It’s been a long, challenging day at TED — one that followed from the euphoria of the greatly anticipated opening. By challenge I mean that by posing the Big Questions concerning life on Planet Earth (and beyond), TEDsters in Monterey and Aspen were asked to consider the full, complex span of biotech probabilities that point to some of greatest achievements acribed to the human race: Craig Venter’s newest venture in synthetic probability, Cal Tech’s Paul Rothemund’s study of self-assembly approaches to molecular computation and Garrett Lisi’s aesthetic “theory of everything” that may open the doors to seeing more fundamental particles of life. Surely the stunning insights allowed by computation in all three ventures are matched in turn by dark, hellish views of biotech abuse. The afternoon focused on that abuse, drawing speakers into a response to the question “Will Evil Prevail?” (see TED conference list of talks).
There was a self styled pragmatism that over-ruled conceptual analysis in these talks, leading speakers like Irwin Redlener to offer brief historical overviews and a recipe for surviving nuclear attacks. Phil Zimbardo’s analysis of “evil” or what he calls “the Lucifer effect” however managed to penetrate the social theories of evil, demonstating with photos from Abu Ghraib, the line “normal” people cross to commit crimes of power and sadism when pushed into high stress states.
Somewhere between complex systems analysis of synethic life and stats on nuclear war heads, we entertained the “innate” power and truth of “beauty.” For those of us engaged in the professional practice of art and art criticism, the discussions were philosphically thin (not an unfair comment given the session was reaching back into Platonic questions). They were also diasppointing, especially Thomas Kren’s patriarchal parade of artistic genius (with one mention only of a female, Vanessa Beecroft) and his survey of Guggenheim spawns. Where Krens argued the Guggenheim sought to demonstrate a new paradigm of a museum, it seems his global outreach to Singapore, Taichung, and Abu Dhabi looked more like a 21st century viral expression of an old model of public exhibition space: the Kunsthalle.
More tomorrow on the prize winners and Day 3