TEDx Brussels - John Bohannon & Black Label Movement - Dance Your PhD

Uploaded by TEDxTalks on 23.11.2011

good afternoon
as are all aware we faced difficult economic times
i come to you with a modest proposal
for easing the financial burden
this idea came to me while talking to a physicist friend of mine
at m.i.t
he was struggling to explain something to me
a beautiful experiment that uses lasers to cool down matter
now he confused me from the very start because
light doesn't cool things down
it makes it hotter
it's happening right now
the reason that you can see me standing here is because
this room is filled with more than one hundred quintileian photons
and they're moving randomly through the space near the speed of light
all of them are different colors
they're rippling with different frequencies
and there bouncing off every surface including me
and some of those are flying directly into your eyes
and that's why your brain is forming an image of me standing here
now laser is different
it also uses photons
but they're all synchronised
and if you focus them into a beam
what you have is an incredibly useful tool
the control of the laser is so precise that you can perform surgery inside of
an eye
you can use it to the store massive amounts of data
and you can use it for this beautiful experiment that my friend was struggling
to explain
first you track adams especial bottle
it uses electromagnetic fields to
isolate the adams from the noise of the environment
and the adams themselves are quite violent but if you fire lasers that are
precisely tuned to the right frequency
and adam will briefly absorb those photons and tend to slow down
little by little
it gets colder
until eventually it approaches absolute zero
now if you use the right kind of adams
and you get them cold enough
something truly
bizarre happens
it's no longer a solid or liquid or gas
it enters a new state of matter called a superfluid
the atoms lose their individual identity and the rules from the quantum world
and that's what gets super fluids such
spooky properties
for example if you try shine a light
through superfluid
it is able to slow photons down to sixty kilometers per hour
another spooky property
is that it flows with
absolutely no viscosity or friction so if you were to take the lid off that
they won't stay inside
i thin film will creep up the inside wall flow over the top
and right out the outside
now of course the moment that it does hit the outside environment
and its temperature rises by
even a fraction of a degree
immediately turns back into normal matter
superfluid or the most fragile things we've ever discovered
and this is the great pleasure of science
the defeat of our intuition
through experimentation
but the experiment is not the end of the story because
you still have to transmit that knowledge to other people
I have a PHD in molecular biology
i still barely understand what most other scientists are talking about
so as my friend was trying to explain that experiment
it seemed like
the more he said
the less I understood
because if you're trying to get some of the big picture
of a complex idea
to really capture its essence
the fewer words you use, the better
in fact the ideal maybe to use no words at all
i remember thinking my friend could've explained that entire experiment
with the dance
course they're never seem to be any dancers around you need them
now the idea is not as crazy as it sounds i started a contest four years
ago called dancer PHD
instead of explaining their research with words
scientists have to explain it with dance
now surprisingly it seems to work
dance really can make science easier to understand
but don't take my word for it go on the internet and search for dancer PHD
their are hundreds of dancing scientist waiting for you
the most surprising thing that i've learned while running this contest is
some scientists are now working directly with dancers on their research
for example at the university of minnesota there's a biomedical engineer
named david odi
and he works with dancers to study how cells move
they do it by changing the shape
when a chemical signal washes up one one side
it triggers the cell to expanded shape on that side because
the cell is constantly touching and tugging at the environment
so that allows cells to
to ooze along the right direction
but what seems so slow and graceful from the outside
is really more like chaos inside
because cells control their shape
with a skeleton of rigid protein fibers
and those fibers are constantly falling apart
but just as quickly as they explode
more proteins attached to the ends and grow them longer
so it's constantly changing
just to remain exactly the same
now david builds mathematical models of this and then he test those in the lab
but before he does that
he works with dancers
to figure out what kinds of models to build in the first place
it's basically efficient brainstorming
and when i visited david to learn about his research
he used dancers
to explain it to me
rather than the usual method
and this brings me to my modest proposal
i think that bad powerpoint presentations
are a serious threat to the global economy
now it does depend on how you measure it of course
but one estimate has put the drain at two hundred and fifty million dollars
per day
now that assumes half-hour presentations for an average audience of four people
with salaries of thirty five thousand dollars
and if conservatively assumes that about a quarter of the presentations are
a complete waste of time
and given that there are stunned apparently thirty million powerpoint
presentations created everyday
that would indeed add up to an annual waste of a hundred billion dollars
course that's just the time we're losing sitting through presentations
there are other costs
because powerpoint is a tool and like any o tool it can and will be abused
to borrow a concept for my countries CIA
it helps you to soften up your audience
it distracts them with pretty pictures
irrelevant data
it allows you to create the illusion
of confidence
the illusion of
and most destructively
the illusion of understanding
so now my country's fifteen trillion dollars in debt
our leaders are working tirelessly to try and find ways to save money
one idea
is to drastically reduced public support for the arts
for example our national endowment for the arts with its one hundred and fifty
million dollar budget
slashing that program
would immediately reduce the national debt by about one one thousandth of a
one certainly can't argue with those numbers
once we eliminate public
funding for the arts
there will be some drawbacks
the artists on the street will swell the ranks of the unemployed
many will turn to drug abuse and prostitution
and that will inevitably lower property values in urban neighbourhoods
all of this could wipe out the savings were hope to making or hoping to make
the first place
i shall now therefore
humbly propose my own faults
which i hope will not be liable to the least objection
once we eliminate public funding for the artist let's put them back to work
by using them
instead of power point
as a test case i'd propose we start with american dancers
after all they are the most perishable of their kind
prone to injury and very slow to heal due to our health care system
rather than
dancing our PHD's
we should use dance to explain all of our complex problems
imagine our politicians using dance to explain why we must invade a foreign
or bail out an investment bank
it should help
of course
in the deep future
a technology of persuasion
even more powerful than power points may be invented
rendering dancers unnecessary as tools of rederick
i trust that by that day
we shall have passed this present financial calamity
perhaps by then
we will be able to afford the luxury
of just
sitting in an audience
with no other purpose than to witness the human form in motion