by Ralph Lelii, IB coordinator and English teacher
A few years ago, I read a biography of Darwin. It was long and exhaustive, and I learned a great deal, but what I took away that sticks is this simple theory. Species that survive are not necessarily the strongest, or the smartest, as is often asserted by politicians in the heat of the campaign trail, but the species that is most adaptive to the environment it inherits and shapes. If I were stranded on an island alone with a jaguar, there is no doubt who would adapt and survive, even though I can quote a certain amount of Shakespeare verbatim, even some Yeats, and the cat cannot.
I always connect my reading of this biography to my deep interest in TED Conferences. I use these talks frequently in class because I feel that to deprive my students of the wisdom of so many stellar minds by giving them only access to my own would be maladaptive for them. TED allows us to spend time with human beings of incredible intellectual and spiritual diversity, and this knowledge is spread instantaneously across the globe. Prior to this kind of technology, it was said that a college textbook would be 4-5 years out of date when it finally reached the classroom. With TED, I can literally go into a lab at Cal Tech and observe the foundational research on a paper yet to be published. It is an adaptive mechanism of the first order, I believe.
Next December 3 we will present our second TEDx right here at GS. Our general approach for the conference will be “innovation” particularly across the spectrum of science, engineering, design and mathematics. We are excited about this conference, and deeply pleased to announce our first three committed speakers.
Dr. Mario Capecchi ’56, the 2008 Nobel Laureate in Medicine and Physiology, will fly in from his research facility in the University of Utah Medical College to speak with us about how his work with genetic manipulation is opening new possibilities in cognitive science, adaptive strategies for addressing the illnesses of the brain that are so prevalent in an aging society.
We are quite pleased to announce the appearance of Dr. Regina Lamendella, a highly published microbiologist whose work involves the creation of microorganisms adapted to the task of consuming and nullifying the waste products of environmental degradation, among them oil spills and fracking.
Many colleagues will remember Kevin Lewis ’99. As a post-doctoral fellow at Princeton University, Kevin conducted experiments and helped with the operational duties of the rover on the Martian surface. His work finds links between climate variability in the thick sequence of sedimentary rocks and the forces that may be responsible for climate change. It is exciting to welcome him back as an alumnus to explore the meanings of his work.
As we look with understandable fear towards such an uncertain future, it is easy to fall away from empirical considerations and offer pseudo-scientific and politically charged ideology in its place. The internet thrums with it all day long. The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari in his recent book challenges these notions of a fallen world: “The romantic contrast between modern industry that “destroys nature” and our ancestors who “lived in harmony with nature” is groundless. Long before the Industrial Revolution, Homo sapiens held the record among all organisms for driving the most plant and animal species to their extinctions. We have the dubious distinction of being the deadliest species in the annals of life.” If we are to survive, we must find solutions that allow us to adapt to the environment we have made. TED is a start, a useful tool, in that process.