18/02/2020 Communication Science news and articles

TEDxUniversiteit van Amsterdam: Seven different quests for the truth

On the evening of Monday 4th of November, Medium was part of the crowd that listened to seven speakers on the theme: “In the search of truth”. In this event, seven speakers presented their views on what they consider part of the truth.

What happens when an astrophysicist, a cannabis dispenser, a librarian, a neuroscientist, a human-rights activist, an EU expert, and an ecologist with gold-coloured glasses get on the same stage? 
The dating-site that aims to “throw away the word ‘waste’ itself”

The first speaker of the night, Maayke Damen started off by asking the crowd what they saw in several pictures of what seemed to be garbage. Contrastingly, She intrigued us revealing she saw gold and a mine of it, within her innovative “dating-site” for excess materials. The site, Excess Materials Exchange, is a marketplace platform that classifies and “matches” with companies according to their supply and demand.

Maayke Damen mentioned several examples of how excess materials can be reused profitably. As the founder of EME and a recognised innovator in sustainability, she gave the crowd some food for thought on a circular economy. Concerning individual actions propitiating the reuse of excess material, she stressed the importance of separating waste so it can be processed properly.

Will robots be the end of us?

On a technological note with a twist, the author, world-explorer, and “total nerd stuff” enthusiast; Joop Hazenberg, broke down the topic of his next book. The rise of advanced technology and its existential implications, also known as the 4th industrial revolution. Although advanced technology is already present in our lives, its potential to improve or even save the world is highly important. Joop predicts that advanced technology will become indispensable to the extent of being comparable to the necessity of electricity and water. 

“The technologies will come, but don’t have to adopt all these new technologies […] We need to understand their power”

Although dependence on technology tends to be perceived as a menace to employment, privacy and human connection; its advantages include decreasing inequality, longevity, and improvement in the quality of life. Because of this, Hazenberg proposes to use advanced technology complementing human workforce rather than replacing it.

Better poop equals better mood

Taking a step into neurosciences, Natalie Dikken questioned how reliable our gut feeling can be in terms of our emotional reactions. Could we poop out of fear? According to Natalie, we could. The gut is for 95% responsible for the  production of serotonin, our ‘feel-good molecule’, in contrast to the 5% involvement of our brain. That is why scientists are now looking into the connection between a disbalance in the gut and mental health disorders. The microbes in the gut potentially influence how we feel and behave, leading to new perspectives on these microbes in the form of poop transplants. 

A faecal transplant entails that the faeces of a healthy person are inserted into an unhealthy person’s colon. Although some of these transplants have been successful, no conclusive results have been found for mental health ilnesses through research. Consequently, it is only allowed to treat gut diseases with faecal tranplants in a hospital environment, not mental illnesses. Nevertheless, several successful ‘DIY’ poop transplantation cases exist in which people who inserted their spouses’ poop into their colons were cured of their mental health problems. Natalie concluded advising the audience the ‘gut feeling’ is true and to take good care of it. 

Smoking with Snoop Dog as a political act

Joachim Helms, another speaker seeking the truth, is CEO of the Green House coffeeshops. He took us in an entirely different direction explaining the ins and outs of cannabis. As the spokesperson for the Cannabis Retailer Association, he lobbies for legalisation and transparency. According to Joachim, as cannabis became illegal in 1928 its criminalisation has caused more problems than the substance itself. However, changing the cannabis industry in the Netherlands remains a challenge.

Joachim explained, transparency in the chain from sowing the seeds to selling cannabis is achievable and maintained the use of cannabis should not be demonised. The media tends to portray cannabis consumption in a negative light, however, Joachim’s approach is simply for those who oppose it to avoid it; just like any other substance. Helms, a celebrity in the cannabis community, is hailed the ‘King of Cannabis’, having shared joints with Snoop Dog, Rihanna and other celebrities.

Don’t confront people, confront the issue

After an intermission, Josephat Torner, presented a different perspective, a different truth. Josephat was born in Tanzania with albinism, a condition that affects the pigment in the skin, eyes and hair, which has endangered his life since birth. In Tanzania, people with albinism are mutilated or exhumated to sell their body parts to witch-doctors. Many believe these bring wealth among other myths. When Josephat was born, his mother was advised to poison him, because of the prospect of the life he was destined to live. But his mother raised Josephat and encouraged him to be himself and to always be kind to people.

“My mom was, and still is, my advisor: She told me that when someone does a bad thing to you, you don’t have to repeat that, you make those who challenge you today to be your friends” 

Even after almost being beaten to death two times, he still doesn’t blame his attackers. He tells us that his attackers are ignorant, they don’t know any better. He advises not to confront the people but to confront the issue. And that is what he continues to do as a human rights activist. His activism has enabled children with albinism to enrol in schools, educated and empowered many people, with and without albinism. 

What does it mean to be ‘star-stuff’?

Doctor Athira Menon took the stage with powerful questions: “Is it possible that there is only one truth but we all are searching for it in different ways? Is it possible that all these searches take us eventually down the same road, to the question of who are we and where do we come from?” In response to this, Athira asserted, what we all have in common as we look up to the stars and dream of all sorts of possibilities, is that we originated from them. 

Doctor Menon broke down supernovae as enormous explosions produced by two stars circling each other resulting in the ashes forming new organisms, planets, stars, and even galaxies. She mentioned Supernova 1987A, the most observed celestial event that made it to the cover of TIME magazine in that same year. Fascinating us and perhaps, overwhelming some, Doctor Menon taught a crash-course on the cosmos and the collective search for truth that humanity has undergone since The Big Bang.

Members of the audience raising their hands at the TEDxUvA event. Source – Jade van Laar
The librarian who has gone to infinity and beyond

The last speaker, Eppo van Nispen tot Sevenaer, refocused our attention one more time for a spectacularly enthusiastic talk. He started by telling the audience to take out their phones, and give them to the person sitting behind them. He then asked, “Who feels bad giving away their phone?”. Almost everyone in the conference room raised their hand. Followed by this, he stated that we are mindlessly doing this every day, at least 30 times every hour by sharing our data. 

Eppo would know. With his job as a librarian, data is the foremost important collection in his archives. As a kid, Eppo wanted to become an astronaut, but after discovering that librarians travel to space and many other places, his dreams changed. His hard work has paid off, as his library DOK Library Concept Centre in Delft, won the title for the most innovative library of the world in 2008. He is now CEO (or as he calls it: CEA, Chief Executive Archivist) of the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision where they analyse data in search of the truth.

Cover: Jade van Laar

TEDxUniversiteit van Amsterdam




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