‘Think Again’: about the intersections of art & science

Art vs science, or a melody of art & science? TEDxUniversityofEdinburghLive urges us to ‘Think Again’.

TEDxUniversityofEdinburghLive 2013 - photo courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic

TEDxUniversityofEdinburghLive 2013 – photo courtesy of Mihaela Bodlovic

“We are in the midst of a global remix and everything we think we know might just be wrong”
 “We are in the midst of a global remix and everything we think we know might just be wrong”, says TEDGlobal 2013. Then what? Do we fight or flee? Or even, do we write poetry?

This is precisely what TEDGlobal 2013, taking place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre during the 10-14th June, asked of us. Each talk, each innovative suggestion urges us to ‘Think Again’ about the shifting boundaries and intersections of academic disciplines, social interactions, and the world as we know it.

Taking inspiration from a theme that requires revolutionising our thinking, TEDx University of Edinburgh hosted a simulcast event of the entire second day of the TEDGlobal 2013 conference. A passionate group of University of Edinburgh staff and students joined together in Inspace, an interactive and technologically fascinating venue, to question each other’s modes of thought and to engage with the TED talks.

We ventured through talks of money, market predictability and social investment; then to talks of appreciating our natural soundscape, the challenges posed to communicating public health, and the demystification of sex; moving on to the complexities of human ties to our social environments, the woes of political polarization, the need to challenge censorship, and the clear distinction between fanaticism and faith; finally landing on talks which upturned our understanding of the regenerative powers of the human brain, and the potential for bio-medical engineering to vaccinate us pain-free.

James Howie, ASCUS co-founder

James Howie, ASCUS co-founder

While I could write for ages about all the intersecting ideas that these talks sparked, what set TEDxUniversityofEdinburghLive apart was its ability to compel us to ‘Think Again’ about our own roles within our university to engage with peers in inventive ways. Compère Lewis Hou and ASCUS (Art Science Collaborative) co-founder James Howie led us through a journey of poetic discovery to break down and ‘Think Again’ about the perceived divide between art and science.

During the morning break, attendees were asked where their discipline fell on the spectrum of art to science. With many people coming from scientific backgrounds, I found myself holding up the artistic end of the spectrum, much to my disbelief. I typically consider myself to be more scientific and even cripplingly rational, lacking the necessary creativity to categorise myself as artsy. But are these dichotomies of science vs art and rational vs creative adequate? ASCUS and TEDGlobal 2013 insist that this divide is largely irrelevant and that reinforcing it is restrictive.

To explore this question, James divided us into small groups and assigned a TED talk to follow closely, asking us to jot down single words and phrases that stuck out to us in a grid as we listened. During the final break of the day, groups reconvened, rolled dice to determine which words and phrases from our grids we had to use, and wrote poetry. The result was truly amazing, and arguably smashed the antiquated conception that science and art are disparate realms.


Taking inspiration from a talk by Carin Bondar, wild sex biologist, one group wrote:

Sperm – abundant, cheap

100 billion… an estimation?

future population?

That’s a lot of immigration, movement

Boundaries are larger…

But even with all these people

Anyone can save the life of all of humanity.


Building on Marla Spivak’s talk about the challenges faced by bees and the need to protect them:

Bees, want to keep them for millions of years…

Drawn into their world of sonicated tomato tickling

For our health care and theirs, they should be


We need them our bees,

Our almonds,

Our trees.


Greg Gage’s talk on technology designed to manipulate cockroaches’ neurological functions resulted in this:

The nature of the cockroach

Spikes navigate the world

and are the currency of the brain.

Brain sounds like raindrops

it’s a neuro-revolution.

electrophysiology in the classroom

The brain adapts: roboroach.


For more information on the Art Science Collaborative (ASCUS): http://ascus.org.uk/

For a storify masterpiece retelling the entire TEDxUniversityofEdinburghLive event: /sfy.co/eMUy