Dance your PhD | John Bohannon & Black Label Movement | TEDxBrussels


Translator: Anna Trela
Reviewer: Denise RQ Good afternoon. As you are all aware,
we face difficult economic times. I come to you with a modest proposal
for easing the financial burden. This idea came to me while talking
to a physicist friend of mine at MIT. He was struggling
to explain something to me. A beautiful experiment,
that uses lasers to cool down matter. He confused me from the very start, because light does not cool things down. It makes it hotter.
It is happening right now. The reason that you can see me
standing here is because this room is filled with
more than one hundered quintillion photons. And they are moving randomly through the space,
near the speed of light. All of them are different colours. They are rippling
with different frequencies. And they are bouncing off every surface,
including me. Some of those are flying
directly into your eyes, and that is why your brain
is forming an image of me standing here. Now, laser is different. It also uses photons, but they are all synchronized. If you focus them into a beam what you have
is an incredibly useful tool! The control of the laser is so precise, that you can peform surgery
inside of an eye. You can use it
to store massive amounts of data, and you can use it
for this beautiful experiment, that my friend
was struggling to explain. First, you trap atoms in a special bottle,
that uses electromagnetic fields to isolate the atoms
from the noise of the environment. And the atoms themselves
are quite violent, but if you fire lasers that are precisely tuned
to the right frequency, an atom will briefly absorb those photons
and tend to slow down. Little by little it gets colder
until eventually it approaches absolute zero. Now, if you use the right kind of atoms
and you get them cold enough, something truly bizarre happens. It’s no longer a solid,
a liquid or a gas, it enters a new state of matter,
called a superfluid. The atoms lose their individual identity, and the rules from the quantum world take over. And that’s what gives superfluid
such spooky properties. For example, if you shine light
through a superfluid, it is able to slow photons
down to 60 km/h. Another spooky property is that it flows
with absolutely no viscosity or friction, so if you were to take the lid of that bottle
it won’t stay inside. A thin film will creep up the inside wall,
flow over the top and right out to the outside. Now, of course, at the moment
that it does at the outside environment and its temperature rises
by even a fraction of a degree, it immediately turns back
into normal matter. Superfluids are one of the most fragile things
we’ve ever discovered. And this is the great pleasure of science, the defeat of our intuition
through experimentation. But the experiment
is not the end of the story, because you still have to transmit
that knowlege to other people. I have a PhD in Molecular Biology. I still barely understand what most scientists
are talking about. So, as my friend was trying
to explain that experiment, it seemed like, the more he said,
the less I understood. Because, if you’re trying to give someone
the big picture of a complex idea, to really capture its essence,
the fewer words you’d use, the better. In fact the ideal may be
to use no words at all. I remember thinking “My friend could have explained
that entire experiment with a dance.” Of course, there never seem to be
any dancers around when you need them. Now, the idea is not
as crazy as it sounds. I started a contest four years ago
called “Dance Your PhD”. Instead of explaining the research with words,
scientists have to explain it with dance. Suprisingly, it seems to work. Dance really can make science
easier to understand. But don’t take my word for it. Go on the internet
and search for “Dance Your PhD”. There are hundreds of dancing scientists
waiting for you. The most suprising thing that I ‘ve learnt
while running the contest, is that some scientists are now working directly
with dancers on their research. For example, at the University of Minnesota
there is a biomedical engineer named David Odde, and he works with dancers
to study how cells move. They do it by changing their shape. When a chemical signal
washes up on one side it triggers the cell to expand
its shape on that side, because the cell is constantly touching
and tugging at the environment. So, that allows cells to ooze along
in the right directions. But what seems so slow and graceful
from the outside is really more like chaos inside. Because cells control their shape
with a skeleton of rigid protein fibres. And those fibres are constantly falling apart. But just as quickly as they explode, more proteins
attach to their ends and grow them longer. So it’s constanlty changing,
just to remain exactly the same. David builds mathematical models of this,
and then he tests those in a lab, but before he does that,
he works with dancers to figure out what kinds of models
to build in the first place. It is basically efficient brainstorming. And when I visited David
to learn about his research, he used dancers to explain it to me
rather than the usual method, PowerPoint. And this brings me to my modest proposal. I think that bad PowerPoint presentations
are a serious threat to the global economy. (Laughter) (Applause) It does depend on how
you measure it, of course, but one estimate has put the drain
at 250 million dollars per day. Now that assumes half hour presentation
for an average audience of four people with salaries of 35.000 dollars. And it conservatively assumes that about a quarter
of the presentations are complete waste of time. And given that, there are some, apparently,
30 million PowerPoint presentations created every day, that would indeed add up
to an annual waste of a hundred billion dollars. Of course that’s just the time
we’re losing sitting through presentations. There are other costs. Because PowerPoint is a tool,
and like any tool, it can and will be abused. To borrow a concept
from my country’s CIA, it helps you to soften up your audience, it distracts them with pretty pictures,
irrelevant data. It allows you to create
the illusion of competence, the illusion of simplicity,
and most destructively, the illusion of understanding. So now my country
is 15 trillion dollars in debt. Our leaders are working tirelessly
to try and find ways to save money. One idea is to drastically reduce
public support for the Arts. For example, our National Endowment for the Arts,
with its 150 million dollar budget. Slashing that programme would immediately reduce
the national debt by about 0.011%. One certainly cannot argue with those numbers. However, once we eliminate public funding
for the Arts, there will be some drawbacks. The artists on the street
will swell the ranks of the unemployed. Many will turn
to drug abuse and prostitution, and that will inevitably lower
propery values in urban neighbourhoods. All of this could wipe out the savings
we are hoping to make in the first place. I shall now therefore
humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable
to the least objection. Once we eliminate public funding for the artists,
let’s put them back to work, by using them instead of PowerPoint. As a test case, I propose
we start with American dancers. After all, they are
the most perishable of their kind, prone to injury and very slow to heal
due to our health care system. (Laughter) Rather than dancing our PhDs, we should use dance
to explain all of our complex problems. Imagine our politicians using dance to explain
why we must invade a foreign country, or bail out an investment bank. It’d sure help. Of course some day, in the deep future,
a technology of persuasion, even more powerful than PowerPoint
may be invented, rendering dancers
unnecessary as tools of rhetoric. However, I trust that by that day, we shall have passed
this present financial calamity. Perhaps by then, we will be able to afford
the luxury of just sitting in an audience, with no other purpose than to witness
the human form in motion. (Music) (Applause)

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90 thoughts on “Dance your PhD | John Bohannon & Black Label Movement | TEDxBrussels

  1. What if we replaced PowerPoint with dancers? John Bohannon, founder of the Dance Your PhD contest, collaborated with Carl Flink, chair of the University of Minnesota Theatre Arts and Dance department and Black Label Movement choreographer/founder, to explore that idea in a talk/performance at TEDxBrussels on 22 November 2011.

  2. SpikroddNG – There was a live audience of around 1000 people. TED talks to the best of my knowledge are always done live. The laughing is real from that audience.

  3. @relorbany

    The music is part of a current work in progress that Greg is making for our company and it does not have a name yet? I think that's what you're asking about?

  4. Great performance, but I would say the defeat of our intuition by experimentation is a great tragedy of science, not a pleasure

  5. i think a good dance in the wrong hands will have the same problems that powerpoint has, as will a bad dance in the right hands…

    i'd rather have the quality of a politician's power point slides determine the outcome of a talk than the quality of the dance troupe he can afford.

  6. Make sure to check out Black Label Movement's SpaceWalk short film on vimeo! We performed the live version(video response above) at Tedx Brussels along with Modest Proposal/Dance Your PhD.

  7. @MadsterV He mentioned that dance was more effective than PowerPoint at making concepts easier to understand. While PowerPoint is more immediately cost efficient, it is pointless to spend money on a presentation with 25% audience comprehension. Using dancers may seem expensive now, but you save money when you eliminate ineffective, counterproductive displays. They use actors in medical education, why not use dancers in science?

  8. I don't think PowerPoint is the problem — it's a powerful tool. Would-be presenters need to learn how to use it properly, to communicate useful information in an engaging fashion to an interested audience.

    But loved this video!

  9. don't be fooled into a debate about powerpoint. the question raised is: are we sacrificing creativity in this age of information? there is more than one way to learn. don't forget that 85% of the message is "meta language", which is conveyed by the body, through movement.

  10. Are all TED speakers fake or actors? A TED speaker never looks nervous. A TED speaker never says "um." A TED speaker is never anything but perfectly polished. As if reciting lines. As if reciting a script.

  11. @MadsterV Perhaps you are unsure how to comprehend movement. Dance is a translation in itself and one of the most powerful (earliest!!!) tools of communication. As you have "learned" how to understand PowerPoint presentations, try having more of an open mind and I'm sure you will comprehend more from the dance world if you don't shut it down based on one presentation. People are more apt to learn something if they are enjoying the process.

  12. The end of this actually made me tear up. This is what they're trying to take away from us. They don't want beauty. They want us to make their coffee and flip their burgers.

    @catchersmitt0 Mr. Bohannon did indeed slip a few times. Public speaking is like any performance, and when you're doing a TED talk, you make sure you have your performance down flat.

  13. When a house isn't built well, people don't blame hammers and screwdrivers. When there's wasted time because presentations are shallow, why is PowerPoint blamed instead of the presenter? I don't think I'd want the same people who screw up PowerPoint presentations to now be wielding dancers to support their shallow arguments. It doesn't matter how much eye candy you use if your content is garbage. Eye candy can be a tacky PowerPoint animation or a dance number.

  14. i enjoyed the performance – and at the same time it just reinforces an old, long standing paradigm… dancers are presented only as beautiful moving bodies presenting other people's work, not the ones making theory, not the ones with voices to talk about it. the true intelligence of embodiment needs to enter the academia, too. not only dance as a tool for others, but as a form of creating new knowledge.

  15. Many people have been asking – so I've posted the music for John Bohannon's presentation also Black Label Movement's 'SpaceWalk' on my site for download.
    Many thanks to Carl Flink Eddie Oroyan and John Bohannon for having me on board as composer, also thanks to the people of TEDxBrussels for bringing it all together!

  16. Wow, simply the best way of presenting. Would be great if the Fortune 500 companies would use dancers for their shareholder meetings.

  17. @catchersmitt0 A good fraction of them practice a lot in order to give a smooth, flawless speech… but not all of them are nerve-free. Example: watch?v=XI5frPV58tY

  18. @MadsterV Not necessarily. Especially in large cities, you would be surprised at 1) how many people with dance training there are, 2) how many are not employed in doing their art, and 3) how little it costs to hire them. Most of the dancers I know would leap (no pun intended) at the chance to use their dancing to engage with meaningful scientific ideas and teach them to others.

    Also, a lot of the extra cost would be made up with the more efficient communication.

  19. I wasn't necessarily sure whether or not John's 'modest proposal' is in the same spirit as the literary work he referenced, but the true point of this presentation is that the arts are being cut because they are viewed as an unnecessary luxury that does not contribute to society in a meaningful way. This video reminds us that, despite our government's apparent views to the contrary, the profound beauty and emotion only accessible through the arts is more than worthy of preservation.

  20. @hi508

    We are not saying get rid of powerpoint, just making the case for its egregious overuse which leads to a lot of "bad" powerpoint as John states in the video. We think a nuanced fusion of many media, including powerpoint, would be fantastic.

  21. @FadingAway90

    Composer is Greg Brosofske. He's from Minneapolis, MN, USA. He has a website you can download the music from.

  22. @nirtana1 I would argue that the age of information is not the responsible source for the sacrificing of creativity, but that it is rather the desire for monetary gain that is perpetuated by our economic principles. Information technology should spurn art as we can more effectively share it.

  23. One rule about making powerpoint presentation is to not put anything that moves in it because it distracts attention. Watching this, I was either looking at the dancer's movement or trying to listen to what he was saying. To convey a message you don't split peoples attention.

  24. I had a 16 minute advertisement and it was one of a TED talker, I watched 3 minutes of it before realizing it said click to skip ad in the bottom right…

  25. I liked the presentation except for the drugs and prostitution jump – is that what everyone does as soon as they lose a job?

  26. so the answer is … dancing powerpoints?
    powerpoint dances?
    seriously though – arent moving dancers and flashy powerpoints the same thing? can one not appreciate the beauty of a flashy powerpoint?
    as a means of conveying data and information, it's certainly better equipped. 

  27. i just caught tht its talking about life detail in the body …
    but where we go after we die ? n what gonna happen after we die ?

  28. OMG, his presentation really blowed my mind. I like science and dancing, but never though they can be combined together in this way.

  29. How could so many dislike this! Its such a wonderful idea, I am an artist and absolutely more funding needs to go to the arts!

  30. A utilidade do movimento para dar razão à vida… Perfeito. Isso equivale a leitura de dezenas de livro sobre dança contemporânea!

  31. Richard Feynman danced to improve his thinking. Probably many great scientists do. I've seen most of the Dance Your Phd videos on YouTube and they are awesome! I say this as one who has watched a lot of dance done by the best dancers.

  32. THIS is the kind of access to resources you have if you are working in an academic settings. You have unlimited amount of slaves, I meant resources, and the only compensation is Credit-Hr.

  33. I wish dance was introduced more in the acamedia! Not only would this make it easier for Academics but more so for people with learning difficulties! I am a dance scientist and we have to write I'm the traditional way. It's even worse when I could be excellent if I did my work with movement as I have dyslexia and dyspraxia but I think in pictures! Could you used my the name of that scientist in Minessota please?/Many thanks

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