Villagers speak at Dayton’s TEDx
- Published: October 31, 2013
Ever wondered what set Lincoln apart from other war-time presidents? Or how the brain distinguishes a friendly person from a threatening one? Or how about who benefits from the concept of race, which for centuries has succeeded in allowing one people to dominate another? The local residents with the answers to these questions have “knowledge worth spreading,” according to the organizers of Dayton’s first TEDx conference. They will join about 30 other innovators and performers from the region who will condense their creative ideas to about 10 minutes each and share them at the Nov. 15 event at Victoria Theater.
According to the organizers of this region’s first version of the well-known technology, entertainment and design (TED) conferences, the Miami Valley region is rich with inventors such as villager Michael Weisend, a neuroscientist at Wright State University. Weisend studies the way the brain recognizes an object and then makes a decision about how to interact with it. And he believes he has the ability to change both the patterns of recognition as well as the time it takes the brain to create them.
The science may sound complex, but it will be Weisend’s job at TEDx to explain his life’s work to a room full of non-scientists in just a fraction of a classroom period. He likes to use the metaphor of a prize wheel, such as the Wheel of Fortune. He sees the brain as a competitive, winner-take-all system in which all the spaces on the wheel are competing for a given behavior. When you see an old friend, for instance, the wheel begins to spin among the options of smiling, shaking hands and, perhaps say, punching the person in the face.
“We try to change the relative proportion — the size — of the pieces of the pie on the wheel, which have all been determined by your experiences and memories,” Weisend said.
Specifically, Weisend is working with the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance team at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to give soldiers greater cognitive flexibility to make more accurate decisions about identifying friend or foe in the field.
On a completely different subject, but no less inspired as a TEDx talk is Yellow Springs resident Judith Ezekiel’s take on the construct of race. Ezekiel, who teaches a course on gender, race, class and nation at Wright State University, denies the existence of race as anything but a social contract invented by one people to oppress another.
Ezekiel has always been aware of her identity relative to the way others perceived her. Growing up Jewish in the largely black neighborhood of Dayton View in the 1960s, she was perceived as white. As an adult moving to New York City, to France and to several places in Africa, she has been seen as Latina, Turkish, Armenian, Morroccan and Greek, she said. But the question to her was badly framed.
“From a scientific point of view, there is of course no such thing as race — there is just one human race,” Ezekiel said.
However, Ezekiel doesn’t deny that race exists within the sociologic and economic systems that affect things such as law enforcement, money lending and infant mortality. And wealth is certainly gendered and racialized when it’s possible for whites and men to hold many times the level that women and blacks do in the U.S., she said.
“Race is a part of America’s national heritage,” Ezekiel said. “And being in a world where racism exists is a dangerous world — for anyone.”
President Lincoln, the subject of a third TEDx talk by a Yellow Springs resident, also dealt heavily with the concept of race and slavery at a much earlier period in the national’s history. Antioch College President Mark Roosevelt has long been fascinated by Lincoln, partly for what many people fail to notice about him. There have been 16,000 books written about Lincoln (more than anyone other than Jesus), 450 billion coins imprinted with his image, and countless insurance and drycleaner businesses and a car named after him…and yet, “What do people really know about Lincoln?” Roosevelt asks.
Having read close to 30 of the Lincoln opuses, Roosevelt, himself related to former U.S. president Theodore, will spend his 10 minutes with the mic enlightening the public about the “extraordinary kindness and decency” of the man who presided over one of the bloodiest battles to take place on U.S. soil. And he allowed it to happen because he knew it was the only power he had to end the blight of slavery.
“He was a visionary who was willing to trade patronage to not just talk about doing good in the world, but to get it done,” Roosevelt said. “It’s an extraordinary story — and maybe this is going too far, but I see saint-like qualities in him.”
The TED conferences started in California 26 years ago and in recent years the founders have distributed TEDx licenses to organizers of subsidiary events in cities around the country. The idea to host one in Dayton came last February from Larry Klaben, president of Morris furniture and the board of trustees at Wright State University. He brought together a group of regional leaders, including local resident Sean Creighton, of Southwest Ohio Council for Higher Education, who all agreed that Dayton’s history as a seat of innovation made it a prime place to host TEDx.
“Dayton is a region rich in innovation and entrepreneurs who are reinventing the way we look at things,” Creighton said. “And what’s so great about a TED event is all the speakers in the sciences, arts, politics, business, health and wellness — they all connect and learn from each other.”
TEDxDayton involved nine months of planning by dozens of committee members and many more volunteers, including local resident Greg Schell from Think TV, who will coordinate the recording of the day’s events, and villager Luke Dennis from WYSO radio, who serves on the programming committee. The planners raised $87,000 to support this year’s conference and hope to make it an annual event.
TEDxDayton is also part of the city-wide “Ignite Innovation” initiative to celebrate the city’s invention history and support future innovation by the scientists and academics who continue to thrive in the region, according to Schell.
Bringing together the pioneer spirits of the Miami Valley, TEDxDayton takes place Friday, Nov. 15, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are $50, $20 for college students. Seating is limited, but the public can still register before the deadline on Thursday, Oct. 31, at www.tedxdayton.com/attend.
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