TEDGlobal 2013 – Day 3

Blog #2 Wednesday, June 12th

The second day of mainstage TEDtalks at TEDGlobal 2013 led to more standing ovations than I can count, filled with inspiring stories of government and entrepreneurs, up and coming biotechnology that can one day cure MS, degenerative brain diseases, shattered spinal chords and nanotech skinpatches that can change the entire face of medicine worldwide.

The interesting theme that arose however, was the capabilities of the human mind, perception and its interaction with simple things in our daily lives like our wallets, or complicated things like religion, the economy, or medical equipment.

SuzanaHerculano-Houzel particularly stood out when she brought- quite literally- brain soup, onto the stage. Her studies allowed her to figure out the number of neurons in a human brain by mixing donor brains with everyday detergent. Her talk kicked off the start into the biology of what makes the human brain unique among our animal cohorts.

Sleight-of-hand artist Apollo Robbins took that biology a step further into real life as he shocked the entirety of TED by asking a simple question- if you could control someone’s attention without them knowing, what would you do? He then proceeded to steal the wallets, money, phones, rings, and all other miscellaneous items from members of the crowd (while somehow changing his shirt on stage with no one noticing).

Yet mental manipulation can be used in other fields as well, as we saw with the young neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine, who shared his creation of “electrochemical neuroprosthesis” — a process to reactivate spinal cord cells after spinal cord injury. His inspiring illustration of rodents that were rehabilitated and could walk after suffering a severed spinal chord injury, brought hope to those both in and out of the medical field as to the new capabilities we might gain by rethinking old techniques.

And lastly, and undoubtedly one of the most moving and eloquent TED talks ever performed, Leslie Hazelton, the accidental theologist, brought another angle to the study of the human mind in her narrative of the life of Muhammad, reminding us all doubt is essential to faith, and the lessons we can learn from early religious leaders as people, rather than as prophets. The difference between understanding faith and fanaticism was a lesson we all- religious or not- could fundamentally understand, and ultimately, fundamentally regain hope for.

With so many fantastically brilliant talks packed into one day, one can only imagine the wave of brilliance that will hit tomorrow on day three of TEDGlobal. What parts of the human mind fascinate you? Biology or biography? The literal or the figurative? Let us know in your tweets, blog posts, comments, and any of your favorite social media platforms.

More stories to come from Edinburgh, Scotland. Until then, stay curious and we’ll see you on the wire.