Monday, November 19, 2012

Study Abroad: Part 24 [TEDxRabat: Illumination/Enlightenment]

For those who don't know, TED Talks are pretty huge.  The premise is simple enough: invite speakers to give short talks from five minutes to eighteen minutes. Any and all topics are up for grabs: a YouTube search brings up "The Power of Introverts," "Do Schools Kill Creativity," and "Gaming Can Make A Better World."    There's a TED Talks group for Cairo, Taipei, Baghdad.  There also happens to be a TEDxRabat event this Saturday November 24th.  The theme is "Enlightenment" or, in French, "Illumination."

The funny thing about enlightenment is that every one seeks it.  To seek the "Truth" or to seek some truth is to seek some form of knowledge.  To attain the ultimate spiritual freedom is to be "enlightened." Most people who remember fragments of high school history remember hearing about this 18th century movement called "The Enlightenment." The Enlightenment believed that people could be rule themselves through introspection and reason, that they could live based off of science and equations.

The Enlightenment also believed that nothing good comes from religion, faith or superstition.  And given their times, they were probably right: religious persecution was rampant and people suffered for speaking out about religion.

But, I digress. In this technologically advanced and dependent age, what does it mean to be enlightened?  Do we refer to it as being able to access information?  In that case, we can look online for anecdotes of three- and four-year-olds who can play with iPhones and iPads. In that case, we can assume that most people will have access to either newspapers, libraries, or even people who will spread information orally and by gossip.

Do we refer to enlightenment as being able to create, organize and disperse information?  Do we then consider protest groups, advocates and other subversive groups enlightened?  After all, they are dispersing and spreading information that is contrary, yet reaches and connects with a specific population.

Do we consider people who can blog (and yes, I realize that this is self-incriminating), tweet or "share" information enlightened?  They create, disperse and access information, acting as a go-between for the other possibilities.

I would argue that in this time and age, to be enlightened is not simply ACTING based on the information, by either sharing it or ignoring it.  To be enlightened here and now is to be able to act on the information AND to be able to rationally argue for or against that information.  In short, I believe that enlightenment is being able to apply the principles that the Enlightenment movement gave us, to the modern technology that we now have.

You must be able to test the information against itself.  Is there contrary facts?  Are those facts unbiased?  Is the media in which the information presented unbiased?  What about the audience members?  There is a litany of tests that one can conduct; however, the key test is one's common sense.

I feel that in our current society, it frequently occurs that in our need to publish something first or to publish to a large group, we get the facts wrong.  Once that incorrect information is disseminated across the internet to audience members in different countries, it spreads quickly via gossip, texting, phone calls.  At this point in time, it becomes difficult to correct this quickly snowballing pile of misinformation.

Through one's common sense, consideration, and regards to the information (are there grammatical errors, misspellings, obviously incorrect commentary, etcetera), a person should be able to discern falsehoods or, at the very least, hold off on making snap judgments.

I hold that enlightenment is no longer a spiritual or a rational goal: it has become, in short, a necessity in order to survive the constant information deluge we suffer.  To be enlightened in this technical age is to possess common sense and to apply that common sense.

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