21:26
TED2002

Mae Jemison: Teach arts and sciences together

Filmed:

Mae Jemison is an astronaut, a doctor, an art collector, a dancer ... Telling stories from her own education and from her time in space, she calls on educators to teach both the arts and sciences, both intuition and logic, as one -- to create bold thinkers.

- Astronaut, engineer, entrepreneur, physician and educator
Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison‘s inclusive, audacious journey to improving life here on earth and beyond is paving the way for human interstellar travel. Full bio

What I want to do today is to spend
00:15
some time talking about some stuff that's
00:17
sort of giving me a little bit of
00:19
existential angst, for lack of a better word,
00:21
over the past couple of years, and
00:24
basically, these three quotes
00:26
tell what's going on.
00:29
"When God made the color purple,
00:31
God was just showing off," Alice Walker
00:33
wrote in "The Color Purple," and
00:35
Zora Neale Hurston wrote in
00:37
"Dust Tracks On A Road,"
00:39
"Research is a formalized curiosity.
00:41
It's poking and prying with a purpose."
00:43
And then finally,
00:45
when I think about the near future,
00:47
you know, we have this attitude, well,
00:49
whatever happens, happens. Right?
00:51
So that goes along with the Chesire Cat
00:53
saying, "If you don't care much
00:55
where you want to get to,
00:57
it doesn't much matter which way you go."
00:59
But I think it does matter
01:01
which way we go, and what road we take,
01:03
because when I think about design in the
01:05
near future, what I think are the most
01:07
important issues, what's really
01:09
crucial and vital is that we need
01:11
to revitalize the arts and sciences
01:13
right now in 2002.
01:15
(Applause)
01:18
If we describe the near future
01:23
as 10, 20, 15 years from now,
01:25
that means that what we do today
01:27
is going to be critically important,
01:30
because in the year 2015,
01:32
and the year 2020, 2025, the world
01:34
our society is going to be building on,
01:36
the basic knowledge and abstract ideas,
01:38
the discoveries that we came up with today,
01:40
just as all these wonderful things we're
01:43
hearing about here at the TED conference
01:45
that we take for granted in the world
01:47
right now, were really knowledge
01:49
and ideas that came up
01:51
in the '50s, the '60s, and the '70s.
01:53
That's the substrate that we're exploiting
01:56
today, whether it's the internet,
01:59
genetic engineering, laser scanners,
02:01
guided missiles, fiber optics, high-definition
02:03
television, sensing, remote-sensing
02:05
from space and the wonderful
02:07
remote-sensing photos that we see in
02:09
3D weaving, TV programs like Tracker,
02:11
and Enterprise, CD rewrite drives,
02:14
flatscreen, Alvin Ailey's Suite Otis,
02:16
or Sarah Jones' "Your Revolution Will Not
02:19
Be Between These Thighs," which
02:22
by the way was banned by the FCC,
02:24
or ska, all of these things
02:26
without question, almost without exception,
02:28
are really based on ideas
02:30
and abstract and creativity
02:32
from years before,
02:34
so we have to ask ourselves,
02:36
what are we contributing to that legacy
02:38
right now? And when I think about it,
02:40
I'm really worried. To be quite frank,
02:42
I'm concerned. I'm skeptical
02:44
that we're doing very much of anything.
02:46
We're, in a sense, failing to act
02:49
in the future. We're purposefully,
02:51
consciously being laggards.
02:54
We're lagging behind.
02:56
Frantz Fanon, who was a psychiatrist
02:58
from Martinique, said, "Each generation
03:00
must, out of relative obscurity,
03:02
discover its mission, and fulfill or betray it."
03:04
What is our mission? What do we have
03:09
to do? I think our mission is
03:11
to reconcile, to reintegrate
03:13
science and the arts, because right now
03:15
there's a schism that exists
03:18
in popular culture. You know,
03:21
people have this idea that science
03:23
and the arts are really separate.
03:25
We think of them as separate
03:27
and different things, and this idea was
03:29
probably introduced centuries ago,
03:31
but it's really becoming critical now,
03:33
because we're making decisions about our
03:35
society every day that,
03:37
if we keep thinking that the arts
03:40
are separate from the sciences,
03:42
and we keep thinking it's cute to say,
03:44
"I don't understand anything about this one,
03:46
I don't understand anything about the other
03:48
one," then we're going to have problems.
03:50
Now I know no one here at TED
03:52
thinks this. All of us, we already know
03:54
that they're very connected, but I'm going
03:56
to let you know that some folks
03:58
in the outside world, believe it or not,
04:00
they think it's neat when they say,
04:02
"You know, scientists and science is not
04:04
creative. Maybe scientists are ingenious,
04:06
but they're not creative.
04:08
And then we have this tendency, the career
04:10
counselors and various people say things
04:12
like, "Artists are not analytical.
04:14
They're ingenious, perhaps,
04:16
but not analytical," and
04:19
when these concepts underly our teaching
04:22
and what we think about the world,
04:24
then we have a problem, because we
04:26
stymie support for everything.
04:28
By accepting this dichotomy,
04:30
whether it's tongue-in-cheek, when
04:32
we attempt to accommodate it in our world,
04:34
and we try to build our foundation
04:36
for the world, we're messing up the future,
04:38
because, who wants to be uncreative?
04:40
Who wants to be illogical?
04:42
Talent would run from either of these fields
04:44
if you said you had to choose either.
04:46
Then they're going to go to something
04:48
where they think, "Well, I can be creative
04:50
and logical at the same time."
04:52
Now I grew up in the '60s and I'll admit it,
04:54
actually, my childhood spanned the '60s,
04:56
and I was a wannabe hippie and I always
04:59
resented the fact that I wasn't really
05:01
old enough to be a hippie.
05:03
And I know there are people here, the
05:05
younger generation who want to be hippies,
05:07
but people talk about the '60s all the time,
05:09
and they talk about the anarchy
05:11
that was there, but when I think about
05:13
the '60s, what I took away from it was
05:15
that there was hope for the future.
05:17
We thought everyone could participate.
05:19
There were wonderful, incredible ideas
05:21
that were always percolating,
05:23
and so much of what's cool or hot today
05:25
is really based on some of those concepts,
05:28
whether it's, you know, people trying to
05:30
use the prime directive from Star Trek
05:32
being involved in things, or again that
05:34
three-dimensional weaving and
05:36
fax machines that I read about in my
05:38
weekly readers that the technology
05:40
and engineering was just getting started.
05:42
But the '60s left me with a problem.
05:44
You see, I always assumed I would go
05:46
into space, because I followed all of this,
05:48
but I also loved the arts and sciences.
05:51
You see, when I was growing up as
05:54
a little girl and as a teenager,
05:56
I loved designing and making dogs' clothes
05:58
and wanting to be a fashion designer.
06:00
I took art and ceramics. I loved dance.
06:02
Lola Falana. Alvin Ailey. Jerome Robbins.
06:05
And I also avidly followed the Gemini
06:09
and the Apollo programs.
06:11
I had science projects and tons of astronomy
06:14
books. I took calculus and philosophy.
06:16
I wondered about the infinity
06:18
and the Big Bang theory.
06:20
And when I was at Stanford,
06:22
I found myself, my senior year,
06:24
chemical engineering major, half the folks
06:26
thought I was a political science and
06:28
performing arts major, which was sort of
06:30
true because I was Black Student Union President
06:32
and I did major in some other things,
06:34
and I found myself the last quarter juggling
06:36
chemical engineering separation processes,
06:38
logic classes, nuclear magnetic resonance
06:40
spectroscopy, and also producing
06:42
and choreographing a dance production,
06:44
and I had to do the lighting and the
06:46
design work, and I was trying to figure out,
06:48
do I go to New York City
06:51
to try to become a professional dancer,
06:53
or do I go to medical school?
06:55
Now, my mother helped me figure
06:58
that one out. (Laughter)
07:00
But when I went into space,
07:03
when I went into space I carried a number
07:05
of things up with me. I carried a poster
07:07
by Alvin Ailey, which you can figure out
07:09
now, I love the dance company.
07:11
An Alvin Ailey poster of Judith Jamison
07:13
performing the dance "Cry," dedicated to all
07:15
black women everywhere. A Bundu statue,
07:17
which was from the Women's Society
07:19
in Sierra Leone, and a certificate for the
07:21
Chicago Public School students to work to
07:23
improve their science and math,
07:25
and folks asked me,
07:27
"Why did you take up what you took up?"
07:29
And I had to say,
07:31
"Because it represents human creativity,
07:33
the creativity that allowed us, that we were
07:35
required to have to conceive and build
07:37
and launch the space shuttle, springs from
07:39
the same source as the imagination and
07:42
analysis it took to carve a Bundu statue,
07:44
or the ingenuity it took to design,
07:47
choreograph, and stage "Cry."
07:50
Each one of them are different
07:53
manifestations, incarnations, of creativity,
07:55
avatars of human creativity,
07:58
and that's what we have to reconcile
08:01
in our minds, how these things fit together.
08:03
The difference between arts and sciences
08:05
is not analytical versus intuitive, right?
08:07
E=MC squared required
08:10
an intuitive leap, and then you had
08:13
to do the analysis afterwards.
08:15
Einstein said, in fact, "The most beautiful
08:17
thing we can experience is the mysterious.
08:19
It is the source of all true art and science."
08:22
Dance requires us to express and want
08:25
to express the jubilation in life, but then you
08:27
have to figure out, exactly
08:29
what movement do I do to make sure
08:31
that it comes across correctly?
08:33
The difference between arts and sciences
08:35
is also not constructive versus
08:37
deconstructive, right? A lot of people
08:39
think of the sciences as deconstructive.
08:41
You have to pull things apart.
08:43
And yeah, sub-atomic physics
08:45
is deconstructive. You literally try to
08:47
tear atoms apart to understand
08:49
what's inside of them. But sculpture, from
08:51
what I understand from great sculptors,
08:53
is deconstructive, because you see a piece
08:55
and you remove what doesn't
08:57
need to be there.
08:59
Biotechnology is constructive.
09:01
Orchestral arranging is constructive.
09:03
So in fact we use constructive and
09:05
deconstructive techniques in everything.
09:07
The difference between science
09:09
and the arts is not that they
09:12
are different sides of the same coin, even,
09:15
or even different parts
09:17
of the same continuum, but rather
09:19
they're manifestations of the same thing.
09:21
Different quantum states of an atom?
09:24
Or maybe if I want to be more 21st century
09:26
I could say that they are different harmonic
09:28
resonances of a superstring.
09:30
But we'll leave that alone. (Laughter)
09:32
They spring from the same source.
09:34
The arts and sciences are avatars of
09:36
human creativity. It's our attempt
09:38
as humans to build an understanding
09:40
of the universe, the world around us.
09:42
It's our attempt to influence things,
09:44
the universe internal to ourselves
09:46
and external to us.
09:48
The sciences, to me, are manifestations
09:50
of our attempt to express
09:52
or share our understanding,
09:55
our experience, to influence the universe
09:57
external to ourselves.
09:59
It doesn't rely on us as individuals.
10:02
It's the universe, as experienced
10:04
by everyone, and the arts manifest
10:06
our desire, our attempt to share
10:08
or influence others through experiences
10:11
that are peculiar to us as individuals.
10:14
Let me say it again another way:
10:16
science provides an understanding
10:18
of a universal experience, and
10:20
arts provides a universal understanding
10:23
of a personal experience.
10:26
That's what we have to think about,
10:29
that they're all part of us, they're
10:31
all part of a continuum.
10:33
It's not just the tools, it's not just
10:35
the sciences, you know, the mathematics
10:37
and the numerical stuff and the statistics,
10:39
because we heard, very much on this
10:41
stage, people talked about music
10:43
being mathematical. Right? Arts don't just
10:45
use clay, aren't the only ones that use clay,
10:47
light and sound and movement.
10:49
They use analysis as well.
10:52
So people might say, well,
10:55
I still like that intuitive versus analytical
10:57
thing, because everybody wants to do the
10:59
right brain, left brain thing, right?
11:01
We've all been accused of being
11:03
right-brained or left-brained at some point
11:05
in time, depending on who
11:07
we disagreed with. (Laughter)
11:09
You know, people say intuitive, you know
11:11
that's like you're in touch with nature,
11:13
in touch with yourself and relationships.
11:15
Analytical: you put your mind to work, and
11:17
I'm going to tell you a little secret. You all
11:19
know this though, but sometimes people
11:21
use this analysis idea, that things are
11:23
outside of ourselves, to be, say, that this
11:25
is what we're going to elevate
11:27
as the true, most important sciences, right?
11:29
And then you have artists, and you all
11:32
know this is true as well,
11:34
artists will say things about scientists
11:36
because they say they're too concrete,
11:39
they're disconnected with the world.
11:41
But, we've even had that here on stage,
11:44
so don't act like you don't know
11:46
what I'm talking about. (Laughter)
11:48
We had folks talking about the Flat Earth
11:50
Society and flower arrangers, so there's
11:52
this whole dichotomy that we continue
11:54
to carry along, even when we know better.
11:56
And folks say we need to choose either or.
11:59
But it would really be foolish to choose
12:02
either one, right?
12:04
Intuitive versus analytical?
12:06
That's a foolish choice. It's foolish,
12:08
just like trying to choose between
12:10
being realistic or idealistic.
12:12
You need both in life. Why do people
12:14
do this? I'm just gonna quote
12:16
a molecular biologist, Sydney Brenner,
12:18
who's 70 years old so he can say this. He said,
12:20
"It's always important to distinguish
12:22
between chastity and impotence."
12:24
Now... (Laughter)
12:26
I want to share with you
12:29
a little equation, okay?
12:32
How do understanding science
12:35
and the arts fit into our lives
12:38
and what's going on and the things
12:40
that we're talking about here
12:42
at the design conference, and this is
12:44
a little thing I came up with, understanding
12:46
and our resources and our will
12:48
cause us to have outcomes.
12:50
Our understanding is our science, our arts,
12:52
our religion, how we see the universe
12:54
around us, our resources, our money,
12:56
our labor, our minerals, those things
12:58
that are out there in the world we have
13:00
to work with.
13:02
But more importantly, there's our will.
13:04
This is our vision, our aspirations
13:06
of the future, our hopes, our dreams,
13:08
our struggles and our fears.
13:10
Our successes and our failures influence
13:12
what we do with all of those, and to me,
13:14
design and engineering, craftsmanship and
13:16
skilled labor, are all the things that work on
13:18
this to have our outcome,
13:20
which is our human quality of life.
13:22
Where do we want the world to be?
13:25
And guess what?
13:27
Regardless of how we look at this, whether
13:29
we look at arts and sciences are separate
13:31
or different, they're both being influenced
13:33
now and they're both having problems.
13:35
I did a project called S.E.E.ing the Future:
13:37
Science, Engineering and Education, and
13:39
it was looking at how to shed light on
13:41
most effective use of government funding.
13:43
We got a bunch of scientists in all stages
13:45
of their careers. They came to Dartmouth
13:47
College, where I was teaching, and they
13:49
talked about with theologians and financiers,
13:51
what are some of the issues of public
13:53
funding for science and engineering
13:55
research? What's most important about it?
13:57
There are some ideas that emerged that
13:59
I think have really powerful parallels
14:01
to the arts. The first thing they said was that
14:03
the circumstances that we find ourselves in
14:05
today in the sciences and engineering that
14:07
made us world leaders is very different
14:09
than the '40s, the '50s, and the '60s
14:11
and the '70s when we emerged
14:14
as world leaders, because we're no longer
14:16
in competition with fascism, with
14:18
Soviet-style communism, and by the way
14:20
that competition wasn't just military,
14:22
it included social competition
14:24
and political competition as well,
14:26
that allowed us to look at space
14:28
as one of those platforms to prove
14:30
that our social system was better.
14:32
Another thing they talked about was the
14:35
infrastructure that supports the sciences
14:37
is becoming obsolete. We look at
14:39
universities and colleges, small, mid-sized
14:41
community colleges across the country,
14:44
their laboratories are becoming obsolete,
14:46
and this is where we train most of our
14:49
science workers and our researchers,
14:51
and our teachers, by the way,
14:53
and then that there's a media that doesn't
14:55
support the dissemination of any more than
14:57
the most mundane and inane of information.
14:59
There's pseudo-science, crop circles,
15:01
alien autopsy, haunted houses,
15:03
or disasters. And that's what we see.
15:05
And this isn't really the information
15:08
you need to operate in everyday life
15:10
and figure out how to participate in this
15:12
democracy and determine what's going on.
15:14
They also said that there's a change
15:16
in the corporate mentality. Whereas
15:18
government money had always been there
15:20
for basic science and engineering research,
15:22
we also counted on some companies to do
15:24
some basic research, but what's happened
15:26
now is companies put more energy into
15:28
short-term product development
15:30
than they do in basic engineering
15:32
and science research.
15:34
And education is not keeping up.
15:37
In K through 12, people are taking out
15:40
wet labs. They think if we put a computer
15:43
in the room it's going to take the place
15:45
of actually, we're mixing the acids,
15:47
we're growing the potatoes.
15:49
And government funding is decreasing
15:51
in spending and then they're saying,
15:53
let's have corporations take over,
15:55
and that's not true. Government funding
15:57
should at least do things like recognize
15:59
cost-benefits of basic science and
16:01
engineering research. We have to know
16:03
that we have a responsibility
16:05
as global citizens in this world.
16:07
We have to look at the education
16:09
of humans. We need to build our resources
16:11
today to make sure that they're trained so
16:13
that they understand the importance of
16:15
these things, and we have to support
16:17
the vitality of science, and that doesn't
16:19
mean that everything has to have one thing
16:21
that's going to go on, or we know
16:23
exactly what's going to be the outcome of it,
16:25
but that we support the vitality and the
16:27
intellectual curiosity that goes along,
16:29
and if you think about those parallels
16:31
to the arts, the competition
16:33
with the Bolshoi Ballet spurred
16:35
the Joffrey and the New York City Ballet
16:37
to become better.
16:39
Infrastructure museums, theaters,
16:41
movie houses across the country
16:43
are disappearing. We have more
16:45
television stations with less to watch,
16:47
we have more money spent on
16:49
rewrites to get old television programs
16:52
in the movies.
16:55
We have corporate funding now that,
16:57
when it goes to some company, when it
16:59
goes to support the arts, it almost requires
17:01
that the product be part of the picture
17:03
that the artist draws, and we have
17:05
stadiums that are named over and over
17:08
again by corporations.
17:10
In Houston, we're trying to figure out
17:12
what to do with that Enron Stadium thing.
17:14
(Laughter) And fine arts and education
17:16
in the schools is disappearing, and we have
17:18
a government that seems like it's gutting
17:20
the NEA and other programs,
17:22
so we have to really stop and think,
17:24
what are we trying to do
17:26
with the sciences and the arts?
17:28
There's a need to revitalize them.
17:30
We have to pay attention to it. I just want
17:32
to tell you really quickly what I'm doing.
17:34
(Applause)
17:36
I want to tell you what I've been doing
17:42
a little bit since... I feel this need
17:44
to sort of integrate some of the ideas
17:48
that I've had and run across over time.
17:50
One of the things that I found out
17:52
is that there's a need to repair
17:55
the dichotomy between the mind and body
17:57
as well. My mother always told me,
17:59
you have to be observant, know what's
18:01
going on in your mind and your body,
18:03
and as a dancer I had this tremendous
18:05
faith in my ability to know my body,
18:07
just as I knew how to sense colors.
18:09
Then I went to medical school, and I was
18:11
supposed to just go on
18:13
what the machine said about bodies.
18:15
You know, you would ask patients
18:17
questions and some people would tell you,
18:19
"Don't, don't, don't listen to what
18:21
the patients said." We know that patients
18:23
know and understand their bodies better,
18:25
but these days we're trying to divorce them
18:27
from that idea. We have to reconcile the
18:29
patient's knowledge of their body
18:31
with physician's measurements.
18:33
We had someone talk about
18:35
measuring emotions and getting machines
18:37
to figure out what, to keep us
18:39
from acting crazy. Right?
18:41
No, we shouldn't measure,
18:43
we shouldn't use machines
18:45
to measure road rage and then do
18:47
something to keep us from engaging in it.
18:49
Maybe we can have machines help us
18:51
to recognize that we have road rage and
18:53
then we need to know how to control that
18:55
without the machines. We even need to be
18:57
able to recognize that without the machines.
18:59
What I'm very concerned about
19:01
is how do we bolster our self-awareness
19:03
as humans, as biological organisms?
19:05
Michael Moschen spoke of having to teach
19:08
and learn how to feel with my eyes,
19:10
to see with my hands.
19:12
We have all kinds of possibilities to use
19:15
our senses by, and that's
19:18
what we have to do.
19:20
That's what I want to do, is to try to use
19:22
bioinstrumentation, those kind of things
19:24
to help our senses in what we do,
19:27
and that's the work I've been doing now as
19:29
a company called BioSentient Corporation.
19:32
I figured I'd have to do that ad, because
19:34
I'm an entrepreneur, because entrepreneur
19:36
says that that's somebody who does what
19:38
they want to do because they're not broke
19:40
enough that they have to get a real job.
19:42
(Laughter) But that's the work I'm doing
19:44
with BioSentient Corporation trying to figure
19:46
out how do we integrate these things?
19:48
Let me finish by saying that
19:50
my personal design issue for the future
19:52
is really about integrating, to think about
19:55
that intuitive and that analytical.
19:57
The arts and sciences are not separate.
20:00
High school physics lesson before you
20:04
leave. High school physics teacher used to
20:06
hold up a ball. She would say this ball
20:08
has potential energy, but nothing
20:10
will happen to it, it can't do any work
20:12
until I drop it and it changes states.
20:14
I like to think of ideas as potential energy.
20:16
They're really wonderful, but nothing
20:19
will happen until we risk
20:21
putting them into action.
20:24
This conference is filled
20:26
with wonderful ideas.
20:28
We're going to share lots of things
20:30
with people, but nothing's going to happen
20:32
until we risk putting those ideas into action.
20:34
We need to revitalize the arts and sciences
20:37
of today, we need to take responsibility
20:39
for the future. We can't hide behind saying
20:41
it's just for company profits,
20:43
or it's just a business, or I'm an artist
20:46
or an academician.
20:48
Here's how you judge what you're doing.
20:50
I talked about that balance between
20:52
intuitive, analytical.
20:54
Fran Lebowitz, my favorite cynic,
20:56
she said the three questions
20:59
of greatest concern, now I'm going to
21:01
add on to design, is,
21:03
"Is it attractive?"
21:05
That's the intuitive.
21:07
"Is it amusing?" The analytical.
21:09
"And does it know its place?"
21:12
The balance. Thank you very much.
21:14
(Applause)
21:17

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About the Speaker:

Mae Jemison - Astronaut, engineer, entrepreneur, physician and educator
Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison‘s inclusive, audacious journey to improving life here on earth and beyond is paving the way for human interstellar travel.

Why you should listen

Dr. Mae Jemison, the first woman of color in space, is at the forefront of integrating physical and social sciences with art and culture to solve problems and foster innovation. Leading the 100 Year Starship seed funded by DARPA to ensure interstellar capabilities, she exploits her experience as a physician, engineer, social scientist and dancer to build a global movement generating radical leaps in knowledge, technology and humanity.

A member of the National Academies, Jemison founded two technology companies and nonprofit Dorothy Jemison Foundation, was Area Peace Corps Medical Officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia --­­ and appeared on Star Trek.

More profile about the speaker
Mae Jemison | Speaker | TED.com