The Intellectual Particle Accelerator that was TEDxManchester

We are 3 talks into TEDxManchester and Tara Shears is giving us a crash course in advanced particle physics. On the screen is a giant animation of particles smashing together in the Hadron Collider at CERN, and she is talking and gesturing enthusiastically about how this is part of the scientific community’s ongoing quest to find that God(damn) Higgs-Boson particle and validate the notion that we might have some kind of a clue what the universe is all about. Because, as Tara explains, without Higgs our theories for the universe simply don’t work. We’re back to square one, or at least in need of a bloody good plan B.

Now I can’t say I completely understood everything that Tara was saying (what is a quark? Anyone?). But I love this. I love that some of the world’s greatest minds have spent decades (and several billion pounds) searching for something that might be nothing more than an idea, all so that we can understand the forces of the universe a little better. Yes, the technology used at CERN will undoubtedly have practical uses at some point down the line, but right now its primary purpose is just to turbo charge global knowledge and understanding about the world around us. It’s purely and simply an exercise in discovery.

Which is probably the same reason why TEDx appeals so much. Like some kind of giant intellectual particle accelerator, this Manchester based event has gathered together a collection of experts from fields ranging from arts, music and philosophy to science, digital technologies and architecture, put them on the stage in Cornerhouse cinema 2, wound them up and let them fly at us.

Mary Anne Hobbs on pursuing your passions

We had Tom Bloxham, standing against a slideshow of some of his massive architectural achievements, appealing to us to stop striving for perfection and make more mistakes. David Erasmus, social entrepreneur extraordinaire, who is intent on changing the world and for whom the word ‘can’t’ simply does not seem to have a place in his vocabulary. Brendan Dawes, whose playful approach to constant iteration and discovery resulted in the creation of his seminal work – Cinema Redux – which is now part of the permanent collection at New York’s MOMA. And Mary Anne Hobbs, reminding us that even living on a bus for a year with questionable sanitation surviving on a diet of chips is no hardship at all if it’s in pursuit of your passions and dreams.

TED might be about ideas worth spreading, but what struck me most about all the talks yesterday was the consistent theme of Action. Do something; even if it means making mistakes along the way. Do something; even if you don’t know if it will work. Do something; as it’s the only way you’ll achieve your dreams. Do something; as that next tiny step might result in greatness. Do something; because things are not ok the way they are, and we can do better.

And, as is the point of these kind of events, I for one left feeling a little more excited and inspired, and a little more ready to take some action of my own.

Thanks for reading. If you’re interested, you can read my reflections on TEDxManchester 2009 here.

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