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TEDx: Meditation, gaming and music
March 14, 2012Tweet
Improving health via meditation, gaming for social impact, and the relationship between music and technology were three of the topics addressed at “From Insight to Impact,” TEDx Binghamton University on March 11.
Seven professionals from many different fields spoke to an audience, which almost filled the Osterhout Concert Theater, about our changing world and the insight we must have to make an impact.
Suzanne Seggerman, co-founder and former president of Games for Change; Sharon Salzberg, a meditation teacher; Al Biles, professor at Rochester Institute of Technology; Steven Kurtz, artist and professor at University at Buffalo; Owen Pell ’80, Binghamton alumnus and international litigator; Leigh Ann Wheeler, associate professor of women’s history at Binghamton; and President Harvey Stenger spoke about insight and impact from their own views, shaped by their personal experiences.
Salzberg, who co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., encouraged insight within oneself. She asked the audience members whether they have ever had trouble remembering things, have had to make decisions under stress or have ever felt undue anxiety. Most raised their hands in agreement to each question.
“Studies have shown that meditation practice can be useful in every one of those situations,” she said. “Recent studies have shown that meditation may be just as important as exercise.”
According to Salzberg, a 2005 study by Sara Lazar of Harvard Medical School showed thicker tissue in the left prefrontal cortex among professional people who meditate. Her research suggests “meditation might actually help slow the aging process of the brain,” Salzberg said.
This part of the brain is important for memory, decision-making and well-being, and “as we get older, this part of the brain normally shrinks,” she said. But, according to this study, “50-year-old meditators had roughly the same thickness of the pre-frontal cortex as non-meditating 25-year-olds.”
Many Americans incorporate meditation into their lifestyle. Salzberg said a 2011 survey showed “one in 11 Americans practice meditation of some kind,” to help with stress, anxiety, illness or a crisis. “They want to be happier,” she said.
“I think of happiness as a tremendous inner-resource that gives us an ability to care about others, as well as ourselves, that gives us an ability to have energy in our work, that really can be a powerful source for good in this world,” she said.
To achieve this happiness, one must learn to focus attention. “Meditation is actually a training in attention,” she said. “We learn to open our attention, refine our attention, so that we can be more aware not only of our inner landscape, but also of what’s happening around us.”
Seggerman, meanwhile, is attempting to use games to encourage a focus on what’s happening around us. As co-founder of Games for Change, an organization that encourages games for social impact, Seggerman looks at games as “meaningful cultural objects.” To her, games are a young medium, but they are “growing up.”
“Games can change your hearts and change your minds about an important issue, and they can change your life,” she said. “They did mine.”
For Seggerman, games are no longer just for kids in basements. “Games have become ubiquitous and woven into the fabric of our daily lives,” she said. The military uses games as tools for recruitment and training. President Obama uses games to promote science, technology and math learning. Michelle Obama uses games to promote her Healthy Kids campaign.
“I believe that games may be the most powerful and positive medium of our time, and that time is now,” Seggerman said. For her, even entertainment games require things of users that television never will: “engagement, thinking, problem-solving and mental energy.”
Biles’ view of technology seemed to be remarkably similar. “The technology is not in and of itself. It should be driven by your experience and what you need,” he said.
His perspective on technology has changed over time. When the professor and trumpet player created GenJam − his “Genetic Jammer” that plays music using genetic algorithms − he had a “technological” perspective, characterized by a focus on technology rather than music. “If the music was not that great, well, I had to bend the music to fit the technology,” he said.
“There is an implicit goal with this kind of perspective,” he said. The goal is to generate results that are “human competitive.”
As his journey with GenJam progressed, his perspective changed. “Instead of the technology perspective, my perspective has wandered to a musical perspective,” he said. “That’s characterized by a focus on straight-up jazz.”
His goal: to make good music “that’s fun for me to play, that’s fun for you to listen to,” he said. “I’ve been very true to the music, and that means I’ve had to bend the technology to fit the music.”
Biles invited audience members to reflect on the impact technology has on their lives. “We’re all inundated with technology,” he said. But for him, “It’s not about the technology, it’s about the music.
“Maybe it’s not about the technology. Maybe it’s about you, and your life and what you think,” he said.