TEDMED Blog

In the system of American science, caution has overtaken creation

By guest contributor and TEDMED 2015 speaker Roberta Ness

The scientific community is unwell. Worse, the hospital to which it has been taken is utterly unsuited to cure it. Young professionals feel that the system does not promote, but instead strangles, their creative dreams. The result: the most extraordinary potential for progress in history is being squandered.

InnovationInnovation is society’s engine of progress– our instrument for hope. Our modern love affair with innovation leads us to desire having as much of it as possible and to fear its loss. A quick web search for “innovation” yields about as many hits as the word, “boyfriend”. Yet, our system of science from its funders through its institutions, does not allow practitioners to reach their full creative potential. I know this firsthand because I have encountered so many of these frustrated scientists.. Nearly every time I lectured at a research university about how to improve innovative thinking, a young person would stand up at the back of the room during the question and answer period and say something like, “Dr. Ness, this was inspirational, but you are proposing really radical new ideas. If I tried to do what you counsel, I would never be able to get funded or be published.” I heard this lament perhaps a dozen times when finally it struck me, “duh– there’s a big problem here, and it is not due to these young, bright minds.”

The problem, I came to discover in writing my most recent book The Creativity Crisis is that caution has overtaken creation within the system of American science. Society begs for revolutionary advancement but spends its dollars on tangible products. Ideas are conceived as “individually owned” and intellectual property is shielded by patents rather than shared for the benefit of all. The hierarchy and insularity of science stymies rich collaborative possibilities, so, for instance, the historic opportunities offered by crowdsourcing goes unexploited. A suffocating burden of federal and state restrictions and regulations continue to grow as society becomes increasingly apprehensive about the harms that science can bring.

The result of this perfect storm is that the largest and most difficult problems science must solve-– climate change, emerging epidemics, social inequity, Alzheimer’s disease-– rage unabated. I believe we must find solutions to these disasters-in-progress that are far more radical than the current system permits.

Yet, not all is doom and gloom. Science continues to march forward at a prodigious pace, even if that march often produces things less necessary than nice. Some institutions such as the Howard Hughes Foundation and Google have incorporated a series of systems changes for the focused purpose of tending and nurturing creative innovation.

We need not be satisfied with a system of science that fails to achieve its full potential for advancing societal well-being. To implement original solutions to society’s most threatening problems, we must bring creation and caution into equipoise. The Creativity Crisis examines in detail the ills of modern science and multiple remedies that, by abandoning convention, may contribute to fixing the broken system. I can only hope that this book and related TEDMED talk will launch a discussion in which all of you will help to reinvent the scientific ecosystem. I believe that if you open your minds and your hearts to the potential for creative disruption, together we can solve the creativity crisis and unleash possibility.


Roberta Ness TEDMED Artist Illustration_FotorIn her TEDMED 2015 talk, innovation expert and physician-researcher Roberta Ness imparted her wisdom for combatting science’s creativity crisis and sparking the type of revolutionary innovations that science and medicine so desperately need.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Endgame?

What if we possess the knowledge to be the architects of our aging and eventual deaths?

As children, most of us counted down to our birthdays, eagerly anticipating the milestones that came with each new age. At some point in life, nostalgia for the past begins to replace our excitement for the future. Many of us are filled with fear and dread at the thought of aging into the unknown. What if we changed this narrative, embraced our childlike wonder, and revitalized our excitement for what lies ahead?

In a session called “Endgame?”, speakers from different walks of life will share personal discoveries and revelations that have shaped their lives. This session will challenge our personal and cultural perceptions of longevity, quality of life, caregiving, and death. Our insightful speakers include:


Caitlin Doughty
Progressive Mortician

Caitlin asks: What if we learned how to care for our beloveds’ bodies both before and after death?

With a proclivity for the macabre from an early age, atypical mortician Caitlin Doughty began her career in the funeral industry as a crematory operator. Currently a licensed funeral director and eco-friendly mortician in Los Angeles, Caitlin empower families to care for their dead and unites communities to prepare a death phobic culture for their inevitable mortality. Read More…


Cheryl Steed
Prison Psychologist

Cheryl asks: What if criminals could transform their identities after learning to become caregivers and patient advocates?

Clinical psychologist Cheryl Steed leads one of the Gold Coat Programs at the California Men’s Colony (CMC), a medium-security prison in central California. Through the program, Cheryl trains a select group of inmates–“Gold Coats”–to become caregivers to elderly or severely cognitively impaired inmates, including those with dementia. Read More…


Lucy Kalanithi
Caregiver

Lucy asks: What if we experienced death the way doctors do?

Stanford internist Lucy Kalanithi is the widow of neurosurgeon and writer Paul Kalanithi, who details his battle with Stage IV lung cancer at age 36 in his memoir When Breath Becomes Air. As a caregiver for her husband during all phases of his illness into his death, Lucy is dedicated to helping others choose the health care and end-of-life experiences that best align with their values. Read More…


Nir Barzilai
Longevity Scientist

Nir asks: What if a drug that targets the process of aging could help us live longer, higher quality lives?

Israeli internist Nir Barzilai has worked with a diversity of populations–from the Israeli Army, to a Cambodian refugee camp, to a Zulu village. Perhaps his most fascinating patient population is 600 centenarians, whom he has studied to understand the biology and genetics of exceptional longevity. Read More…


Tomás Ryan
Memory Detective

Tomás asks: What if the missing memories in amnesia were actually retrievable?

Tomás Ryan dedicates his work to understanding the neuroarchitecture of memory. Challenging conventional notions of memory storage, retrieval, and brain damage, his work sets the stage for potential memory recall in patients with amnesia due to trauma, stress, alcohol and drug abuse, dementia, and aging. Read More…

We will be announcing our final two sessions in the coming weeks! For more information about TEDMED, sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to our blog. Register today to join us at TEDMED 2016 from November 30 – December 2.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Truth and Beauty

What if we found beauty while confronting difficult truths?

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then why are there experiences that humans collectively consider “beautiful?” Perhaps, when we study individuals’ subjective perspectives as a whole, they can expose universal truths and a greater sense of beauty to which we can all relate.

At TEDMED 2016’s Truth and Beauty session, we will explore research, innovations, and actions that evoke beautiful new truths about health worldwide. In this session, our TEDMED 2016 speakers share the discoveries and experiences that have led them to find Truth and Beauty. With insights from state-of-the-art holographic technology, nurses’ perspectives on healing, the neurobiology of aesthetic pleasure, and emotionally evocative video games, this session expands our understanding of health, truth, and beauty.

Our captivating lineup includes:


Anjan Chatterjee
Neuroaesthetitician 

Anjan asks: What if appreciating beauty is not just pleasurable, but essential to our survival?

Cognitive neuroscientist Anjan Chatterjee seeks to answer a tantalizing question: why is beauty so gripping? In his recent book, The Aesthetic Brain: How We Evolved to Desire Beauty and Enjoy Art, Anjan explores neural responses to beauty, noting that the faces and places we find aesthetically pleasing may promote evolutionary success. Read More…


Carolyn Jones
Photographic Ethnographer

Carolyn asks: What if we could see the beauty of invisible populations?

Through her socially proactive photographs and documentary films, Carolyn Jones points our attention towards issues of global concern. Passionate about personal stories and their power to connect us all, Carolyn examines the dying experience through the eyes of American nurses in her new film, HOPE: Dying in America. Read More…


Dan Visconti
Innovative Civic-Minded Composer

Dan asks: What if video games are works of great public art?

Dan Visconti creates concert experiences that reimagine the arts as a form of cultural and civic service. A composer and concert curator who loves American vernacular musical traditions, Dan infuses his compositions with influences from jazz, rock, blues and beyond. Read More…


James Gordon
Global DIY Healing Teacher

Jim asks: What if simple self-care techniques could help free the world from the effects of trauma?

Psychiatrist, author, White House advisor, and Georgetown Medical School Clinical Professor James Gordon is a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal depression, anxiety, and psychological trauma. A proponent of “self-care as the true primary-care,” Jim became Founder and Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in 1991. Read More…


Kellee Santiago 
Evocative Game Developer

Kellee asks: What if video games are works of great public art?

Kellee Santiago designs video games that evoke emotional responses. With research focused on game design, interactive narrative, and physical and gestural interfaces for digital media, Kellee is pushing the communicative possibilities of video games as an artistic medium. Read More…


Partho Sengupta 
Physician Holographer

Partho asks: What if advancements in visualization technology could transform patient care?

Cardiologist Partho Sengupta’s hopes to revolutionize the way we approach heart disease. By harnessing the exponential growth of cardiac visualization technology, Partho uses holograms to detect early signs of cardiovascular disease and improve patient care in the US as well as low income countries. Read More…

Look out for more speaker announcements coming soon! Sign up for our newsletter and subscribe to our blog for the latest updates. Also, don’t miss your chance to register for TEDMED 2016 this November 30 – December 2 in Palm Springs, CA. Hope to see you there!

Gaining Wisdom in the Family, Workplace, Community, and Society

By guest contributor and TEDMED speaker, Dilip V. Jeste, MD.

Wisdom is a complex human trait. It includes several components: 1) ability to make appropriate social decisions, 2) overall happiness coupled with control over emotions, 3) helping others through compassion and altruism, 4) self-knowledge and ability to reflect, 5) humility to know the limits of one’s knowledge, and 6) decisiveness when needed. I believe there is an evolutionary purpose to wisdom – it enhances individual well-being along with one’s usefulness to society. Wisdom includes much more than intelligence – that is why wise people are typically intelligent, but not all intelligent people are wise!

The basic concept of wisdom is similar across the globe and has been essentially unchanged over the known history of human behavior. However, there are some cultural differences. For example, spirituality would be considered an essential component of wisdom in some cultures, but not in others. Aging is associated with increased wisdom. As I mention in my TEDMED talk, wisdom likely compensates for the loss of fertility and of physical health that accompanies aging, and allows wise grandparents to transfer their life knowledge to younger generations.

Aging is associated with increased wisdom. (Image: Shutterstock.)

Aging is associated with increased wisdom. (Image: Shutterstock.)

How do these concepts of individual wisdom apply to the wisdom of larger groups such as a family, workplace, sports team, community, or society? A large majority of the members of a wise group would have high levels of wisdom; however, it is not necessary for all members of the group to be particularly wise. Indeed, it is more useful to have diversity in multiple forms including some individuals with varied levels of wisdom. A critical necessity is having wise leadership. Openness to new experience is an essential criterion for group wisdom, but not necessarily for individual wisdom.

A wise workplace will be productive and creative, but will also be happy. Businesses that focus solely on sales or profits would not be considered wise if they require constant or unhealthy competition among their members. Similarly, a collegiate sports team that seeks to win at all costs rather than to ensure high graduation rates and a milieu of collaboration, cooperation, and empathy toward less gifted competitors, is not a wise team, regardless of the number of championships it wins. The trick is in balancing a drive for excellence and hard work, with grace in defeat and magnanimity in victories.

How can wisdom be fostered in such groups? An important means would be through behavioral strategies. Wise parents seek to raise their children to be better decision makers, less impulsive, and with more control over their emotions, more caring of their siblings and friends, while avoiding egotism or ambivalence, and promoting self-reflection. Successful parents do not rely only on teaching their children to embrace these values; they also act as role models of such behaviors by reinforcing positive behaviors and not rewarding untoward ones.

Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other therapists and counselors seek to modify the high-risk behavior of persons with mental illnesses, such as delusions, aggression, or suicidal depression, with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). The focus of CBT is on 3c’sCatch the untoward behavior, Check that it is unhelpful, and then Change it to helpful behavior. The same principles can be applied to replace unwise behavior with wise behavior at workplace, on sports teams, and in various businesses. While employees who sell the largest volume of products can be rewarded, so too should be rewarded the people who help develop a collegial milieu which increases other workers’ level of happiness leading to greater overall productivity. For example, in basketball, they would reward players with the most assists along with those who scored the most points.

The responsibility for making a group wise lies primarily with its leadership, which then makes sure that the culture promoting wisdom trickles down the chain of command, and reaches the workers on the lowest rung. Ultimately, promoting group wisdom is not merely a nice thing to do– it is a smart thing to do!

 



Dilip Jeste

 

In his TEDMED talk, geriatric psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dilip V. Jeste reveals how our brains compensate for physical aging, and discusses an unexpected evolutionary advantage to growing old–gaining sage wisdom–which holds great promise to benefit society as a whole. Watch Dilip’s talk here.

References:

Jeste DV and Vahia I: Comparison of the conceptualization of wisdom in ancient Indian literature with modern views: Focus on the Bhagavad Gita. Psychiatry 71:197-209, 2008.

Meeks TW and Jeste DV: Neurobiology of wisdom: An overview. Archives of General Psychiatry 66:355-365, 2009.

Jeste DV and Harris JC: Commentary: Wisdom – A neuroscience perspective. Journal of the American Medical Association 304:1602-1603, 2010.

Jeste DV, Ardelt M, Blazer D, Kraemer HC, Vaillant G, and Meeks T: Expert consensus on the characteristics of wisdom: A Delphi Method study. Gerontologist 50:668-680, 2010.
Bangen KJ, Meeks TW and Jeste DV. Defining and assessing wisdom: A review of the literature. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 21:1254-1266, 2013.

Jeste DV and Oswald AJ. Individual and societal wisdom: Explaining the paradox of aging and well-being. Psychiatry 77:317-330, 2014.

Thomas ML, Bangen KJ, Ardelt M, Jeste DV. Development of a 12-item abbreviated three-dimensional wisdom scale (3D-WS-12): Item selection and psychometric properties. Assessment 24, 2015.

Meeks TW, Cahn R, and Jeste DV: Neurobiological foundations of wisdom. In Siegel R, Germer C (eds.): Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy. New York, NY: Guilford Press. pp. 189-202, March 7, 2012.

Sanders JD, Meeks TW and Jeste DV: Neurobiological basis of personal wisdom. In Ferrari M, Westrate MN (eds.): The Scientific Study of Personal Wisdom. New York, NY: Springer. pp. 99-114, 2013.

The Workforce of the Future

Vivienne Ming discusses our future workforce.

Vivienne speaking at TEDMED 2015.

“How can we make students robot-proof?”

This was the question posed to me a few years ago at the Department of Education. They were designing a 6-week job retraining program, but couldn’t divine which skills to teach that would still be employable 10 years from now. They were hoping I could help them devise a short program to teach some crucial knowledge or skill that we knew wouldn’t be displaced by artificial intelligence in the future. Here is the simple truth I shared with them: there is no skill or knowledge which is robot-proof.

Automation, Artificial Intelligence, and Why Automation Is Different This Time

The concerns of the Dept. of Ed. are well-founded. Quite apart from the hysteria surrounding general artificial intelligence – the existential threat posed by a fully aware computer that surpasses us in intelligence – they and many others are focused on a much more mundane problem: basic AI and other computerized automation will displace the world’s labor force, leaving few jobs for humans. The three largest employers in the world–agriculture, transportation, and natural resources–are all seeing huge advances in robotic automation. For example, precision farming involving drones, robotic weeders, and AI-driven irrigation produces more food but needs few humans. The productivity gain truly is a fundamental good, but what happens to the one billion agricultural workers worldwide?

Importantly, AI isn’t only replacing physical labor, but cognitive labor, and it’s doing so at an increasing rate. We now see automated systems outperforming or displacing humans in medical diagnostics, journalism, financial advising, and a vast array of other industries. A recent paper described a deep neural network that can read the technical specifications for software companies’ APIs (the rules that allow one computer system to interact with another), and can then automatically spit out a simple set of instructions for writing code using the API. It would be a rather minor additional step to have a basic AI write the code itself. Despite all the focus in recent years in teaching students to code, it seems unlikely to me that simple programming will be a viable skill 5 or 10 years from now in the same way it is today. I’ll simply “hire” an AI contractor, giving it a set of specifications and even having a conversation around the details. It will quickly and easily spit out prototypes and update them based on real-time feedback. While this sounds wonderful to me as an entrepreneur, software developers might feel like they bought a home just as the real estate bubble burst.

AI Workforce vs. Human Workforce?Techno-utopians may claim that AIs will free everyone to be artists and doctors. They imagine themselves freed of the burdens of rent and the need to take a job just for the paycheck, spending lives of purpose solving deep problems. Our schools and other social institutions, however, are simply not designed to produce a workforce full of problem-solvers. It is much more likely that we would have a world in which the labor of some is worth more than an AI, but the labor of the vast majority is worth less. What a profound divide that would be.

Craftsmen and Their Tools

Research has shown, rather dramatically, that knowledge and skills, and the grades, test scores, and degrees associated with them, are simply not predictive of employability and other life outcomes. Yet schools and so many job-training programs focus exactly on these: how to program, how to factor a polynomial, how to write a grammatically correct sentence, or how to sketch the human form. They are valuable skills, but only in the hands of someone empowered to make use of them. These are just the tools that craftsmen employ, not the craft itself. What predicts life outcomes is the quality of the craftsman. A large and growing body of research links success with qualities like general cognitive ability, metacognition, mindset, emotion regulation, and creativity. These are attributes which we have described as meta-learning–the deeper abilities that enable learning.

A further, fundamental problem is that no tool is robot-proof. There is no basic skill or knowledge which we cannot eventually build an AI to perform more economically than a human. Tools neither differentiate people from one another, nor protect them from robots. Instead of trying to guess which skills kids need to know 20 years from now, we should build craftsmen who can master any tool. A craftsman without their tools is hobbled, but tools without a craftsman are entirely pointless. To robot-proof our kids, we must develop their meta-learning skills, producing a generation of problem-solvers.

A human story

With AI’s providing all of the tools, the future of work is the hyperinflation of work: you’ll show up in the morning, and it will be a different job by the end of the day. The only job description in the future will be that of a problem-solver, with every day posing a different problem (and it sounds damned exhausting). But imagine what a society full of such craftsmen could accomplish with a toolkit full of AI tools. What could be accomplished if we truly were a society of problem-solvers, of craftsmen?

I am a huge advocate of the potential of machine learning, AI, and even the eventual power of augmented intelligence and neuroprosthetics. They are a foundational part of a world in which I want to live. But this is fundamentally a human story, not a technological one. No one is going to stop the rise of AIs. We need to match it with the rise in social institutions built on the core principle that everyone can be amazing. But it takes years, even decades, to “build” an amazing person. If technology continues to outpace culture, the results will be catastrophic.

We don’t have to accept that outcome. While there’s no online course or six-week job retraining program for meta-learning, we know how to develop it over time. We know how to build into kids a belief that their hard work will pay off. The irony is that the solution to humanity’s place in a futuristic world of robots and AIs is as old as it gets. The things that will make us robot-proof are the very same things that are predictive of life outcomes of both kids and adults today, and have probably always have been throughout the history of humankind. The best way to robot-proof your kids is to make them all the more uniquely human.


VivienneMing
This guest blog post is by TEDMED 2015 speaker Vivienne Ming. You can watch Vivienne’s TEDMED talk here.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Social + Science

What if social and environmental factors are inextricably entwined, not just with the culture of health, but also with its outcomes?

As children, we thought of health as sickness and cure: if we felt ill, we anticipated cough syrup, a visit to the doctor, or perhaps the unpleasant pinch of a shot. But, as we’ve aged, our understanding of health has expanded, as the field of healthcare has itself. Today, we acknowledge that health permeates all aspects of our lives–where we live, what we eat, where we work, how we age, and more. Even the simplest social interactions can shape health outcomes in ways that touch communities across the globe.

In our Social + Science session, TEDMED 2016 speakers help us explore just how social agents affect our health. From the impacts of race and poverty on human behavior to the promising potential of evidence-based medical marijuana and music therapies, this session unlocks unprecedented connections between social and scientific sides of our world. We are thrilled to introduce:


Alia Crum
Mindset Researcher

Alia asks: What if our mindset determines our health outcomes?

Stanford professor, athlete, and psychologist Alia Crum investigates the effects of mindset on core aspects of behavioral health. As the director of the Mind & Body Lab  and the health director at Stanford SPARQ, Alia leads researchers to better define and utilize the roles social and psychological forces play in overcoming chronic disease. Read More…



David Casarett
Doctorly Detective

David asks: What if mainstream healthcare operated more like a medical marijuana dispensary?

David Casarett is a palliative care physician and author who has combined an investigative first person approach   with rigorous, evidence-based medicine to make sense  of marijuana’s therapeutic potential, including its adverse   effects. David is a Full Professor of Medicine at the Duke   University School of Medicine, and Chief of Palliative  Care for the Duke Health System. Read More…


David Williams
Public Health Sociologist

David asks: What if the factors that cause some Americans to be sicker than others were as well understood as the genetic risk of disease?

David Williams has played a visible national leadership role in raising awareness levels about health disparities and identifying interventions to address them. In 2008, David was ranked as the world’s Most Cited Black Scholar in the Social Sciences, and, in 2014, Thomson Reuters ranked him as one of the World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds. Read More…


Johannes Haushofer
Money Behaviorist

Johannes asks: What if we could treat the psychological consequences of poverty?

Neurobiologist and Princeton University professor Johannes Haushofer explores whether poverty has particular psychological and neurobiological consequences, and whether these consequences, in turn, affect economic decisions. Read More…


Ketki Karanam
Musical Decoder

Ketki asks: What if we could harness the personalized therapeutic effects of music?

Biologist and technology entrepreneur Ketki Karanam harnesses music to create solutions to conditions like dementia and autism through The Sync Project. As The Sync Project’s co-founder and Head of Science, Ketki created the platform to personalize the therapeutic effects of music. Read More…


Kristin Neidlinger
Expressive Tech Fashion Designer

Kristin asks: What if wearables could reflect our innermost emotions?

Kristin Neidlinger is the founder of Sensoree, wearable technology with auditory, visual and tactile displays to promote “extimacy” (externalized intimacy) and communicate the wearer’s emotions to the outside world. With a background in dance therapy and the performing arts, Kristin works with futuristic fabrics made of sustainable materials that are embedded with sensitive technologies to enhance proximity and telepathy between human and machine. Read More…

Stay tuned for more TEDMED 2016 speaker announcements in the coming weeks. Don’t forget to stay connected by signing up for our newsletter and subscribing to our blog. Register now to join us in Palm Springs, CA this November 30 – December 2.

Announcing TEDMED 2016 Speakers: Fringe

Too often, our mental constructs and perceived limitations hinder our search for inspiration. What if the outer edges of human experience could provide solutions to everyday challenges?

This November at TEDMED 2016, speakers in a session called Fringe will explore the edges of scientific study to discover new insights from topics such as sexual deviance, extreme altruism, artistic patients, and wild adventures. They are:


Elizabeth Letourneau
Sexual Abuse Preventionist

What if we designed effective prevention programs for pedophiles before they acted out on their inappropriate desires?

Jennifer Pluznick
Sensory Receptor Hunter

What if your smell and taste receptors played a more vital role in your body than the enjoyment of food?

Larissa MacFarqhar
Human Character Investigator

What if we all felt obliged to help everyone we could?

Sarah Outen

Global DIY Adventurer
What if you could circle the earth on your own power?

Sujey Morgan
Facial Sculptor

What if modern visualization and manufacturing tools could help create better and more affordable prosthetics, including replacement faces?

Ted Meyer
Artistic Patient Advocate

What if health providers could gain a more complete understanding of their patients through art?

Early next week, we will announce the speakers we have planned for our Social+Science session. Stay tuned by signing up for our newsletter, and subscribing to the TEDMED blog. Register here to join us in Palm Springs, CA, at TEDMED 2016.

Announcing Speakers for TEDMED 2016: New Models

As Marcel Proust once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

What if we re-examine the way we frame health challenges, and saw them through new eyes? At TEDMED 2016, speakers in our New Models session will tackle this question and explore how novel approaches can yield effective solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. They will discuss a range of topics, including the treatment of rare diseases, homelessness, robotic vision, and mental illness with fresh paradigms.

We are delighted to announce the speakers who will take the stage in this remarkable session. They are:


CharlesChiu_WebCircleCharles Chiu
Precision Diagnostician

What if next generation sequencing could help us diagnose mysterious infectious illnesses?

KaitlynHove_WebCircle

Kaitlyn Hova
Synesthete Translator

What if you could hear color or taste sound?

KafuiDzirasa_WebCircle Kafui Dzirasa
Brain Engineer

What if we diagnosed and treated mental illness as a brain electrical circuit malfunction?

LloydPendleton_WebCircle

Lloyd Pendleton
Homelessness Vanquisher

What if we could eliminate homelessness nationwide?

MarySpio_WebCircle

Mary Spio
Innovation For Good Evangelist

What if virtual reality could improve healthcare?

SharonTerry_WebCircle

Sharon Terry
Citizen Biomedical Researcher

What if people spearheaded research into their conditions?

SheilaNirenberg_WebCircleSheila Nirenberg
Visionary Neuroscientist

What if robots could process visual information the way humans do?

We’ll be announcing more TEDMED 2016 speakers later this week. Stay updated by signing up for our newsletter, and subscribing to the TEDMED blog.If you haven’t done so already, register today to join us in Palm Springs, CA for this, and six other powerful sessions at TEDMED 2016.

We hope you’ll join us!

The future of infusing art into anatomy

Achilles_anatomy

Greek street artist, Achilles, used the rooms of an abandoned building to create a spatial journey through layers of a human head, from the skull to the face.

By guest contributor and TEDMED speaker Vanessa Ruiz

Eaton-Houdon Écorché by Scott Eaton

Eaton-Houdon Écorché by Scott Eaton

When we talk about the future of medical illustration and learning anatomy, it’s often tied to advances in technology. What advances in technology will allow students to learn anatomy faster, allow them to memorize terms more efficiently, or provide better methods for them to interact with anatomy without actually touching a cadaver? But if you look at all of the resulting technologies, such as 3D anatomy apps, augmented reality organs, or virtual reality cadavers, the foundation still lies within an established ideal of anatomical representation. We’ve simply moved the same anatomical imagery from a textbook page to a screen. But instead of trying to change the medium by which we learn to technology, why not change the mindset of the approach to an artistic one, to engage a broader audience? Why shouldn’t the public, rather than just medical professionals, have access to learning anatomy?

Nearly 10 years ago it was difficult to find many artists featuring anatomy as a subject in their artwork. And I’m not referring to “the figure” as it is studied in art. I’m talking about the muscles, skeleton and viscera— what lies beneath the skin. Today the acceptance of anatomical art in pop culture is palpable. It’s pulsing in the trends of film, street art, advertising, interior design, and even fashion. A quick web search for “anatomical heart necklace” yields an overwhelming amount of resulting iterations. What is fascinating is that this anatomical art movement has risen exponentially alongside the rather stagnant practice of anatomy education. With all of the advances in medicine, the time and resources allocated to teach anatomy to medical students is diminishing. This is why students often turn to technology such as anatomy apps to supplement their learning.

Danny Quirk paints the musculature of the forearm on Anna Folckomer of Immaculate Dissection

Danny Quirk paints the musculature of the forearm on Anna Folckomer of Immaculate Dissection

But, as the boundary between science and art blurs, it is no longer sufficient to talk about either on their own. We need to see how each informs the other. This crossover between medical illustration, art, and anatomy learning is beginning to take place. We’ve gone beyond the “Anatomy Coloring Book.”

The dramatic anatomical body paintings by medical artist Danny Quirk, of Immaculate Dissection, are now used to teach anatomy to anyone from physical therapists to athletic trainers to bodywork practitioners; the technique has been so popular that it’s been replicated in anatomy classes around the world.

Sculpting anatomy by hand from the skeleton outward has become a means for not only artists to learn anatomy, but for medical students as well. This is where the distinction between viewing a body in 3D versus tangibly building a body becomes clear; building by hand requires spatial knowledge and memory– tying doing with learning instead of looking and memorizing.

The truest delivery of anatomy to the public takes the form of street art. A growing number of artists are vibrantly broadcasting anatomy on the streets in a vast array of styles. Street artists are pushing their work to be site specific and interactive.

heArtbeats by Lanoc

heArtbeats by Lanoc

Imagine the immersive experience of learning anatomy by walking through rooms of an abandoned building. As dynamic as Achilles‘ warehouse anatomy above, this piece by Croatian street artist Lanoc shows an anatomical heart pumping blood through industrial air ducts. It is site-specific street art, pulsing with life.

Austrian street artist, Nychos, is famous for his explosive views of anatomy. He recently started a series of anatomical charts using his edgy, hard metal style.

The Human Skeleton Anatomy Sheet by Nychos

Imagine seeing this in a doctor’s office: The Human Skeleton Anatomy Sheet by Nychos

While the public is embracing anatomical art, there are many medical professionals that still see medicine and art as two separate subjects. A radiologist approached me after my TEDMED talk and excitedly told me that she creates art from X-rays. When I asked her to see it she said that she never shares it because she doesn’t think it is special or it might be looked down upon by her peers. I encourage artistic expression in medical professionals because it is natural and deeply tied to medicine.

It can be argued that there are only so many ways to represent anatomy, but I counter that by all the astounding ways that artists are able to portray anatomy in their work. Artists have broken anatomy out of the confines of the medical world and are now beginning to reintroduce it back in with a whole new approach and style. The future of medical illustration doesn’t depend solely on advances in technology; it begs to be pushed further by artists. I feel compelled to showcase and catalog contemporary anatomical art, as well as promote the artists and medical illustrators that are pushing the boundaries of anatomical visualization. Because one day, they will be part of the history that leads to something greater– when the public will fully appreciate and understand its own anatomy.


Watch anatomical artist and curator Vanessa Ruiz’s TEDMED talk, in which she shares how she fulfilled her dream to take anatomy to the streets, and make medical illustration– and the resulting public knowledge of the human body– intersect with contemporary art. Check out her website, streetanatomy.com, which showcases human anatomy in art, design and pop culture.

What’s Missing From Engineering and How to Solve It

Sangeeta Bhatia

Sangeeta Bhatia

In her TEDMED talk, Harvard-MIT physician, bioengineer and entrepreneur Sangeeta Bhatia showed how miniaturization, through the convergence of engineering and medicine, is transforming health– specifically, through the promise of nanotechnology for early detection of cancer. She’s also been a huge advocate for the participation of women and girls in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. We asked her to share more about her dedication to empowering girls to develop their skills in the STEM fields.

engineering

What we desperately need: the best minds, and their talent.

 

TEDMED:

In addition to your work in bioengineering, medical research and being a professor, you’ve been a huge advocate for the participation of women and girls in STEM-related fields. How are these two strands of your work related?

SANGEETA:

They are absolutely related! We need the best and brightest minds to realize these kinds of technological visions. The engineering pipeline is only 20-25% female; only 3% of tech startups are led by women. If I look around at the workforce in engineering at the moment in our country, it’s only 11 to 12 percent women. And the data shows that we lose women from this discipline all the way along what we call the ‘leaky pipeline’ that starts at age 11 and progresses all the way through to the workforce and to the board room– presently 40 percent of women who earn engineering degrees quit the profession or never enter the field at all.

Some years ago, some colleagues and I at MIT started this organization, Keys to Empowering Youth, to target girls between 11 and 13 years old, the critical earliest age range at which girls drop out of engineering. We bring them into labs at MIT and other universities where they have hands-on experiences with experiments. Over the course of the day, these girls see how fun, exciting and accessible it can be. They meet women who are college students in the Society of Women Engineers and are a little further up the pipeline than them as mentors. And the girls ask their mentors questions like, What is mechanical engineering? Electrical Engineering? Computer Engineering? What is the job that you hope to do? Is it fun? And we have seen that they can definitely be inspired.

Here are my two daughters, wdaughter 1ho turned 9 and 12 this year, having fun in my lab! We need girls to be inspired, we need them to have mentors, and we need them to have role models. I hope that my talk on the TEDMED stage can inspire more girls all over the world to choose to develop their skills in engineering and deploy them to revolutionize human health. We would all benefit.

TEDMED:

Your lab is known for choosing and training people to work in an interdisciplinary way. How do you go about accomplishing this?

SANGEETA:

We consider ourselves a bioengineering lab focused on impacting human health so we tend to attract people across a spectrum of science, technology and medical expertise. We select people that are ‘best athletes’ in the sense that they’ve excelled in whatever they were doing, they complement our mission, are invested in our approach and play well with others. Once they arrive we tell everyone that they can spend 20% of their time ‘tinkering.’ Over the years, the students have started calling these ‘submarine’ projects. They surface them to me if and when they turn into something exciting. And if they never do, that’s okay too. The point is that science can be full of failure and we need ways to play and stay creative, motivated and engaged. It just so happens that some of our most exciting advances have come out of such submarine projects.

TEDMED:

You’ve spoken about the power of mentors in your own training. Can you talk about a mentor who has had outsize influence on your work and life and how they became such an effective mentor for you?

SANGEETA:

I’ve been fortunate to have a series of very powerful mentors in my training, all of whom saw more for me, at critical moments, than I saw for myself. The most influential mentor is my father who first encouraged me to become an engineer by bringing me to a friend’s lab at MIT to learn about the intersection of engineering and medicine. Later, he would also encourage me to become an entrepreneur. Last year, he was my guest of honor when I was inducted to the National Academy of Engineering and we got to celebrate the journey together. I believe that family aspirations for their children, and especially for young girls, are critically important to keeping the technology pipeline at its fullest.

In graduate school, my academic father, Mehmet Toner, encouraged me to become a researcher and a professor when it wasn’t anywhere on my radar. It’s so important to have people to take the time to say to someone you believe in, “You would be good at that.” As a mentor now myself, I try and remember to do this and I encourage others to do the same. Ultimately, it may be the biggest impact we make.