idea (he thought this would be #1, but it wasn’t)
    4. business model
    5. funding
  • cites the following as examples of great timing: AirBnb (timing: there was a recession, people needed to earn and save money), Citysearch, Uber

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Bonnie Bassler: The secret, social lives of bacteria
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  • bacteria just grow and divide
  • humans have 1T cells, and 10T bacteria cells! 100x more bacterial genes in our body
  • bacteria help us digest food, make vitamins, educate immune system
  • one bacterium that should glow doesn’t until its colony reaches a certain size, reaches quorum, how does it know?
    • bacteria talks via chemical signals
    • these chemical signals are unique to that species of bacteria
    • they also have intra-species chemical signaling
  • hundreds of behaviors carried out in collective fashion via these chemical signals
  • harmful bacterium do same thing — when right #, can successfully launch attack on host
  • trad’l antibiotics kill bacteria, selects over time for antibiotics resistance
  • we can manipulate this signaling (both intra and inter-species signaling) to create new types of antibiotics, species or disease specific ones
  • we now think bacteria made rules of how multicellular organisms work, multi-cellular networks

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: We should all be feminists
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  • “Feminists are women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands”
  • “Feminism isn’t African”; she had been influenced by Western culture
  • men are encouraged to lose their virginity and women are encouraged to keep theirs; how does this work?

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Chris Ryan on sex
watch 1
watch 2

  • humans are more related to chimps and bonobos than one elephant species to another
  • the standard narrative: men trade resources for sex, a woman’s fidelity, and childcare
    • this has been the narrative since Darwin’s time
    • but it sets up male vs female as competing, oppositional genders
  • the standard narrative is wrong; instead, it’s about sperm competition INSIDE the woman’s reproductive tract, within an ovulatory cycle
  • this is fierce egalitarianism — everything is shared, which is the smartest way to survive in a foraging society
  • monogamous primates (gorillas, gibbons) have small testicles and penii
  • …while promiscuous primates (humans, chimps) have larger testicles and penii
    • the human female is rare in being available for sex through her ENTIRE menstrual cycle
    • humans have testicles in a sac outside of the body to keep them cool so they’re available for sex at any time
    • A chimp’s swollen ass signals she’s available for sex with different males; this confused Darwin because he expected a pair-bonding relationship
  • our sex act to birth ratio is 1000 to 1, whereas for gorillas (monogamous) is 10 to 1
    • most mammals don’t have sex unless there’s a good chance of fertilizing
    • why do we have so much sex? we use sex to develop complex social networks — common in intelligent social species like dolphins and chimps
    • sex is like vegetarianism — it’s healthy, it’s social
  • examples
    • in a SW China village, women and men are sexually autonomous, both have many sexual partners; when woman has a child, it’s cared for by her, her sisters and her brothers; the biological father is a non-issue
    • in a S American (?) village, children are viewed as product of many men’s sperm, so if you want a strong, smart, and funny child, you have sex with those types of partners; the partners all recognize the role they played in fathering the child

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Chris Urmson: How a driverless car sees the road
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  • first car ever was driven by Benz and it crashed into a wall
  • 1M people die of car accidents every year, 30K of those in the US (equivalent to a 747 crash EVERY DAY! me: not sure how they did this math…)
  • billions of minutes are spent each day in commute
  • driving is not egalitarian (e.g., it’s harder for blind, deaf, handicapped, underage, overage)
  • growth in car usage far outpaces growth in roads. in other words it’s not just your imagination: traffic is getting worse
  • humans make roughly one mistake that leads to an accident every 100K miles
  • there are important differences between “driver-assisted” and true driverless cars
  • driverless cars take data and predict behaviors, and even respond to unexpected ones (for example, a Google driverless car encountered a woman in an electric-powered wheelchair chasing ducks in a circle!)
  • driverless cars can see things humans can’t (e.g., using lasers, it can detect a cyclist out of a human driver’s field of view)
  • Google’s cars do 3M miles in simulators every day (me: what a great way to improve AI)
  • parking lots are “urban craters”

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Christopher McDougall: Are we born to run?
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  • Tarahumara — famous running tribe
  • unchanged for last 400 years
    • when the Spanish came, they hid in canyons (instead of being decimated like Aztecs and Incans)
    • they’re completely free of modern illness
  • arguably humans are DESIGNED for long-distance running, evidence:
    • women sprinters are much slower than male counterparts; gap MUCH smaller in long-distance, in ultra marathons top women are almost equal
    • also rare in long-distance running: 60-yos as fast as, if not faster than, 18-yos
    • humans are “hunting pack animal” – need women, elders to run long-distances too (so they’re not left behind)
    • we sweat really well, can run far on a hot day
    • our bodies are perfect for long distance running (long torso, short bipedal legs, head that can rotate side to side while running to watch for predators, obstacles)

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Chrystia Freeland: The rise of the new global super-rich
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  • as income inequality increases, social mobility decreases
  • today we live in the era of superstars in every industry — even dentists!
  • while the rise in the top 1%’s wealth is astonishing, rise in 0.1% is even more extreme
  • how GM employs 100K, FB only employs thousands
  • today productivity increases are decoupled from wage increases

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Mathematics and sex | Clio Cresswell
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  • there are equations that predict with 95% accuracy whether spouses will stay together over time, includes data on in-laws and body language
  • couples that compromise the LEAST ended up staying together the longest
  • maybe having high standards, finding ways to reach for them, is the way to go
  • mathematics is used in many fields: from creating chocolate to optimizing antibiotics to predicting political elections
  • men overestimate their # of past sexual partners, but estimation as a process usually leads to over-guessing (her favorite clue in the data: 80% of self-reported men’s numbers were divisible by 5!)
  • testosterone peaks in morning, slumps in the evening, and cycles every 2 to 2.5 hours
  • rats can count approximately, but can’t do exact because they don’t have a linguistic / mental representation of numbers. we’re the same: if we can’t count out a sequence, we can only do approximations, too

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Daniel Amen: The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans
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  • Alzheimer’s starts 30-50 years before you begin to notice it (!)
  • Psychiatrists are the only medical specialists who don’t look at the organ they treat (e.g., cardiologists study the heart, dentists study teeth)
  • Dostoevsky: society should be judged by how it treats its criminals
  • Single most important lesson: you can change a person’s brain
  • in an NFL study, found brain damage in vast majority of players, but also found that 80% of those players could improve memory, blood flow and mood over time with proper exercises and diet

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Daniel Dennett: Dangerous memes
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  • like the ant infected by the lancet fluke whose only goal is to climb blades of grass (to be eaten and the fluke spread to cows and horses), our brains are hijacked by ideas
  • ideas (“memes”) and the study of mimetics – ideas are like viruses, like bacteria
  • Shakers practice celibacy; yet they would have survived if not for economic circumstances due to continual arrival of new converts; you could think of celibacy as a sterilizing virus, yet Shakers would have beaten it

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Daniel Goldstein: The battle between your present and future self
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  • In the US, savings rates have decreased from ~10% to ~5% in the last 50 years
  • Solution: visualize future states (the more detailed, the more accurate, the better the decisions for your future self)

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David Brooks: The social animal
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  • we are social animals (groups are smarter than individuals, effectiveness is determined by communication)
  • emotion is the foundation of reason, without it we can’t make decisions
  • we are all overconfident (19% think they’re in the top 1% of earners, 95% of professors think they’re better than average)
  • we need the mental models and humility to realize we aren’t great

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David Epstein: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?
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  • Jesse Owens finished 14 feet behind Usain Bolt, but he ran on cinder tracks which stole 1.5% of your energy, and had to dig his own starting block with a trowel!
  • when you look at 100M freestyle record times, steady downward decline punctuated by large drops, due to form improvements (the flip turn), technology improvements (pool gutters to reduce waves, frictionless full-body swimsuits)
  • in 1920s, experts thought average body types were best for any sport; back then, high jumpers and shot putters had the same body type, now shot putters are inches taller and tens of pounds heavier; more specialization
  • one out of six 7’-tall American men between ages 20-40 are in the NBA right now
  • average NBA player is 6’7” with wingspan of 7’ (average human is 1:1 ratio)
  • over last 30 years, average gymnast has shrunk from 5’3” to 4’9”
  • in Kenya, the Kalenjins are the elite runners, they’re only 17% of the Kenyan population but vast majority of its elite runners; the Kalenjin have really long, thin legs for efficient cooling and energy usage; me: a RadioLab episode also talked about how they have unusual ceremonies to build pain tolerance and to require running under extreme pain
  • performance improvements have come from: changing technology, changing genes, and changing mindset
  • we now realize humans are the perfect ultra-endurance athletes because we have long legs and big butt muscles for running, bare skin for efficient cooling, and we can twist our torsos while looking straight ahead

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Erik Brynjolfsson: The key to growth? Race with the machines
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  • general purpose technologies unleash wave of innovation but takes time to realize — e.g., steam engines, electricity (which took 30 years for manufacturers to realize gave them increased flexibility)
    • from Nye’s book on technology: electricity is a platform which enabled unimagined appliances and innovations to build on top of it, and today that spending far outpaces the actual spending on electricity (and the proportion is growing)
    • today that platform is the computer
  • productivity today at all-time high
  • US GDP growth constant on log-scale
  • today is “age of the machine”
  • getting more technology than ever for free – but zero price is zero weight in GDP stats
  • Erik estimates GDP misses $300B/year of free stuff (me: must be even more, like O’Reilly’s clothesline paradox)
  • we think linearly but tech is exponential
  • machine learning is game changing — Jeopardy computer learns quickly
  • Intuit — great for founders, but 17% of tax preparers lost jobs because of TurboTax
  • in chess, team of humans and ordinary computers working together can beat even most powerful computer

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Why Happy Couples Cheat | Esther Perel
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  • adultery has existed as long as marriage, and so too the taboo
  • adultery is the only commandment repeated twice in Bible (once for doing it, once just for thinking about it!)
  • “monogamy used to be one person for life, today it’s one person at a time”
  • “we used to marry and have sex for the first time, now we marry and stop having sex with others”
  • infidelity estimates vary widely, from 26 to 75%
  • we are walking contradictions: 95% say it’s terribly wrong for our partner to lie about an affair, but same % say that’s what we would do if we were having one
  • infidelity used to threaten our economic arrangement, now it threatens our emotional arrangement
  • core problem: we believe one person can fulfill every need, thus infidelity threatens everything
  • “affairs in the digital age are death by a thousand cuts”
  • today we’re more inclined to stray than ever; we feel right to pursue our desires; we believe we deserve to be happy
  • “staying is the new shame” (after discovering an affair)
  • affairs — even by couples married and faithful for decades — are often a yearning for our old selves, for strength after loss (a parent dies, or you lose your job)
  • “not so much that we are looking for another person, but we are looking for another self”
  • one word unfaithful spouses use: ALIVE, they feel ALIVE
  • it’s not about sex but DESIRE
  • majority of experienced couples stay together, and can turn an affair into opportunity to grow
  • avoid mining for sordid details — better to move on, figure out meaning and motives, not logistics
  • “your first marriage is over, would you like to create a second one, together”

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Gary Wilson: The Great Porn Experiment
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  • boys start seeking porn at 10 years old
  • porn studies are difficult in-part because it’s nearly impossible to find adult subjects who haven’t watched before
  • Coolidge effect – male rats will continually mate with new female rates, but there is a rapid increase in time between sex for male rats and the same female rat; phenomenon also occurs, to lesser degree, with females
  • frequent porn consumption literally changes brain structure, neurochemical balance, numbs pleasure response, decreases willpower, increases porn sensitivity (just like drugs)
  • key driver of people quitting porn: erectile dysfunction aka ED (over time, brain sends weaker and weaker signals to penis)
  • older men recover from ED faster than younger men (2-3 vs 4-5 months) because they started watching at later age; older men didn’t start having ED problems until they got high-speed internet (!)
  • teen brains more vulnerable: higher dopamine levels, higher neuroplasticity

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Gian Giudice on Higgs-Boson and universe’s very existence
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  • Higgs-Boson is not as elegant as other particle/elemental physics, and it isn’t a surprise
  • Most theoretical physicists believe Higgs-Boson is not full story
  • Shortly after creation of universe, there was a phase shift and creation of the Higgs substance, which is what gives mass and energy to particles (including the Higgs-Boson, the discovery of which proves the existence of this substance)
  • But this substance is highly unstable, and at just the right value to prevent the universe and all matter from collapsing
  • One possible explanation is that our universe is part of a multiverse of many universes, all of which rely on this substance and, like sand dunes which in theory could be many shapes but all generally have 30-35 degree slops, all of these have this Higgs substance of a comparable value

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Glenn Greenwald: Why privacy matters
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  • the people who say that privacy doesn’t matter — like Eric Schmidt — don’t actually believe it
    • why? because they say it, then they take all sorts of actions to safeguard their privacy — from security in homes to passwords for online accounts
    • Mark Zuckerberg — says privacy is no longer a norm, yet buys house and 4 adjacent houses in PA for a “zone of privacy”
  • false assumption that people fall into only 2 categories — the good and the bad, and that the good should have nothing to hide
  • but all of us have things to hide — things we tell our physicians, lawyers, psychologists, best friends
  • when we’re watched, our behavior changes — science and literature have proven this repeatedly
  • Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, Foucault realized it could be applied to all society as form of control and compliance in a subtle way
  • George Orwell’s 1984 fundamentally misinterpreted — people think it’s one where they’re watched at all times, but Orwell says it’s more about not knowing when you’re being watched, and thus you assume you’re always being watched
  • Abrahamic religions — God as someone who sees everything you do, as form of obedience and control
  • people who seek out privacy are by definition bad people — terrible assumption
  • we make an implicit bargain — if you make yourself sufficiently harmless, then you’re safe in government, only dissidents get in trouble, but that’s a terrible way to think
  • “he who does not move, does not notice his chains” – Rosa Luxemburg

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Graham Hancock – The War on Consciousness (a banned TED talk)
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  • some academics now believe our consciousness was triggered by experiences with psychedelic plants
  • what evidence do we have? cave art and the rise of shamanism
  • DMT compound in ayahuasca plant is closely related to psilocybin
  • he drank an ayahuasca brew
  • was a 4-hour journey
  • “foul taste, dreadful smell”
  • often have vomiting and diarrhea, “you’re not doing this for recreation”
  • a universal experience is encounters with intelligent entities
  • ayahuasca is very successful at breaking addictions to cocaine, heroin
  • “for 24 years I was pretty much permanently stoned”
  • ayahuasca means “vine of souls” or “vine of the dead” — related to why people often have visions of their own death, near-death experiences (NDE), hell
  • Egyptians believe your soul survives death. They highly valued dream states and used hallucinogenic plants
  • “if we want to insult someone, we call them a dreamer, could not be more different from Egyptians where dream states were praised”
  • “our love affair with alcohol, glorify this terrible drug”
  • default state of (Western) society: “alert, problem-solving state of consciousness”
  • Shamans believe the West has severed its connection with spirit

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Hannah Fry: The Mathematics of Love

  • math is the study of patterns
  • OkCupid was started by mathematicians; they have data for more than a decade
  • how attractive you are doesn’t dictate how popular you are on OkC
  • what matters is the spread of scores: ideally you want some people to LOVE you and some to HATE you
  • also, if everyone thinks another person is attractive, they often won’t try to contact
  • let’s say you start dating at 15 and want to be married at 35, what’s your optimal mate selection strategy?
    • the math tells us we should ONLY date for first-third of that span (about 6-7 years), then pick the next person that comes along who is better than everyone you’ve seen before
    • there are actually wild fish, other animals that follow this strategy
  • 1/2 of American marriages end in divorce
    • the best predictor of divorce: how positive or negative partners were in discussions
    • math could predict divorce at 90% accuracy
    • particularly dangerous are the “spirals of negativity”
    • successful relationships have really LOW negativity threshold (which means, they tend to bring up even little things that bother them, though this finding may be counterintuitive)
    • these low negativity threshhold couples don’t let things slide, they continually try to repair their relationship

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Hans Rosling: Religion and babies
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  • in early 20th century, believed that religion was highly correlated with number of babies (in general, Islamic families had 6-7 children, Eastern and Christian families had fewer) and less correlated with wealth
  • today, almost all religious families have fewer children, greater correlation with wealth
  • statistically, religions seem to have very little impact on number of babies/woman
  • today, fast population growth is seen in countries with high child mortality (e.g., some areas in sub-Saharan Africa like the Congo)
  • other factors affecting child birth rates: women joining the labor force, children not joining the labor force, access to family planning
  • we are at “peak child” – 2B in world, but will be fewer every decade; population will continue to grow (projected to peak at 10B), due to longevity and lower mortality

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Hans Rosling: The best stats you’ve ever seen
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  • in 1960s, First World Countries (FWCs) had twice the life expectancy and half the fertility rate of Third World Countries (TWCs); today almost all countries have rapidly decreasing fertility rates and increasing life expectancy (at slowing rate)
  • from 1960s to today, Asia experienced the largest increase in population income – massive poverty in 60s, mostly middle-class today (by global standards)
  • interesting: those with higher health standards can increase wealth faster than vice-versa (South Korea as example of former, Brazil and UAE as latter)

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Helen Fisher: Why we love, why we cheat
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  • 3 kinds of love:
    1. LUST (sex)
    2. PASSION (talk until 6am, think about them all the time, built through shared experiences)
    3. COMMITMENT (after a few years, where you love someone for their flaws, and your sense of self – even in your brain – begins to merge)

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Henry Markram: A brain in a supercomputer
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  • one theory of how brain works: brain creates model of universe, projects it all around you like a bubble
    • decisions support our perceptual bubble
    • when you open door and walk into room, you make thousands of decisions, it’s not what you see, it’s what you infer
  • took universe 11B years to make our brain
  • neocortex as ultimate solution today to universe as we know it
  • neocortex is evolving at enormous speed
    • made up of 1M modules, like G5 processors
    • each neuron is unique
    • think of it like a piano with a million keys
  • new theory of autism, neocortex is extremely sensitive, it’s like the piano keys are each super sensitive and loud
  • have mathematics to simulate a neuron’s activities, communication
  • when simulated in supercomputer, noticed electrical objects/clouds which represent thoughts

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James Flynn: Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents’
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  • average scores in 100 years have risen 30 points (100 to 130)
  • cognitively demanding jobs have risen from 3% to 35% today
  • cognitive priority has shifted from concrete to abstract and hypotheticals (in a given middle school, tests used to ask questions like “What are the capitals of the 50 states?”, today you see more questions like “Why are the state capitols rarely the most populous cities?”
  • young Americans today are a-historical, “live in a bubble of the present”

* * * * *

The Secret Life of Pronouns: James Pennebaker at TEDxAustin
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  • writing 15 mins/day shown to help with trauma – rape, assault
    • what you write about didn’t matter – it was the usage of specific articles and prepositions that did!
  • content (nouns, adjectives) versus function words (rest)
    • function words are 65% of language usage; in English they’re usually the shortest words, and so they’re processed so quickly that they’re basically subconscious
  • function words are profoundly social
    • for example, usage of 3rd person pronouns (he, she, they) shows you pay attention to other people
    • first person pronouns: I, me, my
      • the higher your status, the LESS you use them
      • the lower your status, the MORE you use them
      • high status looks at world, low status looks inside
      • suicidal and non-suicidal poets use negative words at same rates, but suicidal poets use “I” more!
      • depressed people – high awareness, self-focused, extremely self-honest, unable to have positive allusions about themselves
      • honest people use “I” more, own what they say, liars distance themselves
    • in relationships and speed dating – the more your function words match your partner’s, the stronger your relationship

* * * * *

Jared Diamond, How societies can grow old better
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  • some societies kill their elderly – usually living in marginal societies (e.g., deserts) or nomadic (can’t bring them along)
  • other end of spectrum – elderly live in same house or nearby family, cared for and respected
  • two reasons for variation
    • #1: usefulness of old people (produce food, care for children, produce goods, sources of knowledge and leadership)
    • #2: society’s values (Confucian doctrine of filial piety; US places low value on elderly, for example, hospitals have explicit policy of allocating limited resources to the young)
  • Why does US place such low value on the elderly?
    • Protestant work ethic (elderly work less)
    • American emphasis on self-reliance and independence
    • Cult of youth (modern advertising)
  • People living longer; ratio of old:young increasing; a flatter world is leading to more distance between families
  • Elderly are less useful today due to widespread literacy, the Internet, technological requirements
  • Areas where they can be useful:
    • #1: primary caretakers for grandchildren, extended family
    • #2: sharing of unique experiences (e.g., experiencing Great Depression and World Wars)
    • #3: supervising, strategizing, teaching, synthesizing, devising long-term plans

* * * * *

Jared Diamond, Why societies collapse
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  • Viking Norse settled Greenland, and then all died. Why?
    • #1 environmental change — caused soil erosion and deforestation, required forest for iron and charcoal
    • #2 climate got colder
    • #3 lack of friendly supporting societies — trade with Norway dwindled as Norway got weaker
    • #4 worsening relations with hostile societies — Inuit/Eskimos, Norse had bad relationships
    • #5 political, economic, social factors — Christian society invested heavily in churches
  • what about societies today?
    • some societies collapse very soon after reaching peak in power — e.g., Mayans, Soviet Union
    • Easter Island is the most devastating case of deforestation — many subtle environmental factors including dust from Asia
  • how could societies not perceive the impact of what they were doing?
    1. conflicts of interest: between short-term interests of decision making elites and long-term interests of population
      • Greenland Norse chiefs wanted more followers and resources to outcompete neighboring chiefs and thus exploited environment
      • US political and business elite can advance short-term interests — e.g., Enron
    2. hard to make good decisions when conflict involves strongly-held values that are good in certain circumstances but bad in others
      • Norse — shared religion and social cohesion, but that made it difficult to change and learn from Inuit
      • Australia survived because of British identity, but today that commitment to British identity makes it difficult to adapt towards Asia
  • today, many environmental issues need to be resolved — either we’ll solve them or they’ll cause disasters
  • the big problems are in our control and of our own making

* * * * *

Jeff Hancock: the future of lying
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  • most people lie 1-2x/day
  • today we have new types of lies
    • butler — create space, technology gives people too much access/time, e.g. texting “I’m on my way” or “I’ve got work, gotta go”
    • sock puppet — eg, fake reviews
    • chinese water army — thousands of people paid to post content, reviews, propaganda, in US we call it “astroturfing”
  • study shows email is more honest than phone, in part because email is a permanent record
  • study shows LinkedIn is more honest than resume — a social effect?
  • we’re really bad at detecting lies — 54% accuracy — research shows there’s actually no reliable cue (even though we think it’s in the eyes)
  • to spot fake reviews: liars tell more of a story, they use the word “I” more; truthful reviewers talk more about spatial properties

* * * * *

Jeff Iliff: One more reason to get a good night’s sleep
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  • why is sleep so restorative?
  • sleep is an elegant design for the brain’s waste removal
    • the circulatory system provides nutrients to every body cell
    • every cell creates waste; the lymphatic system removes this but there are no lymphatic cells in the brain
    • how does the brain clear its waste?
    • brain has cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) which removes waste
    • CSF moves along brain blood vessels
    • this only happens when sleeping
    • when the brain sleeps, brain cells shrink, which makes room for CSF to rush through brain and remove waste!
    • when awake, brain is busy, puts off waste removal process until sleep
  • what kinds of waste?
    • amyloid beta (AB) — Alzheimer’s is the accumulation of AB, but this doesn’t prove a lack of sleep is the cause
  • sleep literally “refreshes” the mind!

* * * * *

Jenna McCarthy: What you don’t know about marriage
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  • study shows people who smile in childhood photos are less likely to divorce
  • study shows men who are willing to do chores —> wife is more attracted —> more sex —> happier man
  • marriages last longer when woman is skinnier than man
  • watching romantic comedy causes relationship satisfaction to plummet
  • “Oscar curse” [Wikipedia] for winning Best Actress Oscar
  • divorce is contagious – close friend getting divorced increased your chances by 75%
  • married couples live longer, are happier, 1000 legal benefits

* * * * *

John McWhorter: Txtng is killing language. JK!!!
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  • speech came 100K years ago, writing just 4-5K years
  • natural speech is word packets of 7-10 words
  • back in 1800s, people spoke like they wrote; formal and structured and long-winded
  • today, texting is writing like we speak, “fingered speech”
  • texting shows “emergent complexity”, for example “lol” is used, in addition to literally “laughing out loud,” as a marker of empathy, a pragmatic participle, like the Japanese suffix “-ne”
  • “slash” as way to change subject; “slash I was at the gym earlier”
  • through history we’ve always complained our youth can’t write well
  • being bilingual is good for brain, John believes texting is a 2nd language!

* * * * *

Jonathan Haidt — The moral roots of liberals and conservatives
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  • openness and comfort with new experiences strongly correlated with liberal political attitude
  • worst idea in psychology is “mind is blank slate at birth”; in reality we’re pre-programmed with a lot —  “nature provides a first draft”
  • “sports is to war as pornography is to sex”, we get to exercise our ancient drives
  • basis of morality, his 5 best candidates for that “first draft”:
    1. harm/care — feel compassion
    2. fairness/reciprocity — ambiguous evidence whether it’s found in other animals
    3. ingroup/loyalty — found in animal kingdoms, usually very small or among siblings, only in humans does it expand to large groups
    4. authority/respect — in humans, this is based more on voluntary interest and feelings of love sometimes
    5. purity/sanctity — food is becoming very moralized these days
  • think of these as channels, moral equalizers
  • liberals care more about harm and fairness; conservatives carry more about authority, in-group, purity (relative)
  • in most countries, less debate about harm and fairness, most are about #3, 4, 5
  • most people start fair, then cooperation decays if there’s no punishment, but if there’s punishment, cooperation increases in successive rounds (in a study using a hypothetical game)
  • liberals speak for weak and oppressed, conservatives speak for order and tradition, it forms a balance
  • in religions you find same thing: yin and yang, Vishnu and Shiva (some icons show them as same body)
  • “If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for or against. The struggle between ‘for’ and ‘against’ is the mind’s worst disease” – Sengcan, a Chinese Zen Patriarch
  • believes a key moral insight from history up to science today is that we’re inclined to form teams and fight against other teams

* * * * *

Josh Kaufman: The first 20 hours — how to learn anything
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  • 20 hours to maximize the 80/20 of learning something, acquiring a skill
  • Focused, deliberate practice (about a month, 45 minutes a day)
    1. Deconstruct the skill
    2. Learn enough to self-correct – but don’t use resources to procrastinate, learn JUST ENOUGH and then…
    3. Remove barriers to practice – START DOING
    4. Practice at least 20 hours
  • the major barrier isn’t intellectual – it’s emotional

* * * * *

Juan Enriquez: The next species of human
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  • 3 big trends
    • engineer cells (programmable cells, registry of biological parts, starting to engineer living organisms)
    • engineer tissues (cloned human teeth, grown in petri dishes; new ears, bladders, based on your own stem cells or a mice’s; skin cells rebooting into stem cells)
    • robots (Oscar Pistorius was 1 second within qualifying for regular Olympics; cochlear implants in heads for deaf to hear…happening in eyes, too)
  • have been 22 species of hominids
    • common for them to overlap (e.g., us with Neanderthals)
    • what’s next: new hominids, homo evolutis, take direct control over own evolution and evolution of other species

* * * * *

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend
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  • study shows high stress increases mortality rate IFF you believe stress is bad for you
  • stress is one of top 20 causes of death in the US!
  • under stress our heart rate increases and blood vessels constrict, but if we view stress as positive (“you’re getting more oxygen to your heart”) then our blood vessels actually relax

* * * * *

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley
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  • 80% of students in Native American communities drop out of high school
  • US spends more per capita than most, and has smaller classes than most
  • No Child Left Behind is bad, it treats each kid the same through its emphasis on test scores
  • STEM is important, but we’re ignoring physical ed, arts
  • Education is about stimulating curiosity; teaching is about facilitating learning not testing

* * * * *

Ken Robinson: How to escape education’s death valley
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  • 80% of students in Native American communities drop out of high school
  • US spends more per capita than most, and has smaller classes than most
  • No Child Left Behind is bad, it treats each kid the same through its emphasis on test scores
  • STEM is important, but we’re ignoring physical ed, arts
  • Education is about stimulating curiosity; teaching is about facilitating learning not testing

* * * * *

Kevin Kelly: How technology evolves
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  • earlier in life he rode a bike across the back roads of America
  • think of technology like a gene, what does it want?
  • what do we know about evolution the general trends are:
    • ubiquity
    • diversity
    • specialization
    • complexity
    • socialization
  • technology can be studied and understood in the same way
  • King of England only had 6K pieces of tech; average home today has ten times!
  • technology as the seventh kingdom of life
  • technology never dies — you can still buy parts today for steam cars, for any imaginable prior invention
  • took a page from an 1800s catalog — all of those products are still being made today!
  • prohibitions of technology: there weren’t many, they didn’t last long and such prohibitions were less and less effective over time (me: but what about China’s great firewall?)
  • technology is an infinite game, goal is to keep playing (Carse’s framework of infinite vs finite games)
  • technology is about choices, freedom, possibilities
  • our goal in life is to find our goal in life, to play recursive infinite games; technology is an enabler

* * * * *

Kevin Kelly: the next 5000 days of the web
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  • the internet is only 5000 days old, what will the next 5000 days look like?
  • “it’s amazing, and we’re not amazed”
  • we’re basically creating one giant machine, and it’s the strongest/most reliable machine we’ve ever built
  • all our machines are portals into the one machine (every smartphone, every laptop, every IoT)
  • 3 changes: embodiment, re-structuring, co-dependence
    • copies have no value
    • attention is currency
  • humans are the machine’s extended senses
  • we’re linking data; first the connections were machine to machine, then page to page, now data to data
  • we shouldn’t need to port our friends to each social network, the web should just know
  • “to share will be to gain”
  • no bits will live outside the web — early version of software eating the world

* * * * *

Lawrence Lessig: We the People, and the Republic we must reclaim
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  • USA is an imaginary Lesterland — there’s a general election and a money (the Lester) election
    • in Lesterland only the funders get to vote
  • 0.26% gave $200 or more, 0.05% gave maximum <— the tiniest slice of 1%
  • 132 Americans gave 60% of all Super PAC $$$
  • Congress spends 30-70% of time raising money
    • they develop a “sixth sense” of what those funders want
    • not popular issues 1-10, but 11 to 1000
  • funders don’t do it for public but for PRIVATE interest
  • Republicans might want small government, but for example if they de-regulated Telecoms, response was (after Al Gore proposal): “if we de-regulate them, how in the hell are we going to raise money from them?”
  • an “economy of influence”, feeds on polarization
  • Henry David Thoreau: “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one striking at the root”
  • solution: single statute, for a citizen-funded election
    • more funders, smaller amounts, less time spent on fundraising
    • this would shrink K Street
    • political staffers, bureaucrats are a “farm league” for K Street
  • Ben Franklin: “A Republic, if you can keep it”

* * * * *

Leslie T. Chang: The voices of China’s workers
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  • spent 2 years in Dongguan studying female Chinese factory workers
  • motivation: better lives, help their family, curiosity, see the world
  • they didn’t care that much about their own living conditions or creature comforts, but wanted upward mobility
  • there’s decent upward mobility, some of these factory workers can become urban middle class (although she didn’t share #s in the talk)
  • what they wanted most: education; for example on weekends they’d take computer skills and English language classes

* * * * *

Marcel Dicke: Why not eat insects?
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  • 1/3 of fruit we eat is the result of insect pollination of plants
  • insects represent more biomass than humans
  • every processed food contains insects — tomato soup, peanut butter, chocolate
  • there are allowed FDA limits for insect material in foods
  • current meat supply has many problems:
    • animals cause diseases, e.g., pigs
  • insects are more efficient source of food — 10kg of feed produces 1kg of meat OR 9kg of insects
  • insects create less waste (e.g., manure for meat)
  • insects are more nutritious (me: need to research)
  • 70% of all agricultural land used for livestock
  • 80% of world already eats insects, 1000+ insect species

* * * * *

Martin Seligman: The new era of positive psychology
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  • psychology used to be a disease model – what was wrong with you
  • moved to a clinical and cognitive and solutions-driven model – how to fix it, data and therapies
  • there are 3 happy lives
    1. The Pleasant Life (as much positive emotion as possible; learning skills to amplify them) – doing drugs; being George Clooney; about 50% heritable, not very modifiable; habituates over time
    2. The Good Life (life of engagement; work, parenting, love; time stops, Aristotle’s eudaemonia) – Lebron James; flow…when time stops; the Pleasant Life and pleasure has a raw feel…you know it’s happening; during flow you can’t feel anything; about using strengths in key areas of your life as much as possible (family, work, play)
    3. The Meaningful Life: “using your strengths in service of something larger than you” – Mother Teresa

* * * * *

Matthieu Ricard: The habits of happiness
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  • eudemonia – Greek, Aristotelian concept of wellbeing, active life governed by reason
  • two opposite mental factors cannot act at the same time, you can go from love to hate, but you cannot feel both at the same time

* * * * *

Melinda French Gates: What nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola
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  • even extremely poor far-flung places have coca cola, but why not basic health services, medicines?
  • Coca Cola (CC) sells 1.5B servings/day
  • 3 things we can learn
    • real-time data; at CC, whole team called Knowledge & Insights; in development, results and analysis come at the very end of the project
    • local entrepreneurial talent; in Africa hard to get to remote places, but noticed local people bought coke in bulk to re-sell, and began training them as “micro distribution centers” in pushcarts, wheelbarrows to sell product; in Tanzania and Uganda, they are 90% of Coke sales
    • marketing; everyone wants one, Coke marketing is aspirational, localize their marketing, in Africa it’s “sariti” (sp?) aka “community respect”
  • 1.5M children die each year from diarrhea, a lot of it is because of open defecation (shit outside), some Indian villages are beginning to link toilets to courtship (to encourage men to use them!)
  • circumcision reduces HIV infection by 2/3 (!)
  • polio global success story — 99% reduction in 20 years
    • when one person got polio in N. India, in less than a month, 2M people in that targeted area got vaccination (!)
  • smallpox and rinderpest widely acknowledged as only diseases eradicated from planet; MG wants polio to be next

* * * * *

Michael Sandel: the Lost Art of Democratic Debate
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  • Aristotle: justice is everyone getting what they deserve; who should get the best flutes? the best flute players, because that’s what flutes are for; also because it allows musicians to fulfill their purpose: show their talent, play great music; greatest benefit for all
  • Casey Martin – golf cart case; Supreme Court voted in favor of usage; boiled down to “what is essential purpose of golf”: for justices in favor of Casey’s golf cart use, the essence of golf is hitting a ball into hole and thus walking is incidental; for justices against use, golf is just a game and what separates games from productive work is there is no object

* * * * *

Mick Mountz: the Hidden World of Box Packing
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  • instead of workers moving around to find items, robots move around to find items and transport them to pick workers who stand at the edges, turns process into a parallel processing engine
  • each packer is more independent, autonomous
  • the items can be relocated based on demand, so more popular items are closer to the pick workers

* * * * *

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on flow
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  • ecstasy is really an alternative reality
  • when we view monuments of the past (Chinese temples, Greek stadiums and theaters), we are really viewing places designed to elicit that ecstasy
  • the nervous system can’t process more than 120 bits at a time, which is why we can only understand 2 people talking to us (max); when in flow, so many of those bit-slots are focused on the act that other parts of you literally cease to exist — you don’t feel hungry, feel tired, pay attention to what’s around you

Cool slides from his talk:
mihaly-1
mihaly-2

* * * * *

Nick Bostrom: What happens when our computers get smarter than we are?
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  • human brains are largely similar to those of apes (only in the last 250K-1M years did ours begin to differ)
  • AI used to be commands in a box
  • now there’s a paradigm shift, today it’s about machine learning, about algorithms that learn from raw data like an infant
  • because of this, AI is not domain-limited
  • machine substrate is hands down superior to biological tissue: no speed or size limitations
  • AI will evolve similarly to human intelligence: it took animals millions of years to develop basic intelligence, but complex intelligence developed faster by orders of magnitudes(“AI train won’t stop at human…will swoosh right by”)
  • believes super intelligence will have preferences and will – to some extent – get what it wants
  • what are those preferences?
  • we must avoid anthropomorphizing (ie, we can’t assume it wants what people want)
  • there will be unintended consequences no matter what goals we specify (eg, say we ask it to solve a math problem, and it realizes the best solution is re-organize the planet into a giant supercomputer to solve the problem!)
  • mentions the King Midas myth (everything he touched turned to gold)
  • what we should do now is specify precisely our constraints, goals, and design principles to guide AI’s development

* * * * *

Nick Hanauer: Rich people don’t create jobs
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  • the rich aren’t job creators, supply side economics is false
  • consumers are king, consumers create jobs
  • hiring is a last resort for capitalists. to call capitalists job creators is disingenuous
  • rich people may consume more, but it’s not commensurate with their higher earnings
  • look at recent decades: as taxes on rich and capital gains have gone down, unemployment has stayed high, real incomes for middle and lower class have stagnated
  • to raise taxes on the rich benefits everyone long-term
  • help the middle class prosper, and create jobs for everyone

* * * * *

Oliver Sacks: what hallucination reveals about our minds
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  • special form of hallucination when you go blind called Charles Bonney syndrome
  • 10% of hearing or visually impaired old people get these hallucinations
  • when visual or auditory parts of brain stop getting input, they become hyperactive, start firing spontaneously
  • psychotic hallucinations interact with you, but these are more like a movie
  • fusiform gyrus — when impaired can’t recognize faces, when overactive you hallucinate faces
  • most common Charles Bonney hallucinations are faces and cartoons

* * * * *

Paul Miller: A year offline, what I have learned
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  • in absence of internet, found replacement obsessions: video games became the boredom solution
  • disconnected from social circle
  • people didn’t like receiving his phone calls – especially when making plans
  • overwhelmed when he first returned online

* * * * *

Rachel Botsman: The case for collaborative consumption
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  • Gen Y — the Millenials (1980s and 90s) are digital natives driving collaborative consumption
  • collaborative consumption also driven by:
    • community
    • p2p social networks
    • environmental concerns
    • global recession
  • 3 types
    • redistribution (swapping goods)
    • collaborative lifestyle (coworking)
    • product service systems (car sharing)
  • Zipcar took away 250 peoples’ cars, use Zipcar only when necessary, otherwise walk/bike/take public transport; after a month, 100 didn’t want their cars back!
  • Kevin Kelly: “where access is better than ownership”

* * * * *

Richard Dawkins on militant atheism
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  • one flaw of creationism: argue that evolution can’t create such complex design; yet you have to assume that something which designs us must itself be more complex (circular logic)
  • George Bush senior: no, I don’t think atheists should be considered citizens, nor should they be considered patriots, this is one nation, under God
  • in Britain Charles Darwin is on the 10 pound note, in the US we have “In God we trust”
  • studies show religion and education level are inversely correlated
  • in essence, the highest office of the most powerful country in the world bars the intelligentsia, the ones in Richard’s view most qualified to hold it (since most intellectual elites and academics are atheist or agnostic)
  • the word “atheist” itself remains a stumbling block; Darwin preferred “agnostic”, his friend Huxley coined the term; others: “humanist” (but too anthropocentric)
  • it’s a myth that Marx dedicated Das Kapital to Darwin; the evidence is a fragment of a letter Darwin wrote intended for another scientist
  • “tooth fairy agnostics” (on same rationale that you can’t disprove tooth fairy but you certainly don’t lend tooth fairy believers same credibility)
  • Carl Sagan: “How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.”
  • “A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”

* * * * *

Richard Weller: Could the sun be good for your heart?
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  • Australians have 1/3 incidence of heart disease of UK
  • in UK, there’s a clear relationship between all causes of mortality and latitude
  • sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D, also found in cod liver oil
  • vitamin D helps with rickets but not heart disease
  • skin produces nitric oxide, has large stores of them, sunlight activates them and puts into circulation
  • this seems to be directly related to sunlight hitting skin
  • nitric oxide (NO) dilates blood vessels, lowers blood pressure, neurotransmission
  • even though we say stay out of sun because of skin cancer, heart disease deaths are 100x skin cancer deaths

* * * * *

Robert Neuwirth: The power of the informal economy
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  • Lagos — no streets for stores, so lady sells stuff from boat, comes to your home
    • garbage dump — 2K people work there scavenging materials
  • “alif” — a place in the world where everything exists (e.g., imagine a hyper-crowded flea market next to a camp)
  • he calls this System D — the DIY economy, the economy of self-reliance; government hates DIY
  • we’re focused on the “luxury economy” ($1.5T market) but this excludes 2/3 of the world’s workers
  • P&G’s largest market segment is actually the informal economy: tiny stores, street hawkers selling detergent (and it’s the only segment that’s growing)
  • Nigeria is the “big dog in Africa” — 1 in 7 Africans are Nigerian
    • M-Tel — only sells airtime, sells through street vendors
    • tons of Guangdong (China) phones going to Nigeria
  • for large brands, “piracy is research” — not going to buy their products anyway, and lets them learn where their products are hot
  • Siemens paid $2B in bribes, yet we demonize the little guys

* * * * *

Rory Sutherland: Life lessons from an ad man
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Rory Sutherland: Perspective is everything
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  • I combined these 2 talks from Rory because the content is similar
  • extensive research shows only 5% of the population can tell the difference between wines, for 95% the only proven variable is price (if known beforehand)
  • “make new things familiar, and familiar things new”
  • we preference mechanistic over psychological solutions even though psychological solutions can be much more effective
  • most problems are problems of perception; perceived value IS real value
  • how to improve the European high-speed train experience? engineers recommended spending $3B to make it 30 minutes faster; Rory proposes free wifi or having models walk up and down serving free champagne
  • Frederick the Great “rebranded” the potato; at first peasants didn’t want to eat it, but Frederick planted it in his own garden and said it would be a royal food and assigned guards to protect the garden; very quickly there was an underground potato growing network
  • Ataturk wanted to ban the veil, but instead of banning it, he made it compulsory for prostitutes to wear it
  • in Korea, red traffic lights have a countdown timer to reduce road rage
  • during a Prussian war, if you gave your gold jewelry to support the war, you got back replicas of cast iron; today, the most valuable jewelry in Prussia is not gold but cast iron, it symbolizes that your family made a great sacrifice during the war
  • an experiment placed 2 dogs in separate boxes and applied electric shocks; 1 dog’s cage had a button which if nuzzled can stop the shock; that dog turns out ok, the 2nd dog who has no control lapses into depression
  • to get people to finish taking their meds, instead of a bottle with 24 white pills, have 18 white pills and 6 blue pills, and instruct people to take the white pills first and the blue pills last; it’s called chunking; people are more likely to complete something when there’s a milestone in the middle
  • branded painkillers reduce measurably more pain than generic painkillers (not self-reported, but neurological)
  • after car washes, we report that our cars drive better, despite there being no practical correlation

* * * * *

Sarah Lewis: Embrace the near win
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  • mastery is valuing the gift of a “near win”
  • success is an event, a label the world confers on you
  • mastery is a constant pursuit, it’s the reaching, not the arriving
  • Paul Cezanne would deliberately leave aside 90% of paintings which he felt unfinished
  • Kafka asked friend to burn all of his works, writings because he felt they were bad

* * * * *

Sam Harris, science can answer moral questions
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  • standard belief is science can measure what we value, but never what we ought to value, science can’t answer important moral questions, what constitutes a good life
    • but this is dangerous illusion
  • values are a certain kind of fact, reason you don’t empathize with a rock is because you believe the rock can’t suffer
  • simply because there are many right answers to a question doesn’t mean there are no truths to be known (e.g., the example he uses is food, there are many types of healthy food, but it’s clear that food and poison are different)
  • how can we be nonjudgmental about things like forced marriage, rape-shame
  • but there might be equal problems with Western portrayal of beauty (bikinis, nudity, skinny supermodels)
  • we debate science questions and it’s clear when someone knows or doesn’t know what they’re talking about, but why can’t we do the same for morality? moral expertise, talent, genius…how can we believe every culture has a point of view worth considering?
  • we must converge on similar answers to the important questions in human life, and we have to admit there ARE answers to these questions

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Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?
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  • “We’re lonely but afraid of intimacy”
  • Our future will be robotic companions (study of robotic home companions which, after 2 weeks, every participant had dressed the robot, given it a name, and was saddened when it was taken away)
  • Goldilocks syndrome – we want relationships but not too close, not too far
  • We grew up with technology so we think it’s mature, but it’s still young

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Shyam Sankar: The rise of human-computer cooperation
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  • in a chess competition where humans and computers can enter, grandmaster w/ laptop beats supercomputer, 2 amateurs + 3 computers won the whole thing!
  • weak human + computer + better process >> strong human + computer
  • IA — intelligence augmentation, instead of Minsky we should think Leglighter (sp?) who believed in human-machine cooperation
  • same with protein-folding; humans with computer assistance beat supercomputer 50% of time, tied 30%
  • we spend most of our time on human-computer interface and interaction — the “friction” — the more the friction, the less effective
  • adaptive opponents, whether organized crime or terrorists, can only be detected through human interaction with computers; computers are not great at noticing new patterns, novel behaviors
  • vast majority of foreign fighters joining Al-Qaeda wanted to be suicide bombers

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Simon Sinek: First why and then trust
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  • thought experiment: when choosing babysitter for our children (our most valuable possession), we pick the 16-yo next door neighbor whom we know, but has no experience, over the 32-yo from outside, who has 10 years experience but whom we don’t know — all about trust
  • yet, we do precisely the opposite in business — all about the resume
  • when companies start, the “why” is very clear and aligns with the “what”; over time that begins to diverge, it’s the single biggest challenge for any growing or large company (Apple…Starbucks…Dell)

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Stephen Cave: The 4 stories we tell ourselves about death
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  1. magic elixir — potion to live forever, Fountain of Youth, modern science
  2. resurrection — Phoenix rising, Jesus’s rebirth, cryogenics
  3. soul — most religions, uploading to computer
  4. legacy — Achilles, fame + riches

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Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from
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  • London – first coffeehouse opened in 1650s, “The Grand Cafe”
  • coffeehouses played big role in:
    • replacing alcohol, which was popular because water wasn’t safe
    • allowing businesses to thrive (e.g., Lloyd’s insurance exchange), debates and creativity
  • most breakthrough ideas are cobbled from whatever is nearby
  • Dunbar (?) videotaped science labs and discovered most good ideas came from the weekly group discussion, sharing of mistakes and learnings, the give and take of liquid discussions
  • “the slow hunch” – important ideas have very long incubation periods
  • Darwin liked to say he had a lightbulb moment while reading Malthus, but a Darwin scholar showed he had basic framework months before that moment, that it “faded into view over long periods of time”
  • Steven believes IP shouldn’t be protected, IP should be even more open
  • GPS started as two twenty-somethings that got curious to track a single radio beep from one of the first launched satellites, which turned into a larger tracking and math project, before the government got interested

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Steven Levitt: the Freakonomics of McDonalds and drug dealers
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  • gang leader in 80s couldn’t make money — marijuana was too cheap, coke only sold to rich white people, then came crack cocaine (the “extra chunky” version of tomato sauce)
  • why did crack spread so fast? highly addictive, short lasting, fast acting (smoke)
  • Sudhir Venkatesh, college math major, UChicago PhD
    • originally doing survey about different demographics, how blacks feel in America
    • held hostage overnight by a gang, came back following night and changed the study
  • top level of gang actually calls itself “Board of Directors”
  • death rates of foot solider in gang: 7% per year (US soldier in Iraq: 0.5%)
  • some foot soldiers also worked at McDonald’s
  • lots of posturing and image projection: not real gold but gold-plated jewelry, luxury cars on lease, young dealers holding large wads of cash which they could spend but are just loans
  • during gang wars, foot soldiers paid 2x for increased risk

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Steven Pinker: The surprising decline in violence
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  • Hobbes: life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short (in a state of anarchy)
  • Why this decline in violence?
    1. Nation states provide order, Hobbes’s idea of a Leviathan (a democratic state enforcer of punishment for violence)
    2. society is increasingly non-zero sum
    3. Expanding Circle (who we consider part of our circle has grown, from family to village to city to nation)

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Steven Pinker: What our language habits reveal
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  • almost all abstractions, concepts are communicated using concrete metaphors
  • this moved us from manipulating physical objects to digital/abstract ones (like math)
  • we conceive of events in 2 different ways — cause X to happen to Y, cause Y to receive X
    • so we’re “redistributing wealth” versus “confiscating earnings”, “ending pregnancy” versus “killing a fetus”, “invading Iraq” versus “liberating Iraq”
  • why are so many bribes, threats, requests veiled when both parties know what’s going on?
    • language is way of negotiating relationships
      • types: communality, dominance, reciprocity, sexuality
      • these mindsets can be stretched (e.g., communality is common w/ family but could be in fraternities)
      • mismatches can be awkward
    • language must satisfy 2 conditions:
      • convey information
      • negotiate relationship
    • thus veiled language as way to negotiate relationship
    • polite request is conditional, even though content is imperative, but not using imperative/dominant voice, allows you to get message across without using dominance
      • another example is “plausible deniability”
      • can be game theoretic

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Thomas Piketty: New thoughts on capital in the twenty-first century
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  • in the long-run, r > g (return on capital is greater than the return on economic growth), which leads to income inequality
  • in the last century, Europe and US have flipped: the US is now much more unequal
  • there are many reasons for this, including unequal access to skills, fast rise in top incomes
  • wealth inequality is always a lot higher than income inequality
  • wealth inequality is still less extreme than 1900
  • with r > g, initial inequalities are amplified at faster pace
  • there is always some level of dynamism and change (e.g., large families, poor investment decisions)
  • for most of history r > g (g was mostly 0 in agrarian society)
  • r > 0 was necessary for eventual labor diversification and societal evolution
  • both r and g have risen over time
  • long-run g is about 1-2%, we’ve seen unusually high g (3-4%) in post-war 20th century
  • long-run r is about 4-5%
  • r-g delta is caused by technology, savings rate, other factors
  • r > g particularly strong for billionaires; there are scale effects (e.g., portfolio management, financial instruments, tax evasion and lawyers and accountants)
  • main suggestion: increased financial transparency
  • if he were to rewrite the book today, he’d actually conclude that US income inequality higher than he reported

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Tom Chatfield: 7 ways video games engage the brain
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  • it’s amazing that people spend $8B on virtual goods
  • Farmville has 70M players (talk is from 2010)
  • games provide rewards, both individual and collective
  • all about ambition + delight
  • in video games you can measure everything — big data
  • there’s always a “reward schedule”
  • 7 ways to use game lessons in real world
    1. have experience bars to measure progress
    2. set multiple long and short-term aims
    3. they reward effort — get credit for every bit of work/effort
    4. provide rapid, frequent, clear feedback
    5. have element of uncertainty — variable rewards, dopamine
    6. offer windows of enhanced attention
    7. add other people! social, cooperation

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William Li: Can we eat to starve cancer?
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  • angiogenesis is the creation or reduction of blood vessels
  • it occurs for many diseases, e.g., cancer; also injury, pregnancy (uterus and placenta)
  • otherwise, blood vessels are largely fixed from early in life
  • once angiogenesis happens, cancer is much harder to treat (the tipping point)
  • treat cancer by cutting off its blood supply, “anti-angiogenic therapy”
  • avastin is one example
  • your diet is 30-35% of the environmental causes of cancer (5-10% is genes)
  • what foods are naturally anti-angiogenic?
    • red grapes (resveratrol)
    • strawberries
    • green tea
    • men who consumed cooked tomatoes 2x/week, lower incidences of prostate cancer, cause: anti-angiogenesis
  • anti-angiogenesis may also have applications for obesity

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