I am heads-down in various writing projects at the moment, but needed a break for inspiration and found it listening to Douglas Adams’ talk about “Parrots, the Universe and Everything” at UCSB in 2001 (tip by Eirik.)
Aside from the wonders of presentation technique – the only aids used here are two snippets of text he reads to the audience – Adams is fascinating in the way he allows himself to use language and stories to strengthen his points. Notice how he repeats himself (generally in threes) and uses old-time humor (a riotous account of trying to buy condoms (to wrap around a microphone so they could record underwater) in Shanghai) as well as stories of ultra-eccentric zoologists and downright weird animals.
I thought the most interesting idea, however, was his point that science is changing – that we no longer (at least not to the same degree) take things apart to understand them but instead put them together so that we can watch them interact. Shades of Stephen Wolfram – computers allow us to to study the effect of repeated patters – and Mitchel Resnick – we relentlessly strive to discover intentionality in interactions and self-organizing systems. Life is no longer a mystery (since we have sequenced the human genome) – just a process of information (now we have to figure out what the code means.) Also interesting was his observation that we now have a “pause in evolution” by creating a buffer around us of medicine and lack of exposure to the environment – though I would disagree with the word “pause” and rather say “change”.
Nice quote: “We don’t need to save the world. The world is fine. It has been through at least five periods of massive extinction before. [..] The world is big enough to look after itself.” Though he is less specific on what to do about saving the world for human habitation.