Day 89: Evolution’s gift of play, from Bonobo apes to humans

They’re the ‘make love, not war’ apes. Like chimpanzees, the Bonobo apes are our closest animal relatives. Unlike chimps, they live in non- violent societies dominated by empowered females. How is this possible? Isabel Behncke tells us they could teach us a thing or two about play.

Play isn’t just children’s games. Behncke shows us footage of Bonobos engaging in sex play and water activities. But they are more than a bunch of over sexed apes. The Bonobos are endangered by the ongoing fighting in their home, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, yet their laughter echoes through the rainforests.

Play is about diversity of interaction. When a female Bonobo has her male counterpart, literally, by the balls to play, she is engaging in an activity which requires and fosters trust. Solo playing allows the apes to explore the difference between the inner and outer worlds. Play can enable creative strategies for conflict resolution. It is a wildcard to enable adaptation in a changing world.

Sounding familiar to the adult world? Behncke wants to encourage us to engage in more play. If we embrace this evolutionary gift, we can rediscover creativity, fellowship and wonder.


Day 88- The technology of touch

Mechanical engineering professor, Katherine Kuchenbecker outlines three ways in which we can use ‘haptics’, or touch technology.

There are two components to touch; tactile sensation and kinesthetics, or how the body moves around the world. Using a hand held motion sensor, Kuchenbecker was able to record motion, force and vibration as subjects moved through an ordinary world. These were then programmed into a computer program and accessed on a tablet so when the user dragged a stylus across the screen the environment was reproduced. This has useful implications in areas such as online shopping.

The second area in which haptics would be invaluable is in healthcare. Dentists rely on their ability to feel if a tooth is softer and decayed, physiotherapists need to assess movement of ligaments to ascertain the degree of tear, and the list goes on. Use of an accelerometer to record experienced clinicians’ judgement on such issues to teach students is achievable through haptics technology.

Finally, Kuchenbecker describes how haptic feedback sensors positioned on the body can be used to monitor and teach correct movement patterns. This is currently being developed for stroke victims but has implications in dance or sports training.

Touch is one of the most powerful sensations that exist. Kuchenbecker dreams that one day she will be able to reminisce over her holiday pictures using more than just sight.

Day 87- How Richard Turere conquered the lions

13 year old Richard Tarere grew up in a Masai farming community in Kenya. Situated South of Nairobi National Park, one of the main threats to their existence was the ability of lions to roam freely from the park and kill cattle.
Tarere took it upon himself to guard the cattle. He noticed when he was around, the lions didn’t attack the herd. When a scarecrow in his place failed to protect them, Tarere decided the lions must be afraid of his moving torchlight.
Tarere took apart his Mum’s new radio in the hope of finding a solution. He made an indicator which caused lights to flick on and off. This indicator was supplied by a battery which was operated by a solar panel. The whole system emits a series of flashing white lights outside the cattle sheds.
Tarere set up a further 7 boomers around his community, with great success. He received a scholarship to school and less than a year later, spoke at this TED conference where he fulfilled his dream of traveling on a plane. His dreams have grown now; he wants to inspire others through his actions and eventually become a pilot.

Day 86; The power of introverts

A third to a half of the population are introverts. Historically, this included famous leaders such as Gandhi and Eleanor Roosevelt, thinkers who were reluctant to be the centre of attention yet stood up because they believed in a cause.
According to Susan Cain, society today conveys the message that introversion is bad. She can recall countless times as a child when she was teased or discouraged from silently reading a book. As an adult she became a lawyer instead of a writer and went to loud bars with her friends instead of quiet dinners. Today she is the writer of a book about introverts and cites the seven years she spent writing her novel as sheer bliss.
Unfortunately, in social settings the most charismatic person’s ideas are those taken onboard, regardless of quality. Schools constantly encourage group work, even beginning with subjects traditionally seen as ‘solo’ pursuits like Maths and English. Introverts work better in a quieter environment where they can formulate ideas and take them to groups later.
Cain isn’t anti- extrovert. Her husband and many of her closest friends are extroverts and she acknowledges that everyone has elements of both in their personalities. But she shows us that to maximise the potential of both types, we need to make space for introverts to be introverted.



Day 85: Make love, not porn

When a talk from TED can’t actually be displayed on the general website, it must be interesting. Here, Cindy Gallop gives one of the most watched talks of TED 2009.
Gallop is the owner of the site She opens this talk with the confession that she regularly sleeps with younger men in their twenties. What she has discovered from this is that much of today’s sex education comes from hardcore porn. Teenage abstinence doesn’t work, parents are unwilling to talk about sex and schools are too afraid to get involved.
Not that Gallop is against hardcore porn. She regularly watches it herself, drawing the line, she says, at anything that resembles open heart surgery. Her issue lies with the fact that men feel it’s completely acceptable to expect all women to perform the sexual acts they see on screen, while many young women lack the confidence or knowledge to refuse.
Gallop’s website aims to dispel the double standards of today’s society, giving examples of real world sex versus porn sex. There’s even a place for viewers to post their own home sex videos. While watching the general public getting it on may not be everyone’s picnic, such sites can serve as an important tool in the fight against misogyny and sexism.

Day 84: We’re surrounded by germs

If you’ve ever wanted to look at graphs depicting the variety of microbes in our office and home ecosystems, this is the talk for you. yet far from scaring listeners with tales of disease and dirt, Jessica Green outlines how we can manage these ecosystems to maintain healthier workplace environments.

Working with Charlie Brown, an architect who has dedicated his work to becoming more sustainable, Green conducted an experiment to discover what happens when a classroom is blacked off at night so it receives no ventilation. Many buildings are already operated like this. They found that the rooms were stagnant and smelled because of the airborne bacterial soup which had been left behind from the previous night. By contrast, rooms designed using a sustainable passive design strategy where air came in from the outside using louvers, meant the outside air washed away the building’s microbial landscape.
Acquiring knowledge about the bacterial ecosystems of an area and designing environments and objects in relation to this has powerful implications for everything from healthcare to the possibility of putting a microbe to induce good breath on phones. Green calls this conscious approach bioinformed design.

Day 83: Jane Fonda on life’s third act.

We are in the longevity revolution. On average, we live 30 years longer than our great grandparents. Life’s third act begins between the ages of 50-60, when society would traditionally perceive the individual as being on a downward slope; whether this be of physical function or general happiness. We constantly fear getting older; the incidence of depression or onset of illness serving as stark reminders of the transient nature of life. In this talk, Jane Fonda speaks from her own, ‘third act’ to remind us it needn’t be all doom and gloom.
Interestingly, research consistently shows the over 50s are happier and more settled. Fonda refers to this as the upward staircase. By looking at aging as a staircase, it allows us to recognise its potential to lead us upwards into wisdom, wholeness and authenticity. The human spirit is exempt from aging. Women in particular are born with tremendous spirit, which sometimes can become trapped under the strains of daily living. This leads us to feel unfinished and disillusioned. Our reactions to past hurts, abuse, loss or relationship breakdown cause our nervous pathways to rewire; over time, these changes become hard-wired and affect our outlook on the world.
It’s commonly said that in order to know where we are going, we have to know where we’ve been. What about the relationship with our parents, for example? Can we look at them as people and recognise the problems they may have experienced? Our quality of life is determined by how we relate to realities and the state of mind we allow them to trigger. This allows us to change our relationship to the past. Having experiences doesn’t make us wise; rather, wisdom is achieved through reflection on experiences.
Using the third act of life, or indeed any stage, to reflect on where we’ve been allows us to redefine ourselves. It also serves as an excellent example to the younger generation as they face into climbing the upwards staircase.