I prefer to think of myself as a realist. Part cynic, all optimist. I’m a realist because I really doubt we can dig ourselves as a people out of this mess. When you have the vast majority of people believing doggedly in incompatible systems that dictate their behavior in infantile and incomprehensible ways and then they acquire weapons, either physical or informational, that can eliminate the others, I just don’t think we’re here for the long term. Which sucks. I never thought of myself as a fatalist.
But I digress. It’s tough being both a raving cynic and a naïve optimist. But we need more people to engage in this “mental quantum superposition” as I’m calling it in order to balance in their minds as many possible outcomes to a quandary as can fit into the cranium. We need to not shy away from cognitive dissonance – we need more people to embrace the gray and shun the absolutes.
This is not an argument for relativism – far from it. There are absolutes in this world. c, gravity, the chemical composition of water – these are not really up for debate and do not require any particular level of mental superposition. But the vast majority of things that aren’t grounded in physics are up for debate. And this is what TED showed me yet again.
TED, at least for a few days, removed cynicism from my cognitive toolbox. That is not to say that I wasn’t skeptical: skepticism and cynicism are far too often conflated. But that part of my brain that is constantly looking for the quickest way to impugn an argument – either rationally or emotionally, the part of my brain hardwired to diagram out debate arguments and pull every possible refutation to someone’s fiat – that part turned off.
Maybe it was the sun. Maybe it was the fact that I laid on the TedBed for many of the sessions and watched the show from a supine position which caused blood to run away from my frontal lobe and put me into a blissfully unquestioning state. Maybe it was just that I’m not clever enough to spot the logical traps in the 18 minute delights of interdisciplinary fancy. Or maybe it was the people – my fellow TedSters – who possess a unique and infectious quality of believing against all odds that we may just have a chance to fix the roach motel we’ve erected on our marble.
I’ve read plenty of people including some of my friends complain about TED as simply a rich person’s back-slapping, feel-good, networking event. You could certainly craft TED into that with a little effort. But I think, especially at Palm Springs where I spent my time, you’d have to work harder at that goal than the more noble one to which I believe TED aspires. You’d have to pretend not to be moved to outrage by the talk on slavery. You’d have to turn off your humor gene to not laugh along at the inspired self-mockery with Ze Frank. You’d have to blatantly and obviously be a douchebag to your other TEDsters who are busy grilling speakers on TeleCon, scribbling ideas on whiteboards, arranging online communities to take action, and signing up their resources – both material and mental – to promote efforts to which they’ve been exposed.
In short, besides all the mental calisthenics I was fortunate enough in which to engage over four days of truly remarkable speakers, besides the people I’ve met (and actually enjoyed!), besides the personal commitment I’m reinforcing to drive positive and lasting change in one particular area (which I’m not quite ready to disclose yet), the best thing I got from TED was the simplest: the childlike freedom to believe. Now that we’ve seen the potential, our challenge is to maintain even just a sliver of wonder to enable our rational and funded selves to take action.
See you next year.