Each week, we collect sharp critique, thought-provoking questions or interesting insights in response to TED Talks. This week’s haul includes a response to criticism of Jamila Lyiscott’s spoken word essay, a personal take on the need to teach creativity to young people, and the accusation that a TED speaker might just be “philosophically redundant.” Well then!
“There is a surprising amount of controversy regarding Ms. Lyiscott’s poignant message. Though I can sympathize with the opinion that she is not supporting her claims with facts (and in effect, her message is lost to many), one thing that many critics seem to be forgetting is that this is not an article in a peer-reviewed journal. This is ART. You are meant to use your senses to synthesize the work, and then interpret it. Rembrandt doesn’t cite the biblical passages that inspired his paintings, Yeats does not explain the circumstances behind his ‘Second Coming,’ and Maya Angelou does not specifically define the life events surrounding what she wrote in ‘Still I Rise.’ So, why would Jamila Lyiscott, in her spoken word performance, muddy the interpretive, artful, essay she has created (yes, through personal experience) with factoids? People who disagree can do so — this is art, and it is their right to dislike a certain piece of art. Those who can understand it will hopefully be enlightened of the plight of those different from them. The point here is that Lyiscott is a multi-faceted being who cherishes all three aspects of her heritage, which she symbolizes through the three distinct ‘languages’ she presents.”
“Creativity plays an essential role in coming up with new original solutions to real world problems. That being said, creativity needs to be paired with a strong knowledge of science and mathematical equations in order for solutions and new inventions to be created. I am an engineering student about to graduate from Clemson University and I would say that I love what I study but the basic reason that I chose this path was because everyone always said that I was good at math and science so I needed to be an engineer. There is 100% pressure on students to choose a ‘real’ career or area of study and that any thing creative or abstract is not ‘real’ and cannot benefit the world. This is false and I believe that the school system should put the same amount of emphasis and budget into art, music, and such programs. I took advantage of my school’s orchestra program and maybe, just maybe, I would have gone into studying music. But I was raised to think this was not a feasible option. Children and young adults would benefit if schools treated all subjects with the same amount of respect.”
On TED.com, John Freestone shared some pointed thoughts (actually, he shared many!) on Kwame Anthony Appiah’s TED Talk, Is religion good or bad? (This is a trick question):
“The best light in which I can see this talk is as a reminder of the dangers of making sweeping judgments. There may be exceptions to whatever it is you’re praising or condemning, including religion. But this point applies to so many things that I suspect there was an ulterior motive for making it about religion.
Appiah could have quickly made the general postmodernist point that words are only defined in relation to other words, everything is somewhat fuzzy, there are usually outliers — what on earth do we think we know anyway? — etc., and then presumably made an honest, owned and perhaps flawed attempt to say roughly how good or bad he thinks religion is. He seems to resent the fact that this is what people have done for centuries.
Rather than pretending that our particular definition must relate to the English word, tracing its parochial roots, finding exceptions, considering whether this is merely the wrong definition, deciding it isn’t because there will always be outliers and finally concluding that there is no such thing, he could have delineated several types and related his approximate moral judgments to them.
Alternatively, he could have chosen a definition wide enough to include everything he could think of that might fit, and made some attempt to analyze what features of it tend to be good or bad.
Appiah’s biography here indicates that he may be a clever man, and several subjects he has written about look very interesting indeed, but this one seems philosophically redundant. When clever men make bad arguments about religion, I begin to wonder if they’re apologists who have stopped thinking straight, which is, ironically, probably the worst thing about religion.
Incidentally, it’s worth contrasting the semantic problem most of our words suffer from with scientific terms, which have definitions embodied in demonstrable facts. Actually, instead of trying to relate definite words to reality, science constructs language to describe the observed.”
On Facebook, Polish Jane had this to say about Dan Gilbert’s TED Talk, Why we make bad decisions:
“This is interesting, but recent studies show that we don’t just make decisions based on benefit and reward … These theories are formed around economics, which psychologists borrowed from for years. More recent studies highlight that hope and expectation and making plans alter brain patterns and we get a hit of dopamine. For example, what keeps the long-distance runner training for months or even years? The expectation of succeeding, which kicks in all sorts of chemicals in the brain that help to motivate the runner to keep going. Goal setting can actually alter your brain; working towards something can alter your brain. It’s a lot more complex than economic psychologists once believed.”
Also on Facebook, Della Palacios wrote this comment in response to Ruth Chang’s TED Talk, How to make hard choices:
“Ruth Chang demonstrates in this talk the practical application of logical reasoning. Reason is tough and not always obvious. It takes all the noise and clamor and whittles it down to the essence, accounting for all the variables. I would suspect there are years of thought leading to the question, ‘Who am I to be?’ This type of insight is our closest experience to ‘truth.’ We need this now more than ever, as logical reasoning ‘appears to have fallen on hard times,’ as Rebecca Newberger Goldstein points out in the talk, The long reach of reason.”
Post your thoughts alongside any TED Talk or on social media; we read everything and will publish a collection of feedback each week here on ideas.TED.com. (Note: comments are lightly edited for spelling and grammar.)