Day 148: Bring back the wooly mammoth

A couple of months ago I posted on Stewart Brand’s talk, ‘The Dawn of De-extinction.’ There has been a TEDx specifically focused on de- extinction. In this talk, Heindrik Poinar outlines why we should bring back the woolly mammoth.
The mammoth is a mythical creature for humans; partly, because they have been so well preserved and partly because they remind us of elephants. Elephants share many human behaviours; they are social animals who bury their dead, for example.
Because mammoths found in Siberia have been so well preserved, scientists can study full brains and attempt to extract DNA. Poinar admits that they for fully understand the engineering of DNA, yet he is in prime position in his role as principal investigator at the ‘Ancient DNA Center’ of McMaster university to study this. And the news is, they’re very close to sequencing the mammoth genome. Within our lifetimes we may see a creature closely resembling the woolly mammoth rise again.


Day 147; Courtney Martin: Reinventing feminism

Courtney Martin was raised on ‘free to be you’ and grew up in a household where her father left the men only business club and her mother set up the longest running women’s film festival in the world. As a teenager, she never identified with feminism as, to her, this represented her mother’s women’s groups and was a world away from school and her friends.
Martin’s first real interest in feminism came as a result of fishnet stockings. She went to see Amy Richard and Jennifer Baumgardner speak about their book, ‘Manifesta.’ Baumgardner was wearing fishnets and Martin thought they were really hot.
Martin now edits the worlds most popular feminist site, ‘Feministing.’ Her principles are the same as her mothers, yet they look different. Her Mum says patriarchy; Martin says intersectionality. Her Mum says protest; Martin says online organising. Feminist blogging is the new generation protest; teenage girls email Martin who stumbled on her site while searching for Jessica Simpson and realise what feminism is really about.
The second generational paradox is that we must sober up about our smallness and maintain faith in our greatness. The world has so many problems that instead of being apathetic, the current generation are simply overwhelmed. Martin experienced this herself when she graduated. She worked at a non-profit, volunteered and yet none of it seemed to make a difference. After confiding in her mother about her disillusionment, her mother told her she wouldn’t stand for her desperation.
This brings Martin to her third paradox, which is that growing up means aiming to succeed wildly and failing really well. We must act in the face of overwhelm; for Martin, this means that she writes. Others may make a film about their beliefs. It’s all about embracing the paradoxes.

Day 146: Stefan Sagmeister shares happy designs

15 years before this talk, the superstitious Stefan Sagmeister went to visit a friend in Hong Kong. As they were landing, he thought,’If I see something good, ill have a good time.’ The first thing he saw was a billboard with the word, ‘Winner,’ on it. He got a jb and within a month had returned to Hong Kong to work.
When Sagmeister looks at lists of things that have made him happy, he finds more than half of them come from design. Sagmeister reports being unhappy with the MORI museums inaugural exhibition, which was called ‘Happiness.’. According to Sagmeister, most pieces were about visualisation of happiness rather than happiness itself.
Sagmeister decided to try and do what he liked in design. He made another list, this time of things he thought he’d learnt in life. When he had work to do, he used quotations from this, such as, ‘Having guts always works out for me,’ in clever ways in photographs for jobs like designing magazine dividers. The talk is worth watching for examples of these alone.

Day 145: Diane Benscoter on how cults rewire the brain.

Aged 17, Diane Benscoter went to a peace protest and within a week believed she had been specially chosen by God to be Sun Myong Moon’s disciple. She spent five years as a Moonie, until her family had her deprogrammed and she became a deprogrammer herself. After five years as a deprogrammer she was arrested for kidnapping and gave up for many years until she decided to write her book.
As she was writing, Benscoter came across a documentary on Jonestown, where 900 people died in one day, most by committing suicide. She had to admit to herself that she knew how this could happen and how people could be brainwashed. She describes it as a ‘Viral- memetic infection.’
According to Benscoter, vulnerable people revert to easy circular thinking. This becomes impenetrable and creates an idea of ‘us and them.’ It also makes anything rationalisable. Scientists are starting to look inside the brain; she’s convinced hers would look different from those who think rationally. This gives her hope, as it means cults are a human problem that can be fixed. She is now on a mission to battle extreme mentalities and their consequences.

Day 144: Inside a school for suicide bombers.

The Taliban say they will always have sacrificial lambs. Faced with a choice between the paradise afterlife promised to boys and the poverty they’ve grown up with, documentary filmmaker Sharmee Obaid Chinoy asks  what you would choose. 

in this talk, Chinoy shows us a Taliban propaganda video. In 2009 there were 500 bomb blasts in Pakistan. According to Chinoy, the Taliban have perfected their training of suicide bombers to a five step program, which runs like this. 

The Taliban target large, extremely poor families and separate the children from their parents with the promise of shelter. They teach the Koran in Arabic, distorting the message for their own purposes and create a complete blackout from all other information. They teach children to hate the world they live in by beating them and barely feeding them. The older Taliban members then teach the boys about the glories of martyrdom, including the 72 virgins and unlimited food that will be waiting for them in paradise. Finally, they show videos of men, women and children dying in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, with the message that the West don’t care about civilian deaths. 

Chinoy’s film, ‘Children of the Taliban,’ also has images of children who blew themselves up. It’s powerful material from a brave filmmaker with an important message to share. 



Day 143: Ji- Hae Park: The violin and my dark night of the soul

Twelve minutes of emotive, surprisingly rocking violin music is played by virtuoso, Ji- Hae Park in this video. This is accompanied by quotes from her about the deep depression she slipped into while trying to become a world-famous violinist. Nowadays Park makes time to play in prisons, schools and community centres as well as in large concert halls. While music saved her from her ‘dark night,’ she hopes it will save others also.

Day 142: What hallucinations tell us…

As part of his role in a nursing home, neurologist Oliver Sacks was once called to see a lady in her nineties who had been completely blind from macular degeneration for five years and had recently began to see things, which she described as being like a boring movie. Another patient he saw had no issues with her eyes but had a tumour in the visual cortex of her brain; she saw cartoons of Kermit the Frog. The faces in her hallucinations were often deformed and frightened her.
In this talk Sacks discusses Charles Bonnet syndrome, when visually impaired people experience lucid hallucinations. As the visual parts of the brain stop receiving input they become hyperactive, causing the visually impaired to see things. Less than 1% of people getting these hallucinations acknowledge them for fear that they will be seen as crazy. Faces are the most common hallucination; cartoons are the second most common. These relate to different parts of the brain becoming activated (In the 1970s, various brain cells were discovered for recognition of faces, landscapes, etc.)
Sacks himself is blind in one eye and has experienced some geometric hallucinations, surely allowing him to talk about his patients with such empathy. As he tells us, 250 years previously, Charles Bonnet wondered how the theatre of the mind could be generated by the machinery of the brain. Finally with modern science, we’re beginning to understand how this can be done.