Thursday, February 28, 2008

Where do we fit in the universe

The second big question at TED was where do we fit in the universe?

The session was led off with Patricia Burchat, a particle physicist, discussing dark matter (accounting for 26% of the universe) and dark energy (accounting for 70% of the universe). We can infer dark matter - it's needed to explain why stars and galaxies are going so fast, and how they are expanding in such a way to increase structure. Dark energy on the other hand counters this tendency by impeding structure. Her big two questions were "What is dark matter?" and "What is dark energy?"

Peter Ward, a paleontologist, tries to bring together the fields of astrobiology, and the origin, distribution and evolution of life in the universe. He presented a theory that the Major Mass Extinctions were actually caused by oxygen depletions and a build-up of CO2 and particularly H2S. Such concentrations would have arisen through accidents such as volcanoes. He went on to point out that in the past, at concentrations of 1000 ppm of CO2, there has been no ice - and that's where our current CO2 build-up is headed. Loss of all ice would result in 250' of ocean rise.

John Hodgman, the Resident Expert on the Daily Show and the actor playing the PC in the recent Apple ads, did a hilarious monologue, whose funny lines would definitely not translate to the page!

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar then did a brief talk on the importance of breathing. At the trivial level, it's the very essense of life; beyond that, he argues that paying attention to your breath is the 'solution to everything'. If your dominant breath is in your left nostril, your right brain is in charge, whereas your right nostril means your left brain is in charge. He described the transofmraiton of prisoners through introduction of breathing and believes his breathing exercises and meditation can help lead to a violence-free world. He offered a meditation session at 7 the next morning, which I participated. Despite my skepticism, I did find the intense focus on breathing to be very relaxing, conducive to meditation, and even experienced a shift of dominance from right to left nostril. Hmmmm.

The day's last session ended with a performance by Kaki King, described as the first female guitar god. Wow. Her left hand wasn't just holding the frets for the strumming or picking of the right. It was more as if her two hands were playing two different instruments at the different ends of the guitar. It was truly amazing.

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