Monday, February 27, 2006

Reaching Out

I was invited by the city of Scottsdale's Parks and Recreation Dept. to give a presentation at a family stargazing night this past Saturday. Despite the partly cloudy skies, a few dozen people showed up. Had a lot of fun, met some interesting people, got to see Saturn. All in all, a good time.

Students nominated me for an award at the university where I teach part-time. I'm not eligible for the award (due to the part-time status), but I was touched to be nominated. The award would have meant participating in the Last Lecture Series, which enables the faculty member to give the lecture that they would want to give if they only had this one last chance to speak to the public. (And I'll take it on faith that students just wanted to hear what I had to say, instead of just hoping I'd give this last lecture and then shut-up forever.)

So, I've been wondering...what would I say? It is a provoking thought. Sure, I could give a decent talk full of pretty astronomy images, but freed from the educational objectives of a traditional lecture, really, what would I say? I'm not sure, but it's something I continue to think about.

What would you say if you had one last chance to sway or move or motivate an audience?


Greg van Eekhout said...

Oh, great question. I really don't know what I'd want to say if I were giving a "Last Lecture." I might try to convey the idea that our simplest acts of play -- doodling, being silly, laughing, reading, writing, telling stories that convey no critical survival information or contribution to maintaining social structures -- are among the most profoundly joyful things we can do, and they're a privilege of having brains that are evolved in the way ours are.

Something like that.

Jackie M. said...

Oh, what a hard question! It depends on what the purpose of the exercise is, you know? The thing that really rankles me -- the thing that I can't really say in a lecture -- is what I think of the whole intelligent design/creationist vs. Big Bang/evolution debate. Just once I'd really, really like to get in front of an audience an lay out the entire history of "Big Bang" theory: how it was poo-pooed by the "steady state" theorists, how the Catholic Church embraced it immediately because they viewed it as a validation -- not a refutation -- of the Book of Genesis. Just once I'd really love to go all fire & brimstone on people who insist on a literal intepretation of God's word, yet refuse to have faith in a God who might be much, much smarter than they are...

But if the purpose is to inspire, not to vent? So hard! I'm afraid I would just go with what I've seen work in the past... liquid nitrogen demonstrations, IR cameras, overnight trips to small observatories... you know, I don't think I'd lecture at all. I'd rather rent a dozen golf carts and take people on a Solar System hike. There's nothing quite like the look on somebody's face when they look back at a basketball Sun after walking a half mile... there's nothing quite like the look they get when you start handing out red racquetballs and airline tickets to Washington DC, Iceland, Singapore, Dubai... all of sudden their eyes get just enormous, because they just got their first real look at Infinity.

Gosh, that's a total wimp-out answer, isn't it?

Dr. Lisa said...

Greg, I agree with you. Play is extremely important for everyone, artists and scientists alike, and I think you would do a great job talking to people about that. And I happen to know that your doodles have brought me great joy over the years. :)

Jackie, that's not a wimpy answer, that's the heart of the question. What would we use that time for - to rant, persuade, inspire, insult...?

I think what I'd like to do, although I'm not certain how to achieve it, would be to make the audience feel that science is accessible to all, just not an elite few. Still thinking about it, though.

AaronJV said...

Awesome question, Dr. Lisa!

I know I would try to explain to everyone that there is no god, that when we die, we go to the same place we were before we were born: nowhere.

And I wouldn't leave it at that...I'd like to inspire everyone to treat each other better (because this life is all we got), and to do everything we can to make our lives as long and prosperous (whoops, my geek leaked) as possible. Since there is no god, we need to rely on ourselves and each other. I wouldn't mind that.

Dr. Lisa said...

But the question, Aaron, is will you dress like Spider Jerusalem while you give this speech? :) I do agree, we should all treat each other as well as we possibly can, because this is all we have.