The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau

A speakers bureau that represents the best original thinkers,
writers, and doers for speaking engagements.

Futurist Douglas Rushkoff Announces New Four-Part Docuseries, Exponential

The author, philosopher and futurist Douglas Rushkoff just announced his latest project: a four-part docuseries called Exponential, where he will lead viewers on a journey from the beginning of the digital age through to its manifestation today—and what it could look like tomorrow.

The series, ordered by European culture broadcaster Arte, will focus on the transformation of the digital economy. Host Rushkoff will share how big business is changing the digital world and how we interact with it—and each other. Starting with the inception of the internet, he’ll explore how our increased connectivity has impacted consumerism, and what we can do to get back on course to a more human-centric future.


Of the project, Rushkoff says, “For the past 25 years, I’ve watched as the tremendous potential of the digital age was surrendered to the mindless pursuit of exponential growth. Everyone–and I mean everyone from cab drivers to parents to journalists to teenagers–is ready to see the story of how this unfolded, who is responsible, and what we can still do about it.”


Rushkoff is the author of fifteen bestselling books, including Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Program Or Be Programmed, and Team Human. He is also the host of popular podcast Team Human, and was named one of the world’s 10 most influential thinkers by MIT.


Exponential will be produced and represented for international distribution by LA’s Submarine, and France’s Pumpernickel Films.


To book speaker Douglas Rushkoff, contact his exclusive speakers bureau, The Lavin Agency. 

Big Problems, Tiny Solutions: MIT’s Susan Hockfield Joins Bill Nye on the Science Rules! Podcast

How will we address the needs of everyone on earth as the population continues to grow? Susan Hockfield—Neuroscientist, author, and former president of MIT—suggests we turn to biology for answers. 

By the year 2050, there will be almost ten billion people on earth. Unsurprisingly, the population increase will put a significant stress on our resources: food, water, and energy, to name a few. Susan Hockfield, author of The Age of Living Machines, spoke to celebrated science personality Bill Nye about the new challenges humanity will face. “If everything goes well, […] not only will there be more people, but the people are going to be wealthier, they’re going to be healthier, and they’re going to want an energy-intensive lifestyle,” she explains, meaning that our energy demands will double, and we’ll likely need to produce twice as much food as we do now—but on less land.


The only way to keep up is to use this new toolbox of biology parts to engineer and build new technologies. For example, when addressing the energy crisis, Hockfield explains that it’s not just about producing renewable energy, but coming up with better storage for it. “We let nature’s genius build better batteries,” she says, giving the example of the abalone sea snail that builds its shell out of component parts from nature. “Abalone build the technology they need without contaminating our world. Why can’t we?”


Listen to the full podcast, here.


To book speaker Susan Hockfield for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency today, her exclusive speakers bureau.


Nina Tandon’s Revolutionary Bone Reconstruction Company Approved for FDA Trial

Nina Tandon’s company EpiBone has received FDA clearance to begin its first clinical trialmaking it one step closer to providing patients with precision-fit skeletal implants grown from their own cells.

Nina Tandon believes we are close to unlocking the regenerative capabilities of our own bodies. As the founder and CEO of EpiBone, Tandon uses stem cells and 3D printing to “grow” skeletal implantsthereby replacing the need for synthetic materials like metal and plastic, which fail over time. 


“Right now, when an implant fails, we just go back and repeat the surgery. But when we take a personalized approach, we can actually circumvent these limitations,” Tandon explains. The decrease in the need for secondary surgeries will gradually lift some of the stress on our healthcare system, proving that personalized methods don’t have to be more expensive. 


EpiBone’s technology also eliminates the need to “harvest” bone from other areas of a patient’s body, thereby reducing pain, surgical time, and the length of recovery. Instead, after scanning the bone defect, stem cells are taken from a patient’s fat cells and placed in an incubator that mimics the natural environment of the body (using animal bone and cartilage). The result is functional bone and cartilage that emerges ready for implantation, and provides a precision fit. 


In its first human clinical trial approved by the FDA, EpiBone plans to enroll six patients to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of its technology. “We are proud of the work that has been put into this IND, and are grateful to our entire team,” Tandon said. “Our goal is to help as many patients as we can to regain optimal form and function, in the most seamless, long-term, and natural way possible.”


Curious to learn more about advancements in Science? Check out our dedicated Science Keynote page.  

Nat Geo is Developing a TV Series based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures

Hidden FiguresMargot Lee Shetterly’s runaway New York Times bestseller and the inspiration for the Academy Award nominated film—is being developed by the original producers into a series for Nat Geo, National Geographic’s cable channel.

Shetterly’s book recounts the true story of the black women mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of America’s greatest achievements in space, including winning the space race. In talks, she celebrates these unsung heroes and highlights issues of race, gender, science and innovation against the backdrop of WWII and the Civil Rights era.  

Hidden Figures: The Female Mathematicians of NACA and NASA


To book Margot Lee Shetterly, or another STEM speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.   

At the Intersection of Art and Science: 3 Speakers Show Us New Ways of Seeing the World

Art and science have long enjoyed a fruitful partnership (da Vinci, anyone?) and Lavin’s speakers are no exception to the rule. In light of the release of physicist and writer Alan Lightman’s latest novel, Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, we rounded up three of our speakers whose work brings together science and the humanities in creative, disruptive, and surprisingly beautiful ways. 

Alan Lightman – Theoretical Physics and Fiction 


The Guardian says that Lightman’s new novel “is full of insight into some of the mysteries of the physical world, as well as the physics of mystery.” As a speaker, too, Lightman bridges the gap between the worlds of art, the humanities, and science, and is an internationally recognized thinker on the meaning of science for understanding ourselves. He speaks elegantly about creative and scientific processes; the role of intuition and imagination; the meeting of science and faith; and the wonder and fragility of human nature.


David KongTranslating Microbes into Music


At the MIT Media Lab, David Kong is a passionate, brilliant exponent of biotechnology: the next major scientific innovation to transform life as we know it. Kong also works to ‘culture hack’ biotech’s limited public perception, and connect the discipline with diverse cultural languages—like hip-hop. His ‘Biota Beats’ project uses a microbial record player to translate microbes from the human body into music (he’s even sampled DJ Jazzy Jeff’s unique makeup). 


SB7.0 Day 4 - David Kong


Margot Lee Shetterly –  STEM on the Screen


Hidden Figures—a #1 New York Times bestseller and inspiration for a #1 movie—is the true story of the black women mathematicians at NASA who helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. In talks, Shetterly celebrates these unsung heroes, teasing out issues of race, gender, science, and innovation against the backdrop of WWII and the Civil Rights Era. 


To book speakers Alan Lightman, David Kong, or Margot Lee Shetterly for your next event, contact one of The Lavin Agency’s knowledgeable agents today. 

#AskASpeaker #11: Twitter Q&A with Janna Levin

On Thursday, March 31, we spoke with cosmologist, author, and TED Speaker Janna Levin as part of our ongoing #AskASpeaker series: live Q&As on Twitter with our social media-savvy speakers.

Levin’s currently promoting her recently-published third book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space (Knopf): “a fascinating, firsthand history of the scientific pursuit to detect gravitational waves: the holy grail of modern cosmology, the soundtrack of the universe.” (And, we should mention, an extremely well-timed release: LIGO made their groundbreaking discovery of these waves back in September, 2015). Kip Thorne, Lavin speaker and LIGO co-founder, calls it “a beautifully written account of the quest to open the ‘gravitational-wave window’ onto our universe, and use it to explore our universe’s warped side.”

Throughout our brief talk—our 11th #AskASpeaker discussion—we asked Levin about the new book, its fortuitous timing, how it may have looked if LIGO hadn’t yet been successful, what drew (and still draws) her to the study of gravitational waves and black holes, and what this seismic discovery means for experts and laypeople alike. We also touched on other issues—the importance of large-scale science funding, both private and public, and how she’s able to write about complex scientific issues with “the immediacy of a thriller.” 

As expected, her responses were smart, quick, and illuminating—much like her keynote presentations. In Levin’s mind-expanding, inspiring, and visually dazzling talks, she talks on black holes, science and art, and the limits of the imagination with the exacting rigor of a scientist and the eloquence of a poet. Read the entirety of the chat below with our handy Storify transcript. And for more information on Levin, or our other innovation and science speakers, get in touch today.

For now, be sure to follow @JannaLevin on Twitter (as well as @TheLavinAgency, of course)! And stay tuned for our 12th #AskASpeaker chat: we’ll be announcing our twelfth awesome guest soon.


To hire cosmologist Janna Levin for a talk on science, innovation, creativity, and discovery, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.


First Look: Janna Levin’s New Book, Black Hole Blues

Hot on the heels of the astounding discovery of gravitational waves comes Janna Levin’s newest book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space. Available on March 29, Black Hole Blues is the authoritative story of the scientific campaign to record the soundtrack of our universe, told in gripping prose by one of the world’s most gifted storytellers and theoretical astrophysicists.

Levin’s first book How the Universe Got Its Spots was touted as “a thrilling and deeply personal communication between a scientist and the lay reader.” Her sophomore release A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines—the story of how Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing’s lives mirrored each other in surprising, even thrilling ways—captured “the zeitgeist of the era.” 

Now, in Black Hole Blues, the Barnard professor, PEN/Bingham Fellowship winner, and 2012 Guggenheim Fellow offers an “absorbing account of the surprises, disappointments, achievements, and risks” of one of the most profound scientific discoveries of the decade, and of the ambitious researchers who spearheaded the painstaking work—a team that includes Kip Thorne, another of our exclusive keynote speakers, who calls the book “a beautifully written account of the quest to open the ‘gravitational-wave window’ onto our universe, and use it to explore our universe’s warped side: black holes and other phenomena made from warped spacetime. As a participant in this wonderful quest, I applaud Janna Levin for capturing so well our vision, our struggles, and the ethos and spirit of our torturous route toward success.” Yet another author and Lavin speaker, Alan Lightman, calls it “smart, hip, and resonant with the sounds of scientists at work.”

If you’ve been following the story for years—or you’re just tuning in to this headline-making hunt—Levin’s book seems the perfect companion to universe’s beautiful music. For more information on Black Hole Blues, here’s the description from the publisher, Knopf:

“Black holes are dark. That is their essence. When black holes collide, they will do so unilluminated. Yet the black hole collision is an event more powerful than any since the origin of the universe. The profusion of energy will emanate as waves in the shape of spacetime: gravitational waves. No telescope will ever record the event; instead, the only evidence would be the sound of spacetime ringing. In 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, his top priority after he proposed his theory of curved spacetime. One century later, we are recording the first sounds from space, the soundtrack to accompany astronomy’s silent movie. 

In Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, Janna Levin recounts the fascinating story of the obsessions, the aspirations, and the trials of the scientists who embarked on an arduous, fifty-year endeavor to capture these elusive waves. An experimental ambition that began as an amusing thought experiment, a mad idea, became the object of fixation for the original architects—Rai Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ron Drever. Striving to make the ambition a reality, the original three gradually accumulated an international team of hundreds. As this book was written, two massive instruments of remarkably delicate sensitivity were brought to advanced capability. As the book draws to a close, five decades after the experimental ambition began, the team races to intercept a wisp of a sound with two colossal machines, hoping to succeed in time for the centenary of Einstein’s most radical idea. Janna Levin’s absorbing account of the surprises, disappointments, achievements, and risks in this unfolding story offers a portrait of modern science that is unlike anything we’ve seen before.”

For more information on booking Janna Levin as the keynote speaker of your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

The Music of the Cosmos: Janna Levin and Songs from Outer Space

After decades of searching, scientists have finally detected gravitational waves from black holes—a discovery that confirms another aspect of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and marks a moment in science comparable to the discovery of the Higgs particle or the DNA sequence. For Lavin keynote speaker Janna Levin, this revelation also heralds the release of her new book, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space: described as “a fascinating, firsthand history of the scientific pursuit to detect gravitational waves: the holy grail of modern cosmology, the soundtrack of the universe.”

“If what we witnessed before was a silent movie,” Levin tells The New Yorker, “gravitational waves turn our universe into a talkie.” A professor of astrophysics at Barnard College and Columbia University—and author of the previous books A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines and How the Universe Got Its Spots—Levin grounds her talks on the farthest reaches of cosmology with relatable stories about discovery, dedication, and creativity. Hers is an infectious enthusiasm, and one we can’t help but share as we now hear, for the first time, the audio ‘ringdown’ of black holes, and the natural music of the stars (“I was freaking out,” she tells The New York Times).

Be sure to watch for Levin’s Black Hole Blues—what Alan Lightman calls “smart, hip, and resonant with the sounds of scientists at work”—this spring 2016.

BrainCheck: David Eagleman’s New App Tests Cognitive Health in Under 5 Minutes

How well is your brain working? Just ask David Eagleman. A new iPad app developed by the visionary neuroscientist and TED speaker can assess your brain function in less than five minutes, and has the potential to revolutionize the way we measure brain health in athletes, at work, in our aging population, and much more.

BrainCheck uses neurocognitive tests that have been transformed into mobile interactive games to measure reaction time, attention, visual processing, memory, and so on. For athletes who have suffered from a head injury, the app can be used to measure and compare their brain fuction to the rest of the population, or to their own previous results. “It can be done at the sidelines of the game or it can be done in the emergency room or in the ambulance on the way to the emergency room,” says Eagleman.

The app can also be used in workplaces to measure whether employees are cognitively healthy enough to work safely. It can help reduce injuries and fatalities by making sure every worker is fit for duty. The company is also developing BrainCheck Memory, which will track changes in memory and cognitive performance.

These projects are the result of 20 years of research conducted at the Eagleman Laboratory for Perception and Action at the Baylor College of Medicine, where Eagleman has been studying and creating reliable, noninvasive ways to understand the inner workings of the brain and assess brain function with innovative neurocognitive testing.

A New York Times bestselling author and one of our most sought-after keynote speakers, Eagleman is the host and writer of the spectacular PBS series The Brain. Known for his erudite, engaging style, his unique and active exploration of ideas, and his ability to bring science discovery to everyday life, Eagleman takes audiences on a whistle-stop tour of the infinite possibilities of the brain—and shares his latest and most innovative research, prototypes, and projects that are changing the conversation around the human brain.

In his talks, Eagleman provides a new understanding of our brains—and ourselves. To book David Eagleman as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

First Look: Maria Konnikova’s New Book, The Confidence Game

Ever wonder why we so easily fall for scams, cons, and schemes? Why do we find exploiters and conmen so persuasive? To bestselling author Maria Konnikova, those too-good-to-be-true, once-in-a-lifetime offers are a perfect match for our brain chemistry. In fact, we’re wired to believe in the most duplicitous deals, and no one’s immune. In her new book The Confidence Game, launching in January 2016 (but available for preorder), Konnikova explains the psychology behind deception with a refined mix of research, storytelling, and mind-expanding science. It’s an important book, not only for getting wise to deceivers’ tricks and understanding their motivations, but for getting to know our own minds, hopes, and secret wishes.

Though the book is still a few months away, there’s already a strong assembly of praise forming around it. Steven Pinker says Konnikova explains the story of the swindler with “characteristic clarity, flair, and depth.” Jon Ronson, author of The Psychopath Test, says, “I really love Maria Konnikova’s writing. In a world of pseudoscience—of extreme polemical thought—her calm rationality is comforting and smart. I appreciate and believe her.” And for Paul Bloom, author of Just Babies, it’s “a brilliant and often unsettling book” that will “blow your mind.”

From the publisher:

“In this remarkable book, Maria Konnikova shows that human beings are hardwired to believe—often to our peril. And with a deft mix of stories and studies, she explores what that means for how we think and, ultimately, who we are. Deeply researched and elegantly written, The Confidence Game will widen your eyes and sharpen your mind.”
—Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human

From the New York Times bestselling author of Mastermind, a compelling investigation into the minds, motives, and methods of con artists—and the people who fall for their cons over and over again.While cheats and swindlers may be a dime a dozen, true conmen—the Bernie Madoffs, the Jim Bakkers, the Lance Armstrongs—are elegant, outsized personalities, artists of persuasion and exploiters of trust. How do they do it? Why are they successful? And what keeps us falling for it, over and over again? These are the questions that journalist and psychologist Maria Konnikova tackles in her mesmerizing new book. 

From multimillion-dollar Ponzi schemes to small-time frauds, Konnikova pulls together a selection of fascinating stories to demonstrate what all cons share in common, drawing on scientific, dramatic, and psychological perspectives. Insightful and gripping, the book brings readers into the world of the con, examining the relationship between artist and victim. The Confidence Game asks not only why we believe con artists, but also examines the very act of believing and how our sense of truth can be manipulated by those around us. 

In her books and fascinating talks, Konnikova makes cutting-edge psychology meaningful and relevant. Combining fascinating neuroscience and surprising discoveries, Konnikova’s keynotes can help individuals and organizations improve their creative powers and sharpen their perceptions. 

To hire Maria Konnikova as the keynote speaker of your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Biotech Leader Nina Tandon in Inc. Magazine: “Science Is Storytelling”

Lavin keynote speaker Nina Tandon is featured in the October 2015 issue of Inc. magazine (appropriately, in the publication’s “Most Innovative Women” section). As CEO and co-founder of EpiBone—the world’s first company growing living human bones for skeletal reconstruction—Tandon has a unique entrepreneurial story behind forming, and funding, a company at the forefront of what she calls “biology as design,” and one that asks the question, “What if you start collaborating with nature instead of trying to harness it?”

“We got a grant in 2011 and incorporated in 2013,” she says. “Then we wanted to raise $700,000 of angel funding, but did a $4 million round instead … I do think science is storytelling. I didn’t tell investors they would get a return. I said, ‘If you’re interested in WhatsApp, walk away. We’re slow and steady, we’re science nerds, and we are aiming to help humanity.’” Such an approach earned her investments from 66 major players, including Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and billionaire investor behind startups like Airbnb, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Tandon also recently appeared in the following inspiring video for the World Economic Forum, in which she speaks further on the concept of “collaborative biology” and sustainability. “Everything we’ve ever learned from biology is light-years ahead of our own technology,” she says. 

In her thrilling and eye-opening talks, Nina Tandon explains the process of growing tissue and transplants, and the future of medical science. With the help of manufacturing and information technology, we are on the verge of being able to grow human tissue—and Tandon is here to walk us through this unbelievably exciting era.

To book Nina Tandon as the speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Watch More Compelling Scenes from The Brain with David Eagleman

Our calendars are marked: the new six-part series The Brain with David Eagleman debuts on PBS on Wednesday, October 14th (just 20 days away). But while you wait, you can check out seven exclusive clips on the PBS website, each revealing another fascinating aspect of the series (the video below shows David Eagleman working through a mind-bending shadow illusion). And if October 14th still seems too far away, Eagleman’s 224-page companion book to the series, The Brain: The Story of You, will be released on October 6th. Called “an astonishing read” by Stephen Fry, it’s already the #1 New Release in Neuroscience on Amazon.


There’s also a wealth of intriguing information at The Brain’s online home—follow the link for compelling video clips, episode guides and synopses, a Q&A with Eagleman, and behind-the-scenes looks at graphics, filming, and more. “I want people to understand themselves at a deeper level,” Eagleman says in the Q&A. “I don't know why self-knowledge is something so difficult to unmask, but the fact is that most of us move through the world as though we understand ourselves until it’s lain bare that we don’t … I hope this series sprouts a dozen new question marks over a viewer’s head with each episode. I also hope the series gives a sense of the broad scope of modern brain science—including the things we know from decades or centuries of scientific rigor (and which therefore don’t invite cocktail-party speculations) and those things we don’t know (which I hope will inspire the next generation to pursue)” (PBS).

Finally, here’s Pantheon’s description for the companion book, which also serves as a great survey of what this landmark television series has to offer.

Locked in the silence and darkness of your skull, your brain fashions the rich narratives of your reality and your identity. Join renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman for a journey into the questions at the mysterious heart of our existence.

What is reality? Who are “you”? How do you make decisions? Why does your brain need other people? How is technology poised to change what it means to be human?  In the course of his investigations, Eagleman guides us through the world of extreme sports, criminal justice, facial expressions, genocide, brain surgery, gut feelings, robotics, and the search for immortality. Strap in for a whistle-stop tour into the inner cosmos. In the infinitely dense tangle of billions of brain cells and their trillions of connections, something emerges that you might not have expected to see in there: you.   

This is the story of how your life shapes your brain, and how your brain shapes your life. 

Once again, this ambitious project airs on Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on PBS, October 14th to November 18th. Mark those calendars!

In his talks, Eagleman provides a new understanding of our brains—and ourselves. To book David Eagleman as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Surprising Truths About Human Behavior: Eric Klinenberg Talks to Fast Company

Renowned NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg recently spoke with Fast Company about Modern Romance—his #3 New York Times bestseller and hilarious collaboration with Aziz Ansari. The book studies human behavior in the age of online dating, touching on the new and varied ways people communicate in today’s digital world. For Klinenberg, it was a way to “surprise audiences by telling them something that’s true.” “This [book] seemed like an amazing opportunity to do public sociology that was serious,” he says, “but also creative and enjoyable.”

In talks based on his new work, Klinenberg shows how modern relationships can provide profound insights into public and consumer behavior. He addresses big demographic shifts—a staple of his work—that could have far-reaching ramifications for culture, politics, and business. At the forefront of cutting-edge research, Klinenberg—who has contributed to This American Life—believes in making his work relevant to as broad a spectrum of people as possible. 

Klinenberg’s previous book, Going Solo, was a trailblazing body of research into the new realities of single living: not only are there more single people than ever before (approximately 30 percent in America), but such an epochal change has surprising social benefits. Understanding the new solo-living marketplace—and the wired world of online dating—means shaking up our assumptions about everything from social networking to urban real estate, from city planning to massive social movements. Along with Modern Romance, this is work for a smart, contemporary audience, plugged in to the radically new ways people consume, create, and form communities. And his message packs a clear-headed, entertaining analysis of how smartphone culture is remaking relationships from the bedroom to the boardroom—one text, like, or swipe at a time.

To book Eric Klinenberg as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

Changing the World With Science: Scott Barry Kaufman, Nina Tandon, Hugh Herr

“Scientists who ask the right questions at the right time can make history and change the world,” writes Business Insider. The publication has complied a new list of 50 groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world, from human happiness, evolutionary biology, neutrino physics, biotechnology, archeology, and more.

Three exceptional Lavin science speakers are on the list, from three radically different fields.

Scott Barry Kaufman is redefining the way we measure human intelligence.

As humans we like to think of ourselves as the most intelligent animals on the planet. But how do you measure human intelligence? Traditionally, tests focus on how well we use logic. However, that's just one of many facets that describe intelligence, according to Scott Barry Kaufman, who is redefining the way we think of what being intelligent means with his dual-process theory of human intelligence.

Kaufman argues that a person's level of passion, persistence, and ability to set and meet personal goals are as equally important as logic and reasoning when it comes to measuring human intelligence. Kaufman has published five books on his theories about what defines human intelligence. He writes a regular column for Scientific American called Beautiful Minds and hosts The Psychology Podcast.

Nina Tandon is trying to change 900,000 surgeries a year.

Nina Tandon, CEO and cofounder of EpiBone, is revolutionizing medicine. Her company is the first in the world to use a patient’s stem cells to grow human bone that can then be used to repair bone defects like bone loss.

Ideally, these bones can be grown to the exact shape and size needed and are easily implanted into the body because they are made from the patient’s own cells. Tandon was named a TED senior fellow last year and she's also one of Business Insider’s “40 under 40: People to watch in 2015.” She is the CEO and cofounder of EpiBone.

Hugh Herr develops smart limbs for amputees, including himself.

Hugh Herr develops bionic limbs for amputees, and with two bionic legs himself, it's an industry he's personally invested in. At MIT’s Media Lab, he creates new and better legs for amputees. The lab's biohybrid smart prostheses and exoskeletons integrate microcomputers that monitor things like joint pressure and gait, allowing the limbs to respond to the body the same way biological legs would. The prosthetics are available through BiOM Inc., which Herr founded.

Herr is an associate professor and leads the biometrics research group at MIT’s Media Lab.

To book Scott Barry Kaufman, Nina Tandon, Hugh Herr, or another groundbreaking science speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

The Comedian & the Sociologist: Aziz Ansari & Eric Klinenberg tackle Modern Romance

Stand-up powerhouse and Parks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari releases his first book today, Modern Romance—a hilarious, thought-provoking look at dating. To write it, Ansari star teamed up with NYU sociology professor (and Lavin speaker) Eric Klinenberg. Together, the comedian and the sociologist designed a massive research project spanning hundreds of interviews across continents, from Witchita, Kansas to Tokyo, Japan.

Helen Fisher, Senior Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute, writes, “Ansari and Klinenberg elegantly capture the entirely new ways that singles communicate, court, and find love today.” Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, striking at the core of the book's pull, writes, “Not only did I laugh my ass off, I really learned stuff.”

In the (very funny) video embedded above, Klinenberg and Ansari discuss their collaboration at an invitation-only book launch at the Strand bookstore in New York City.

In his previous book, Going Solo, Klinenberg charted the social and economic impact of one of the least talked-about aspects of modern culture: the staggering increase in people who choose to live alone, well into adulthood. Earlier this decade, Time pegged this trend—“Living Alone is the New Norm”—as the No. 1 Idea of the Year, with Klinenberg penning the cover story.

An excerpt from the publisher:

Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated? But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

[In Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg] analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Andrew Cherlin, Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before. It combines Ansari's irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

To book Eric Klinenberg as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

The Brain with David Eagleman: A New TV Series Reveals the “Ultimate Story of Us”

“This is the story of how your life shapes your brain, and how your brain shapes your life,” begins the just-released trailer for David Eagleman's new PBS series, The Brain with David Eagleman. On the show, Eagleman will explore the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us, why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious project blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories, and addresses some big questions. By understanding the human brain, we can come close to understanding humanity.

The Brain with David Eagleman will air Wednesdays on PBS, starting on October 14, 2015.

Eagleman is a daring young neuroscientist whose TED Talk on creating new senses for humans drew a standing ovation and has reached over a million viewers. The author of Incognito and SUM, his new book Livewired will be published in 2016.

In his talks, Eagleman provides a new understanding of our brains—and ourselves. To book David Eagleman as the keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

First Look: Modern Romance, a New Book by Eric Klinenberg and Aziz Ansari

Sociologist and speaker Eric Klinenberg is releasing a new book this June. Modern Romance: An Investigation is a collaboration with comedian Aziz Ansari that explores the pleasures and perils of modern love: from texting to Tinder to the delicate use of the pizza emoji (check out the video above for a short clip of Ansari's stand-up about the art of texting). Ansari and Klinenberg have done a massive amount of research and analysis for this book, combining social science and humour in a totally new way.

In an interview with TIME Magazine, Ansari said: “[The] book is really unique. I can’t think of any book I would really compare it to. […] The whole idea of finding a soul mate only became a thing in the past 100 years. So the whole redefinition of what marriage is—nobody’s really written this comprehensive book about this kind of thing. I think it’s really funny and very interesting.”

More about the book:

Modern Romance: An Investigation

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?

Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?” 

But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.

For years, Aziz Ansari has been aiming his comic insight at modern romance, but for Modern Romance, the book, he decided he needed to take things to another level. He teamed up with NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg and designed a massive research project, including hundreds of interviews and focus groups conducted everywhere from Tokyo to Buenos Aires to Wichita. They analyzed behavioral data and surveys and created their own online research forum on Reddit, which drew thousands of messages. They enlisted the world’s leading social scientists, including Eli Finkel, Helen Fisher, Sheena Iyengar, Barry Schwartz, Sherry Turkle, and Robb Willer. The result is unlike any social science or humor book we’ve seen before—an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

Eric Klinenberg is also the author of Heat Wave and Going Solo. He speaks on various aspects of modern life: from romance to the rise of single living in America to climate-proofing cities. To book Eric Klinenberg as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency speakers bureau.

The Search for Meaning: Adam Alter on Why and When We Reflect on Our Lives

Late last year, New York Times bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink Adam Alter published a fascinating new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences with Hal Hershfield. They revealed that age is more than just a number: as we approach a new decade in chronological age, we search for meaning. Here's the study's abstract:

“Although humans measure time using a continuous scale, certain numerical ages inspire greater self-reflection than others. Six studies show that adults undertake a search for existential meaning when they approach a new decade in age (e.g., at ages 29, 39, 49, etc.) or imagine entering a new epoch, which leads them to behave in ways that suggest an ongoing or failed search for meaning (e.g., by exercising more vigorously, seeking extramarital affairs, or choosing to end their lives).”

Alter, who is an Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business with an affiliated appointment in the New York University Psychology Department, had his own realization when he turned 29. “I thought, I need to make sure I’m living the right kind of life! I needed to do something that felt like it was a big enough goal, so it felt like there was meaning in my life,” he said in the Guardian. That year, he signed up to run a marathon—which we now know, thanks to the study, we're more likely to do at age 29.

But what should we do with this knowledge? “We know that the end of a perceived era prompts us to make big life decisions,” wrote New York Magazine. “Now the question is how to harness that motivation and use it for good.” The Guardian raised the same point: “The more important consequences may be on a policy level: should we be paying special attention to someone’s mental health if their age ends in 9, or exploiting their sense of an impending milestone to nudge them to adopt better habits? 'Is everyone, every 10 years, part of a population we should be extra-concerned about?' Alter wonders. 'Is it a good time to encourage them to save more for their retirement, or to change the way they eat?'”

In his talks, Alter offers thoughts on how leaders, policymakers, and smarter organizations can create more cognitively healthy environments—and healthier human beings. To book Adam Alter as a keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

The Power of “I Don’t Know”: Math Speaker Jordan Ellenberg [VIDEO]

When it comes to problem-solving, there is power in uncertainty—in admitting that you don't know. In a new keynote, Jordan Ellenberg, the bestselling author of How Not to Be Wrong (think Freakonomics for math), looked at everything from Nate Silver's predictions to his own research to explain that making educated guesses is tough work, even when you have data and hard figures. Stepping back and saying you're not sure is just as useful for finding answers. Not being sure is an action. We should keep probing and, more importantly, keep asking the right questions. “What I learned was that the answer to a math question is not always a number,” Ellenberg told the audience. “Sometimes the answer is 'I don't know.' Not 'Yes', not 'No', but 'I don't know'. That's the answer to a lot of the most interesting and important questions.” Watch the full video above.

In his keynotes, Ellenberg shows us how math affects us all, whether you’re a business looking to discover the power of big data, a corporate audience out to improve logic and understanding within your organization, or a college crowd with an appetite for the latest research. To book Jordan Ellenberg as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

First Look: How Not to Be Wrong, by Jordan Ellenberg, is a Freakonomics for Math

How early should you get to the airport? Why do tall parents have shorter children? What’s the best way to get rich playing the lottery? In How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking, mathematician and writer Jordan Ellenberg shows us how math affects us every day. In the same way that Freakonomics brought economics into the popular discourse, How Not to Be Wrong is a lively, clever exploration of how math touches us all, and how we can use it to our advantage in the boardroom, classroom, and at home.

From the publisher:

Math, as Jordan Ellenberg says, is “an atomic-powered prosthesis that you attach to your common sense, vastly multiplying its reach and strength.” Math helps every kind of thinker think better—it hones our intuition, sharpens our judgment, tames uncertainty, and lets us see the deeper structure and logic of our world. Armed with the tools of mathematics, we can see through the static to the true meaning of information we usually take for granted.

Ellenberg  is the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. To book Jordan Ellenberg as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

First Look: Livewired, A New Book by Neuroscientist David Eagleman

David Eagleman is one of a kind—a neuroscientist, Guggenheim Fellow, and bestselling author who connects the science of the brain to literature, advertising, social media, and our justice system. His forthcoming book, Livewired: How the Brain Rewrites its Own Circuitry (Spring 2015), is a fascinating presentation of his new theory about the brain's capacity to constantly change itself. Here's the publisher's description:

The brain is often portrayed as an organ with different regions dedicated to specific tasks. But that textbook model is wrong. The brain is a dynamic system, constantly modifying its own circuitry to match the demands of the environment and the body in which it finds itself. If you were to zoom into the living, microscopic cosmos inside the skull, you would witness tentacle-like extensions grasping, bumping, sensing, searching for the right connections to establish or forego, like denizens of a country establishing friendships, marriages, neighbourhoods, political parties, vendettas, and social networks. It's a mysterious kind of computational material, an organic three-dimensional textile that adjusts itself to operate with maximum efficiency.

The brain is not hardwired, David Eagleman contends—it is livewired. With his new theory of infotropism, Eagleman demonstrates why the fundamental principle of the brain is information maximization: in the same way that plants grow toward light, brains reconfigure to boost data from the outside world. Follow Eagleman on a thrilling journey to discover how a child can function with one half of his brain removed, how a blind man can hit a baseball via a sensor on his tongue, how new devices and body plans can enhance our natural capacities, how paralyzed people will soon be able to dance in thought-controlled robotic suits, how we can build the next generation of devices based on the principles of the brain, and what all this has to do with why we dream at night.

In the video embedded above, Eagleman is featured on CNN's The Next List. “David Eagleman is wrestling with some of the most profound questions of our existence,” says the host of the show, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “What is time? What is consciousness? How does the human brain construct reality? He's a wildly creative thinker who's going to blow your mind—just by explaining how it works.”

To book David Eagleman for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Is Positive Thinking a Myth? Adam Alter, in The New Yorker

In a recent piece for The New Yorker, Adam Alter asked an intriguing question: does positive thinking really make our dreams come true? After all, the idea has been “a mainstay among greeting-card companies, motivational speakers, and school teachers for decades,” he says. Alter is the author of Drunk Tank Pink and an Associate Professor of Marketing and Psychology at New York University. He studies how our thoughts, decision, and behavior are deeply tied to the world around us. In the article, he examined research on positive thinking and presented the idea that good thoughts may not have the power we think they do.

In describing a recent study, Alter said: “One group fantasized that the week would go as well as possible, whereas the other group conjured a more neutral version of the week. One week later, when the students returned to the lab, the positive fantasizers felt that they had accomplished less over the previous week.” And, in another study, “Those who harbored positive fantasies put in fewer job applications, received fewer job offers, and ultimately earned lower salaries.” But why? According to Heather Barry Kappes, a management professor at the London School of Economics and former student of Alter's, “imagining a positive outcome conveys the sense that you’re approaching your goals, which takes the edge off the need to achieve.”

Fascinating stuff. But do we need to give up all our positive fantasies? Not just yet, says Alter: “There’s nothing wrong with getting lost in fantasy, as long as you aren’t ultimately hoping to indulge in the real thing.”

In his talks, Alter offers thoughts on how leaders, policymakers, and smarter organizations can create more cognitively healthy environments—and healthier human beings. To book Adam Alter as a keynote speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

How to Grow a Bone Without a Body: Nina Tandon’s New TED Video

TED Senior Fellow and science speaker Nina Tandon is the co-founder of EpiBone, the world’s first company growing living human bones for skeletal reconstruction. In a new TED video (embedded above), Tandon and her co-founder Sarindr Bhumiratana describe the work they're doing and the incredible impact it could have on human health.

“If you need human bone, for cancer, congenital defects, trauma…the only way to get human bone is to cut it out of a human. And in practice it's actually quite brutal. What we're proposing to do is a different paradigm. If you need a piece of human bone, you can use your own cells to grow your own,” says Tandon. At the moment, Tandon and her team are growing pieces of bone in their lab and are currently testing implantation. “There's so much that we're really excited to see in the coming time,” she says. “I would love to see congenital defects be a statistic from the past.”

In thrilling and eye-opening talks, Tandon explains the process of growing tissue and transplants, and the future of medical science. To book Nina Tandon as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency.

Adam Alter On Why We Have A Hard Time Understanding Value

Why do humans have a hard time assigning the proper monetary value to certain items? Fine art, say—or beer, or even Coca-Cola. In a popular New Yorker blog post, Adam Alter, bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink, looks into this quirk. In Manhattan recently, the artist Banksy asked an anonymous elderly man to sell original artworks on his behalf. The paintings ended up selling for far less than they would have had buyers known that they were authentic Banksys. (They went for hundreds of  dollars, not the millions that Banksy have been known to fetch). “What makes Banksy’s subversive stunt so compelling,” Alter writes, “is that it forces us to acknowledge how incoherently humans derive value.” Stories and context play a greater role than we imagine. Why does the price of something vary so drastically when one piece of information is added? The way unseen forces change our behavior is something Alter explores in Drunk Tank Pink, which chronicles the power of environmental cues, such as the color of a room, to shape our decision-making process. (Malcolm Gladwell recently cited the book as one of his favorites this year.) Alter explains that pricing art is difficult because it is “inherently inevaluable.” Here’s what he means:

Some concepts are easy to evaluate without a reference standard. You don’t need a yardstick, for example, when deciding whether you’re well-rested or exhausted, or hot or cold, because those states are “inherently evaluable”—they’re easy to measure in absolute terms because we have sensitive biological mechanisms that respond when our bodies demand rest, or when the temperature rises far above or falls far below seventy-two degrees. Everyone agrees that three days is too long a period without sleep, but art works satisfy far too abstract a need to attract a universal valuation. When you learn that your favorite abstract art work was actually painted by a child, its value declines precipitously (unless the child happens to be your prodigious four-year-old).

In his keynotes, Alter offers a groundbreaking look into the complex relationship between environmental features and our thoughts, feelings, and actions. To book Adam Alter as a speaker for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.

Watch the video of Banksy's art sale experiment:

Can Libraries Save Lives? Eric Klinenberg On Social Infrastructure In Cities

“We need to think about the social infrastructure as much as we do about the hard infrastructure of power lines and transit systems and communications networks,” cities speaker Eric Klinenberg tells Urban Omnibus. In a new series of interviews, the Going Solo author shows how important neighborhood cohesion and social planning is to the health of those living in cities. For example, a new study from University of Michigan researchers found that “people who felt connected to their neighbors had significantly fewer strokes than those who felt alienated.” In fact, there was a 48 percent difference in the number of people who had a first stroke and those who didn't. There was a strong correlation between their perceived sense of community cohesion and their ability to live through a tough time. In Klinenberg's book, Heat Wave, he uncovered a similar finding: Those who lived in a tight-knit community with strong social support systems fared better in the wake of the sweltering heat than those who didn't.

As the New York Times explains: “Densely populated [areas with] vibrant commercial strips and social networks, community gardens, parks and well-tended sidewalks…drew people out of overheated homes and into the streets, shops, gardens, parks, and into libraries, too: places where there were things to do and friends to meet.” The people who survived the 1995 heat wave in Chicago were those who had people to rely on and a community to support them. “People needed cool places to go,” Klinenberg tells The New York Times. And, they needed people to be with when they found those places.

He doesn't just mean cool in the sense of somewhere with air conditioning—people need places that make them feel comfortable and supported. Hospitals and city-run “cooling centers” may provide the necessities people need during a crisis, but they aren't attractive places to come together with the community. Lively, vibrant urban spaces (like community centers and public libraries, for instance) can function to help connect city dwellers at the best, and at the worst, of times. That's why Klinenberg says that studying the social fabric of a city is just as important as examining its physical infrastructure. “Whether it’s the fact that [cities] are incubators of new ideas and ways of living, or the fact that cities reveal broader social conditions that are more visible than they might be elsewhere because cities are dense and populous,” he says. “I hope the work I do [on cities] opens up some different way of understanding [city issues] for policymakers or designers.”

In his books and his keynotes, Eric Klinenberg addresses the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing social fabric of cities. With the number of solo households on the rise, he shows us how to both appeal to this demographic, and, to adjust our city planning to better meet their needs.He also discusses disaster prevention and relief, showing us how we can better equip our cities to function better in the best of times—and offer support when we need it most. To book Eric Klinenberg for a keynote event, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.

The Future Of Being Human: David Eagleman, Jer Thorp in a new keynote

At Being Human 2013, a recent forward-thinking lecture series, Jer Thorp and David Eagleman delivered new keynotes speculating on the future of being human. The conference, which took place in San Francisco last month, focused on how our perception of the world will change in the future. And, how big data and other technological and medical innovations will affect the way we interact with our surroundings.

Eagleman kicked off his speech by explaining that every animal in the world (humans included) has “their own window on reality.” Our perception of our environment, known as our “umwelt,” is typically determined by the biological tools we're born with. Humans, for example, are not equipped to see x-rays or gamma rays or feel the shape of the magnetic field. Eagleman asks: “How are our technologies going to expand our umwelt, and therefore, the experience of being human?”

Above: Known for jumping into his work head-first, Eagleman demonstrates how a vest can be wired to help a deaf person hear again without invasive surgery.

“Our peripheral sensory organs are what we've come to the table with—but not necessarily what we have to stick with,” he explains. He describes how we're moving into the MPH (Mr. Potato Head) model of evolution: Our eyes, ears, fingers, etc., essentially act like plug-and-play external devices that can be substituted to improve or enhance our view of the world. “The bottom line is that the human umwelt is on the move,” he concludes. “We are now in a position as we move into the future of getting to chose our own plug-and-play devices.” Imagine being able to see by transmitting electronic impulses through your tongue, or, embedding magnets into your fingertips that allow you to feel the pull of the magnetic field. There's so much happening in the world that we can't see, and Eagleman envisions a future where we can plug into new experiences and broaden our view of the our environment.

When Jer Thorp took to the stage, his intro was greeted with an uproar of applause. Thorp presented his talk on big data in a lighthearted tone, making jokes along the way. His takeaways still hit home, however. Thorp explained that data is helping us to better understand the world and our place within it.

Above: Jer Thorp presents his keynote speech at Being Human 2013.

“Data is more than a resource,” Thorp says. Data allows us to see things and reveal patterns we had never been able to see before. “We're immersed in a system so complex we can hardly understand it,” he adds. Visualizing data, humanizing it, and connecting to our lives will be truly beneficial in helping us to simplify and better understand our world.

To book David Eagleman or Jer Thorp as speakers for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.

Picks Of The Week: Two Great Talks From Lavin’s Science Speakers

One of the best parts of working at The Lavin Agency is watching inspirational keynote speeches by the world's most original movers and shakers. Every week, we'll focus on a few of the great talks that our speakers have given. And, we'll discuss the key takeaways that make our speakers great picks for speaker buyers and meeting planners in a wide array of industries. We've chosen to spotlight two of our science speakers, Janna Levin and Carl Schoonover, for our first edition of “Picks of the Week.”

First up is the Cosmologist and author Janna Levin. Her enrapturing talk at The Moth is proof that science isn't boring and scientists aren't always dull. (You can also check out her TED Talk here). Her command of language and storytelling is rivalled only by her ability to make the complex scientific theories she works with accessible and enjoyable. In this talk, she intertwines stories of human nature and experience with explanations of the cosmos to show us that we are all a part of this world. That, and how sweeping questions about life and the universe directly affect us all whether we are conscious of it or not. Levin's talks are enjoyed by scientists and non-scientists alike; she appeals to audiences who yearn to understand the complex cosmos, and, those who simply enjoy hearing an engaging storyteller discuss intriguing theories about our world

Above: Here's Janna Levin presenting her talk “Life on a Möbius Strip” at an event presented by The Moth and The World Science Festival.

Carl Schoonover is fascinated by the way the brain works, and, in his TED Talk, he shows us what makes this vital organ so compelling to study. While there have been extraordinary advances in understanding the brain, few people outside of the neurological community have seen the results of studying the neurons within this complex nervous system. Schoonover wants to change all that. Using breathtaking images of the brain ranging from medieval sketches and intricate drawings by groundbreaking scientists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Santiago Ramón y Cajal, to the exquisite architectures revealed through the use of cutting edge biotechnology and imaging, he takes us inside this fascinating organ. By showing us the tools used to study our mind, Schoonover has provided us with radically new ways of seeing and interpreting our brains—and by extension ourselves.

Above: Schoonover, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, gives an intriguing talk about studying the brain at TED.

To book a science speaker or to work with one of our agents to find the perfect speaker for your event, contact The Lavin Agency.

The Hidden Power Of Names: A Live At Google Keynote From Adam Alter

“You'll laugh, you'll gasp, you'll shake your head in disbelief as [Adam Alter] shows you that we are all, to some degree, balls in a giant pinball machine.” That's what fellow Lavin speaker Jonathan Haidt said of Alter's Drunk Tank Pink. In the New York Times bestseller, the science speaker shows us that many of our thoughts and decisions are deeply influenced by forces that we are both unaware of, and often, unable to control. In his talks, he dissects the eye-opening research featured in his book, showing us that we can use these forces to our advantage once we pinpoint how they affect us.

Here are some key takeaways from the first section of his bestselling book. He goes into detail about these factors in a video Q&A with The Guardian and in a Google Talk keynote (embedded above):

The World Within Us

  • Alter describes the sets of cues that reside within our own minds: Names, labels, words we use to describe things, symbols, images, etc.
  • What's in a name? As Alter shows us, quite a lot. Baby name books are popular for a reason—the name we give a person or object impacts how successful they are and how others perceive them.
  • Alter says we need to focus on two things when picking a name: Fluency and Sound Symbolism. 
  • Fluency (how easy a name is to pronounce) has been shown to have profound ties to promotion rates and financial stock performance. The easier the name was to pronounce, he tells us, the faster an employee moved from lawyer to partner and the better a stock did on the market. 
  • Sound Symbolism (how masculine or feminine a name sounds) was proven to be at play in the corporate and legal realms. There is a disproportionate number of female judges with masculine sounding names, Alter says. Also, he says that a large percentage of top performing companies had the hard “k” or hard “g” sound in their name (Kelloggs, Kodak, Google).

Alter's findings offer us a groundbreaking look into the complex relationship between environmental features and our thoughts, feelings, and actions. “You can use [my findings] for the good or the bad,” he says,”and the trick is to use it for the good [as much as possible].” In his keynotes, Alter shows audiences the “pro-social” implications of his book. He explains how they can achieve a win-win outcome by driving sales through the promotion of products that make people happier and more productive. To book Adam Alter as a speaker, contact The Lavin Agency.

Lefties, Rejoice! Science Speaker Maria Konnikova On Creativity & Handedness

Last week, approximately 10 percent of the population celebrated Left-Handers’ Day. Maria Konnikova, a science speaker and psychologist, just published an article in The New Yorker that will give lefties even more reason to celebrate their uniqueness. Not only has new research shown that being a left-hander doesn't necessarily live up to the “sinister” stereotypes of the past, but, it might also mean you're more creative than your right-handed counterparts.

Konnikova says that researchers of the past may not have been far off the mark when they looked to a person's handedness as a marker of the inner-workings of their brain. “Those workings have more to do with cognitive achievement than any inclination to commit highway robbery,” she points out, however. Most of the data pointing to left-handers being prone to criminal behavior or neurological behavior has been discredited today. What's evolved in place of those old notions is that a person who is dominantly left-handed has been seen to perform better on certain cognitive and creative tasks than right-handers.

What's the explanation? Konnikova says there's evidence to suggest that the “callosum—the bundle of fibers that connects the brain’s hemispheres,” is somewhat larger in left-handers, creating a greater connectivity between the two parts of the brain. There's also an environmental thesis: Left-handers constantly have to adapt and improvise in situations that are often designed for right-handed people. “[A] recent study has demonstrated an increased cognitive flexibility among the ambidextrous and the left-handed,” Konnikova also notes, “and lefties have been found to be over-represented among architects, musicians, and art and music students (as compared to those studying science).” While none of these studies are absolute for all lefties and all righties, the next time you feel a little different, remember that: “Michelangelo and da Vinci were left-handed . . . as were three of the last four occupants of the White House; the only right-handed President since the end of the Cold War has been George W. Bush.” So for all the left-handed people out there—you're in good company.

As the foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes at our speakers bureau, Konnikova has honed the sleuth's signature methods of observation, logical deduction, and ever-present mindfulness and presents them in both her book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and her keynote speeches. She also shows us how to apply these techniques in our everyday lives. Hire speaker Maria Konnikova by contacting The Lavin Agency.

Why Sharing Science Matters: David Eagleman

Bringing research results from the lab into public discourse can sometimes be costly and time consuming. As science speaker David Eagleman wrote in a recent report, the process can take away crucial time from busy researchers. But, as the recent recipient of the Society for Neuroscience Science Educator Award argues, sharing research breakthroughs is a crucial part of the process. In his new report, the renowned neuroscientist shares some important reasons why the dissemination of science research matters. And, why it's important to give lectures and share findings with the public.

1) To give funders a ROI: “Would you invest billions in an industry that doesn’t share its accomplishments, landmarks, open questions, and goals?” Eagleman asks. “We cannot reasonably ask funders to continuously contribute to a field that is taciturn or un-interpretable.”

2) Inspire critical thinking: “For reasons of utility, expense, and expectations, it would be better if knowledge about the scientific method saturated deeply into the squares and capitols of our nations.” By providing scientific research to the masses, new findings can be used to better take on other important institutional tasks.

3) Setting the facts straight: “Practicing scientists cringe when the protagonist in a movie spouts a line that reverses the work we’ve invested in the name of evidence and clarity,” he writes. “But remember that it’s our own faults. The producers don’t have our years of training. We need to be sharing more with them; we need to inspire them to care about the value of validity.”

4) Improve public policy: “Recent decades have witnessed the same story played out repeatedly: recall the powerful suspicions about vaccine-triggered autism, cell-phone triggered brain tumors, and so on. All of these stories should remind us of the usefulness of attaching the conversation to a scaffolding of best evidence.” Eagleman stresses the importance of attaching scientifically proven fact to discussions where people's well-being is at stake.

5) Define the difference between what is scientifically verifiable, and, what is not: “It is critical for the public to have an appreciation of the uncertainty inherent in the scientific process,” Eagleman explains. There is often a great deal of variability between scientists over the right answer to a problem; it's important for the public to know that there isn't always a one-size-fits-all explanation.

6) Sharing the love of discovery: “Science is not just about the generation of facts; it is about opening our eyes to the vastness of our ignorance and sharing the inspiration for further discovery.”

Are We Lazy In The Summer? Maria Konnikova, The New Yorker

It's summertime: The sun is shining, the weather is beautiful, and you're sitting at your desk—wishing you were anywhere else. Maria Konnikova, author of Mastermind, says you aren't the only one whose brain metaphorically wilts in warm weather. In fact, the science speaker points to new research that shows most of us experience decreased productivity in the summer. When temperatures rise, productivity seems to fall.

“One of the key issues is motivation,” Konnikova wrote in The New Yorker. “[W]hen the weather is unpleasant, no one wants to go outside, but when the sun is shining, the air is warm, and the sky is blue, leisure calls.” People tend to daydream about what they wish they were doing in the summer, rather than concentrating on their work. There's also some evidence to suggest that our brains are just more sluggish overall when it's nice outside, she says. We experience decreased attention and lowered energy levels and we're either too happy from all that sunshine to think deeply, or, too hot to keep ourselves from falling asleep.

Konnikova notes that not all of the effects of heat on our brains are negative. “Our cognitive abilities seem to improve up to a certain temperature, and then, as the temperature continues to rise, quickly diminish,” she explains. When the temperature is too low or too high, people can't concentrate, nor do they think as critically.  In fact, “pleasant weather led people to embrace more heuristic-based thinking—that is, they relied heavily on mental shortcuts at the expense of actual analysis.” But give those same people a bite of ice cream, as blood glucose levels have been proven to be tied to cognitive performance and willpower, and watch their thought process change.

As the foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes at our speakers bureau, Konnikova has honed the sleuth's signature methods of observation, logical deduction, and ever-present mindfulness and presents them in both Mastermind and her keynote speeches. She also shows us how to apply these techniques in our everyday lives. Hire speaker Maria Konnikova by contacting The Lavin Agency.

David Eagleman: Can Neuroscience Change The Justice System?

Our prison system works as a one-size-fits-all institution. Science speaker David Eagleman believes that modern neuroscience research and better use of big data could change that. The sought-after neuroscientist recently addressed the subject in Smart Planet. He explained that physiologically driven behavior isn't always taken into account during sentencing, and, that there could be more effective ways of rehabilitating offenders than incarceration. The Daily Beast also touched on some of that intriguing insight in a new article

“In his 2011 book, Incognito, and in recent lectures, [Eagleman] predicts that advances in our ability to detect tiny details of microcircuitry through neuroimaging, combined with training to control certain parts of the brain, can open the way for a more intelligent method of dealing with criminals. Detailed neural analysis should be a factor in sentencing and the focal point of therapy, says Eagleman. As he puts it, prisons have become America’s 'de facto mental-health facilities.' It is time they started working on treatments that bring results.”
               —The Daily Beast

Time Perception & Keeping Secrets: David Eagleman In Big Think

Science speaker David Eagleman has unlocked fascinating new explanations about the way our brains work. A highly sought after voice on neuroscience, Eagleman is a bestselling author and the founder/director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. Here are a few of his latest Big Think articles that tap into the puzzling processes that happen inside our heads.

Time Flies…Unless You're In Danger

Have you ever felt like time ground to a halt during a life-threatening situation? Many of us have probably experienced the seemingly pliable nature of time. Eagleman wanted to study this phenomemon, so he “dropped people from [a] 150 foot tall tower and [measured] their time perception on the way down.” What did he find? Time isn't really slowing down. Rather, the way your brain records information changes so it seems like the event in question took a long time to pass. In times of crisis, your brain “writes down memory much more densely,” Eagleman explains. “And then retrospectively, when you look at that, you have so many details that you don't normally have that it seems as though it must have lasted a very long time.”

Can You Keep A Secret?

Turns out, our brains are actually wired to make secret-keeping a difficult practice. The brain, Eagleman says, “is made up of a lot of competing subpopulations that are trying to drive the ship.” And, all of these different parts are competing with each other to decide whether or not to share your secrets. Part of your brain wants to share the information and part of the brain doesn't, for fear of the social ramifications. Further, keeping secrets leads to increased stress levels and more trips to the doctor.

Why You Don't Remember How Long You Were Driving In Traffic

Time seems to drag on and on when you're stuck in traffic. What's puzzling, then, is why it feels like no time had passed at all when you think back on the journey. You can also compare this feeling to remembering a plane ride as being shorter than it actually was, or, why certain days at work seem to fly right by. Eagleman says this happens because we don't record new footage to our brains during these experiences. When you do something repetitively (like drive to work everyday) nothing new really happens. So, when you look back on the time elapsed, it seems like it went by quickly because you didn't make a lot of new memories to recount. If you go to a novel location, say, a vacation, then the opposite occurs: Your mind perceives recalls a lot of new events and the length of time seems longer.

A “Comfortable Fiction”: Adam Alter On Free Will Vs. Determined Action

The idea that we make decisions based on completely rational thinking is what Adam Alter calls “comfortable fiction.” We tell ourselves that we are in control of the actions we take. We do this so we feel that our choices matter. But in fact, the science speaker and Drunk Tank Pink author says cues in our environment govern most of our behavior—without us knowing it. “It's interesting to think that [we] have that free will,” he says in a new interview, “when in some cases, [we] don't.” In the interview, Alter draws from research in his book to explain that environmental cues often dictate our behavior in ways that are beyond our control.

One of the nine cues in Drunk Tank Pink is the influence of language. When a picture of a bridge was shown to Spanish and German-speaking participants, for example, their descriptions of the image varied tremendously. Since the German word for “bridge” is feminine, words like elegant and beautiful were used by the German group. In Spanish, the word is masculine so the bridge was depicted as being strong and rugged by those who spoke Spanish. Another contributor to our behavior involves no words at all. We process symbols and images much more quickly and more effectively than we do words, Alter says. This can profoundly impact the way we act. When exposed to the Apple logo, Alter found that people responded and acted more creatively. This is partially due to the sub-conscious association between that particular symbol and artistry. The symbol actually altered the mind's cognitive functioning.

When releasing this kind of information, Alter stresses that there's always a cost-benefit analysis to consider. Will this information help people to live better lives, or will it have a more negative impact? He hopes that enabling people to recognize how their thought process is driven by environmental cues will help them to be more conscious of their actions.

In his talks, Alter delves into some of these impacts more thoroughly. While knowing these cues exist may not always alter our behavior, he believes we can change our environments into more cognitively healthy ones.

We Change Our Behavior To Fit The Surroundings: Adam Alter In The NYT

“There isn’t a single version of 'you' and 'me',” Adam Alter reveals in The New York Times. “Though we’re all anchored to our own distinct personalities, contextual cues sometimes drag us so far from those anchors that it’s difficult to know who we really are—or at least what we’re likely to do in a given circumstance.” As it turns out, who we are and how we act is largely shaped by our environment. We are, as Alter writes, “like chameleons who instinctively and unintentionally change how we behave based on our surroundings.”

Good people can be tempted to behave badly if conditions in a certain neighborhood seem to excuse it. Alter uses the hotly debated broken windows theory as an example. In neighborhoods where many storefronts have shattered windows, crime and vandalism rates tended to be higher. The same can be said of littering; we're more likely to toss our garbage onto the ground if there's already an abundance of trash peppering the area. Why did normally “good” people go against character in “bad neighborhoods?” Subconsciously, they “adopted the behavior that seemed most appropriate given their understanding of the area’s prevailing norms,” Alter explains. If the windows are broken, it suggests the residents don't care about maintaining their aesthetics—so why should you? And if there's already mounds of garbage on the ground, what's one more coffee cup or chip bag going to hurt?

Certain cues can also sway us toward more honest behavior. Something as simple as an image of a pair of eyes can have a measurable impact on behavior. It gives the impression that you're being watched. While you could easily walk away with a free purchase in an honor-system scenario, that pair of eyeballs judging you from above the collection jar makes you think otherwise. Alter also cites another study where the installation of blue lights (resembling the hue of police car sirens) in crime-riddled cities translated to a decrease in the overall crime rate. In his book, Drunk Tank Pink, the NYU professor uncovers a host of environmental cues that have a profound impact on human nature. In his enlightening talks, he divulges the subtle, and sometimes strange, ways that the world around us influences who we are. 

Brain Vs Mind: David Eagleman On The True Driver Of Our Behavior

With the onset of President Obama's BRAIN Initiative, neuroscience has been pushed to the forefront of public discourse. David Eagleman, a renowned neuroscientist and science speaker, has argued that we've barely scratched the surface of what we know about our brains. What's more, we are still trying to uncover the way our physical brains and conscious minds intertwine. How does your brain impact what you do and how you think? Why does the mind seem oblivious to the bodily functions the brain is controlling? When you suffer a trauma or change to your brain, does the mind change with it?

“There's an enormous gap between what our mind has access to and what the brain is actually doing,” Eagleman says in a PopTech keynote he gave last year. The bestselling author explores the intriguing connection between our conscious minds and our brains. “When the brain changes, he argues, “you can change also.” This idea can have a dramatic impact on the legal system. If we learn that an otherwise normally behaved person has become suddenly violent due to a brain tumor, how does that impact the sentencing that person receives? Are they deemed responsible? Not only that, but should sentencing be altered if removing the tumor will restore their previously normal behavior?

These issues were recently addressed in The Atlantic. Eagleman shared his perspective in the article: “We may someday find that many types of bad behavior have a basic biological explanation,” he says, “[and] eventually think about bad decision making in the same way we think about any physical process, such as diabetes or lung disease.” There's still a hotly contested debate, however, over the idea of free will. Eagleman argues that whether or not it exists, it's still a small part what determines our behavior. It's mind over matter; brain over mind. In his talks, Eagleman delves into these complex questions. His keynotes are accessible and eye-opening—showing us both how much, and how little, we know about our most vital organ.

Personal Risk: Maria Konnikova On Thinking Logically—Not Emotionally

Angelina Jolie recently made headlines when she announced that she'd elected to have a preventative double mastectomy. In a provocative new Salon article, science speaker Maria Konnikova uses Jolie's case as the springboard for a discussion on evaluating personal risk. While the Mastermind author says there's much to applaud both in Jolie's decision to have the procedure and to publicly discuss it, there are negative repercussions too. That's because our risk assessments are highly influenced by our emotional feelings toward certain situations. Whether we realize it or not, we tend to ignore objective thinking in favor of emotionally-driven decision making. And, if we start to see a certain risk-prevention solution as positive, then we are more likely to chose that option. The problem is that we choose the emotional option even though it may not be the most logical or effective for us.

Take the mastectomy procedure, for example. “If we see such treatment in a positive light—say, when a celebrity we like endorses it—we are more likely to think that its potential benefits outweigh its potential risks,” Konnikova writes. This is something she calls the “affect heuristic”—and Jolie's public discussion of her procedure casts it in a positive light, despite the fact that it may not be the best choice for everyone. When we judge something as being positive, Konnikova says we tend to rate the risks as being low and the benefits high. Even if that's not the case, we act a certain way because it feels like the best course of action. “[We] focus on the positive and ignore—or rather, choose to ignore—the rest of the information,” she writes.

While this bias is extremely difficult to overcome, Konnikova says it critical that we try to think objectively about big decisions. We must, as she writes in her book, try to think like Sherlock Holmes: Embrace logic and observation, think critically, and come to an informed deduction about our actions. “At the end, medical decisions are intensely personal. Do I screen? Do I prevent?” Konnikova concludes. “There are myriad ways of being in control, and they are as far from one-size-fits-all as they come.” While Jolie's decision was right for her, it may not be for other women. We need to harness our powers of deduction to arrive at less emotionally-biased choices to determine what is right in any particular context. In her talk, Konnikova expands on the idea that Holmes' deductive thought-process is teachable. Learning to harness these skills is the key to unlocking our potential and leading happy lives.

We Can’t Keep Microbes Out: Jessica Green On The New Era Of Design

You can't see it, but there's a diverse ecosystem of microbes sharing your office with you. In fact, as science speaker Jessica Green says in a Smart Planet article, “in the place where we spend 90 percent of our lives—indoors—there’s as great a diversity as you would see in a tropical rainforest.” These microbial ecosystems are an essential part of understanding our health—and who we are as people. “It’s important to understand indoor ecosystems because they’re our primary habitat,” Green says, “They’re where we’re picking up some of the microbes that live in and on us.” Green and her team have been investigating the way that these microbial ecosystems work, and how different building designs influence our relationship with them.

She believes that smarter building design could actually help us solve some of our biggest health concerns. While years of design conspired to keep the outdoors out, Green says we need a new way of thinking. “The concept of keeping microbes out is outdated. The new way of thinking is: We know there are going to be microbes colonizing the indoor environment, unless you’re in a controlled environment like an operating room,” she tells Smart Planet. “If the indoor environment is going to be colonized by microbes, what kind of microbes do we want to be colonized with?” We can't prevent outdoor microbes from getting in. Instead, Green says we need to work with the microbes around us, instead of against them.

Green is a Senior TED Fellow, a Professor at both the University of Oregon and the Santa Fe Institute, and Director of the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center. She uses unique methods of exploring the fascinating ecosystems that surround us—even though we can't see them. Her work attempts to describe the complex microbes that make us who we are, so that we can design our lives to make us happier and healthier. In her talks, she shares her intriguing research and urges us to not only be alert to the things we can see, but also those we can't.

What’s In A Name? Science Speaker Adam Alter In The New Yorker

William Shakespeare's Juliet, from Romeo & Juliet, famously asked “What's in a name?” While she hypothesized that a “rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,” science speaker Adam Alter has documented numerous studies showing that different names actually can change how we perceive an event, an object, or a person. “Arbitrary linguistic traits have an outsized influence on our thoughts and actions,” he writes in The New Yorker. “These studies suggest a sort of linguistic Heisenberg principle: as soon as you label a concept, you change how people perceive it.” As it turns out, there's a lot more to a name than we might think.

In the article, Alter expands on some of the case studies on names that he covered in his popular new book, Drunk Tank Pink. One study he writes about looked at whether female lawyers in South Carolina were more likely to become judges if their names were “masculine.”  As Alter documents, women with names like Kerry or Jody (which are not strictly female names) became judges more often than their colleagues with more feminine names. When it comes to the way we describe events, the wording we use can impact our memories, Alter also found. For example, saying two cars “contacted” each other versus saying they “smashed” into one another can change an eye-witnesses recollection of the incident. The word “smashed” conveys more aggression, leading witnesses to recall the vehicles as moving faster than they were and causing more damage than they did. “If a single word can change how people remember an event they witnessed only minutes earlier, there isn’t much hope for eyewitnesses who recall, often months or years later, events experienced under stressful, distracted conditions,” Alter cautions.

That's why it's crucial to understand how these forces in our environment shape our behavior. As Alter explains, being wary of the word choices you make, or the way you react to certain words, can impact both the outcome of an event and the way you feel about it. That's not to say, however, that these effects are set in stone. Someone who has a name that is difficult to pronounce is not guaranteed to be less successful than someone whose name is more fluent, for example. “The effects are subtle, people with non-fluent names succeed all the time, and norms change,” Alter writes. “After three decades of fluently named Presidents—a Ronald, two Georges, and a Bill—Barack Obama ascended to the Presidency. Five years later, 'Barack' has become one of the easiest-to-pronounce names in the country.” In his talks, Alter shows his audiences how to navigate these unexpected forces to live a happier, and more cognitively healthy life.

Nathan Wolfe: Pandemics On The Rise—Virus-Eradicating Tech Close Behind

A deadly new virus, by the name of the Middle East Respiratory Symptom coronavirus (MERS), has emerged as a growing global threat. If there's anyone you want on your side to assess these kind of threats, it's science speaker and virus hunter Nathan Wolfe. In a recent edition of The National Geographic, Wolfe was asked to weigh in on the severity of the virus, what his team is doing to monitor it, and how our responses to modern pandemics has changed in recent years. “A variety of factors, including radically increased mobility among humans and animals, has undoubtedly increased the frequency of pandemics,” Wolfe says in the interview. “As we move our animals and ourselves around the world and increase the complexity of our food supply chains, we increase the probability that a new virus can spread rapidly.”

However, despite the increased frequency of pandemic outbreaks, Wolfe also says that our ability to understand and contain them has also improved. Wolfe, who established the Global Viral Initiative and Metabiota, has been intensively studying the way that pandemics spread to create an early-warning system of sorts. By collecting and studying blood samples of people and animals around the world, Wolfe has been working to determine where pandemics start and how they spread. He also works with NGOs and government agencies to combine their research and track viruses in their early stages. This kind of collaboration is vital, he argues, in order to counteract the effects of deadly diseases. “Among the exciting trends that we've seen in both the recent outbreaks of H7N9 and MERS is a high level of international collaboration and transparency. Viruses don't respect borders between countries, and our efforts to combat them must truly be global,” he tells National Geographic.

Wolfe's revolutionary research earned has him a spot as one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People in the World. He is also the author of The Viral Storm, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and a Stanford University professor. Rather than treating outbreaks after they have emerged, Wolfe is aiming to develop a way to stop them before they've even started. In his extraordinary keynotes, Wolfe gives us a peek into the life-changing research he's conducting—and shows us the possibility of a future where infectious pandemics are a relic of the past.

Mind Break: Maria Konnikova On Unlocking Creative Potential

While memories of being read Sherlock Holmes as a child always seemed to pop up throughout her life, science speaker Maria Konnikova says it wasn't until fairly recently that she re-read the books in their entirety. And when she did, she recalls being “absolutely flabbergasted at how many psychological concepts I recognized in Conan Doyle's writing.” In an interview featured on Scientific American and hosted by Blog Talk Radio, Konnikova says she eventually started annotating nearly every paragraph in the Sherlock Holmes stories because they were all so relevant to the work she was doing. Not only that, but the Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes author says it was intriguing to find these concepts appearing in work from the end of the 19th century—before psychology had became a “real science.”

In the podcast, Konnikova discusses the fascinating insights she uncovered while researching for her book. And, how she discovered a method for translating Holmes' infamous powers of focus and deduction to anyone who wnats to sharpen their own mental prowess. One piece of advice that Konnikova has picked up from studying the fictional detective was the benefit of “mind breaks.” Holmes, for example, used to play a violin or smoke his pipe when he was stumped on a case. He never stayed stuck on one problem for very long, Konnikova says. “It can't be something that we are struggling with,” she notes. But if we allow ourselves to step outside the problem and work on something else that comes easily to us, we may encounter creative breakthroughs we wouldn't have otherwise. She also notes that taking a walk in nature can help to unlock hidden creative potential.

In the interview, she also explores Holmes' ever-present mindfulness—his ability to be fully engrossed in the moment and see the world around him in a truly unique way. Intriguing revelations like this has earned Mastermind a spot on The New York Times Bestseller List. A doctoral candidate in Psychology at Columbia University and the author of the “Literally Psyched” column for Scientific American, Konnikova translates her book into customizable talks. Whether you are curious about how to sharpen your perceptions, solve difficult problems, or enhance your creative powers, Konnikova can show you how anyone can think like Holmes.

Constrained Creativity: Janna Levin On Experimenting In The Sciences

Not only is science speaker Janna Levin a well-known theoretical astrophysicist who studies the intricacies of black holes and the big bang, she is also a PEN Award-winning author. Her books—How The Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines—bridge fiction and non-fiction, science and literature, and provide a complex but digestible account of some of the most fascinating theories about the universe. Her career path has been somewhat unconventional, to say the least. As Levin explains in an new interview hosted by Scientific American's Jennifer Ouellette on Blog Talk Radio, she grew up as an “arty kid.” She loved books, reading, and all kinds of art—though a strong scientific inquiry existed within her. She just hadn't realized it yet. Up until college, Levin recalls thinking that “physicists built bombs and memorized equations and were uncreative, soulless people.” However, one day she says she “sort of just got it.” It was then that she decided to dig deeper into math and physics and pursue a career in the sciences.

What drew her to these disciplines was the universality of them. No matter where you were from or what your belief system was, 1+1 equals 2 for everyone, everywhere. The language of math and science was the same for everyone who studied it and it provided a way to understand the world. While she admits to being somewhat “math-phobic” for a long time, she eventually came to realize that mathematicians and scientists were just as creative as artists—only in a different way. They exercise what Levin calls “creative constraint.” They operate within a set of rules and experiment within those constraints. The same is true for fiction, she explains. If you create a story wherein anything can happen, then no one cares about the story anymore.

However, Levin is quick to point out that having constraints does not mean that you are rigidly confined to a set of parameters all of the time. Once you develop a set of rules that you abide by on the whole, “you can break those rules—but you break them intelligently,” she says. Once she understood this, she says she stopped thinking of scientists and mathematicians as rigid, non-creative people. And, as she explains in this interview and in her mind-bending talks, she has begun to exercise constrained creativity herself in exploring the universe. “In short, what's exciting to me,” Levin says of the future of her research, “is that there are mysteries that we don't know the answer to—and they're big ones.”

Adam Alter: Why Don’t We Know What Cues Are Driving Our Behavior?

In his new book, Drunk Tank Pink, science speaker Adam Alter has uncovered some fascinating findings about how cues in our environment impact our behavior. Since scientists are now able to pinpoint these cues, Malcolm Gladwell asks Alter why we can't identify them as they happen to us. Why aren't we able to tell that the color red, for example, is prone to inciting attraction? Why aren't we aware that a certain stock will do better than another on the market if its name is easily pronounceable? Why, as Gladwell asks Alter in a special discussion about Drunk Tank Pink, do the impacts of these cues always come as such a surprise?

As Alter explains, the feedback our minds receive about stimuli in our environment is extremely complex. Often it is “so murky and so noisy that it doesn't correspond to the nature of the effect,” he says. Due to this, our minds have become extremely skilled at fabricating explanations for our behavior. Even, Alter notes, if those explanations are not entirely accurate. He cites a classic study where people were asked to choose their preferred brand of pantyhose. Each person developed a rationale for picking one over the other—even though all three pairs they were asked to choose from were exactly the same. As Alter tells Gladwell, many of the cues that impact our behavior are not blatantly obvious. That's why we develop other explanations for our actions and often allow the real driving force behind what we do to go unnoticed.

The implications of Alter's work is extremely far-reaching and customizable. In his book, he covers everything from the way names affect how we donate to disaster relief to the way judges prosecute criminals. When he takes the stage, he discusses a myriad of environmental cues that define the way we live. Most of which, he notes, do so without us even realizing it. By becoming aware of these cues and their effect on us, Alter argues we can craft happier, healthier, and more productive lives.

Stocks & Sexual Attraction: Adam Alter & Malcolm Gladwell On Environmental Cues

“I think the effects of nature on behavior, our cognition, how we feel and think and react to all sorts of stresses, I think those effects are phenomenal, profound, and very powerful,” science speaker Adam Alter told Malcolm Gladwell recently. The two authors, gathered to celebrate Alter's New York Times bestseller Drunk Tank Pink, spoke in front of a capacity crowd in New York City. (Check out the video above!) Gladwell , the night’s host, said that one of the “great things” about the book was the scope of its research. Indeed, Alter's writing investigates the myriad ways that environmental cues, even small ones, affect our mood and behavior.

While he jokes that it's hard to pick favorites from all the cues he has studied, some of the effects he finds the most interesting are those which are name-related. He discovered, for example, that simple names tend to be associated with positive results. “We've found that people rise up the legal hierarchy in a law firm more quickly when you can pronounce their names more easily,” he says. This effect is also true in the stock market, he tells Gladwell. The more pronounceable stocks “tend to do better in the first week of trading,” he notes. As for the physiological cues, the color red seems to have a correlation with sexual interest. When we see a red shirt, or a flushed red face, Alter says we associate that with piqued interest. This then causes us to become more attracted to the person exhibiting these cues.

Because Alter has covered such a diverse selection of effects and cues in his book, the applications of his research are extremely far-reaching and customizable. He explains what impacts the way investment decisions are influenced by environmental cues, how social interactions between people are shaped, how judges prosecute, the way consumers spend—and everything in between. In his talks, Alter shows us how we can take these findings and apply them to our lives. Leaders, policymakers, and organizations can draw from his insightful findings to create more cognitively healthy environments.

Uncertainty Scares Us: Maria Konnikova On Overcoming our Need For Closure

“The human mind is incredibly averse to uncertainty and ambiguity,” science speaker Maria Konnikova explains in an intriguing new post in The New Yorker. “From an early age, we respond to uncertainty or lack of clarity by spontaneously generating plausible explanations.” We have developed a “Need For Closure,” says Konnikova. Because of our desire to quickly glean a concrete explanation of the events taking place around us, we can sometimes “produce fewer hypotheses and search less thoroughly for information.” In short, our overwhelming urge to have all the answers can lead us to make errors in judgment or become resistant to alternative explanations and ways of thinking.

As the author of Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Konnikova has done extensive research on the pitfalls of rushing into a solution to a problem. In her book, she explains how you can think like Holmes—the famed fictional detective—and increase your creativity, productivity, and expand your mental capacity. When you employ similar problem-solving strategies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's sleuth, and allow yourself time to analyze the problem from multiple angles, you often arrive at better conclusions. This can be extremely difficult for most of us to do, though. Especially, Konnikova adds, when we are in a high-stress crisis or emergency situation.

“Maintaining of cool and levelheadedness is not an easy feat, especially in the face of circumstances that urge us all toward some—any—resolution just to regain a measure of sanity in the middle of ever-increasing uncertainty,” she says. However, it's not impossible to overcome this urge. In her book and her enlightening talks, she explains how to train yourself to think deeper and not rush to conclusions. We may not all be naturally inclined to think like a detective and sleuth out all possible solutions—but we can be taught. Drawing on neuroscience and psychology, she uncovers the deductive that most of us don't even know we had, andteaches us to harness them to lead more productive lives.

Janna Levin: Are There Some Theories We Will Never Understand?

In a talk Janna Levin gave for TVO's Big Ideas Series (embedded above), the science speaker says an idea presented in her book, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, still haunts her today and influences the work she does as a mathematical physicist. The book is a cross between science and fiction that chronicles the lives of Kurt Godel and Alan Turing. As she discusses in the book, these two mathematicians proved that “there can be no mathematical theory of everything.” There are some proofs that can never be proven to be true, Levin explains, because they are simply beyond mathematical comprehension. This is an idea that Levin says “terrified her.” Especially because her work revolves around trying to find a theory of everything, and prove that all physical phenomena are linked and the outcome of any experiment can be predicted and proven in principle.

In a mix of mind-bending mathematical theory, logical paradoxes, and fascinating biographical analysis, Levin weaves through disciplines to present a fascinating depiction of how we view our world—and the people who helped shape that view. In her talks, Levin delves into complex ideas that she explains with great clarity. Her material often takes a great deal of time to process, but instead of conusing her audiences, she leaves them riveted, perplexed, and informed. As well as being an author, she is also a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University and a new Guggenheim Fellow. She conveys her research, in all mediums, with a compelling narrative style that takes audiences on a journey through our world that sticks with them long after the presentation is over.

Sustainability vs Destruction: Jared Diamond’s Keynote On Climate Change

“The metaphor that I think of for the state of the world at the moment is that we are engaged in a horse race,” science speaker Jared Diamond says in an Earth Day keynote, “a race between the horse of destruction and the horse of sustainability.” This horse-race-as-climate-change metaphor, he explains, is not a normal race, either. The competing forces are moving at rapidly accelerating paces rather than moving together at a similar speed. While the forces of sustainability are getting stronger (with more big businesses, government agencies, and ordinary citizens taking climate change seriously), so too are the forces of destruction (population growth and the first signs of dramatic environmental change). The race against climate change, Diamond says, is currently neck-and-neck.

What then, he asks, can we do to ensure that the horse of sustainability wins the race? Many people feel as though their modest contributions to climate change prevention will not be enough to solve the world's problems. And, Diamond admits, this is probably true. However, you shouldn't look at it as trying to solve everything all on your own. Rather, he recommends focusing on something that you can change in your local environment. Then, multiply your own contributions by the number of other people doing the same thing—and instantly you can see the large-scale change that takes place when people contribute what they can. He also suggests supporting local organizations that are making positive contributions to a more sustainable future. And, finally, he says that it is important to be involved in civic actions that put leaders in power who have plans to promote sustainability. Voting, for example, is a key component to this—and something that, sadly, too few citizens do.

Diamond is hopeful that the increasing percentage of the population that is taking climate change seriously will help to win the race on environmental protection. His talks are not anti-business, or anti-government. Rather, he presents inspirational accounts of how investing in the future of the planet can be profitable for everyone. While it may seem overwhelming, the Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist stresses that action by some prompts eventual action by many. The more people put in, the more change we will start to see. This creates a domino effect and eventually turns environmental conservation from the dream of a few, to a prosperous reality for all.

Prospect‘s World Thinkers List Includes Four Of Lavin’s Exclusive Speakers!

Prospect Magazine has released its list of World Thinkers 2013—naming four of Lavin's exclusive speakers to the ranks! Rounding out the top 3 was science speaker Steven Pinker for the ideas presented in his latest book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. Also honored on the list was Jared Diamond, James Robinson, and Daron Acemoglu. Prospect says they based their selections on the influence each nominee has had over the past 12 months, and how significant their ideas will be for the coming year. After selecting a pool of nominees, “more than 10,000 votes from over 100 countries,” were tabulated to present a list of thinkers that represent the “intellectual trends that dominate our age.”

Pinker's appearance on the list, Prospect writes, “demonstrates the public appetite for serious, in-depth thinking in the age of the TED talk.” They also say that his book (which they describe as “a panoramic sweep through history”) was one of the most “successful recent 'ideas books'” published in the past year. “Whether writing about evolutionary psychology, linguistics or history,” writes Prospect, “what unites Pinker’s work is a fascination with human nature and an enthusiasm for sharing new discoveries in accessible, elegant prose.”

As for Diamond, his inclusion signifies an admission that people are keen on understanding how society has evolved into what it is today. In his new book, The World Until Yesterday, Diamond shows us how traditional societies compare to our own—and how that can help us make better decisions about the direction we take going forward. Acemoglu and Robinson, in their breakaway hit Why Nations Fail, explain why some countries are economically successful while others fail. Whether it's in their writing or their sweeping talks, all four of these speakers are clearly influencing the way we think about our world.

Why We Do What We Do: Malcolm Gladwell Interviews Adam Alter

In Drunk Tank Pink, science speaker Adam Alter lists example after example of unexpected cues in our environment that shape and influence our behavior. He explains that everything from the color of your shirt to the first initial of your name can profoundly influence how you—and others you come into contact with—behave. If these effects are so profound, however, why is it that they are not obvious to us while they are happening? That's one of the questions bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell asked Alter in an interview conducted late last month.

The feedback our brains get about what is going on around us tends to be very convoluted and difficult to dissect, Alter explains. Because of this, it becomes difficult to pinpoint why we are being swayed one way or the other. As such, we become very good at fabricating explanations for why we do what we do—even if what we come up with isn't the root cause of our actions. Rarely do we rebel against the forces that impact our actions, Alter says. And, the fact that people don't know they are being swayed means that these environmental cues are very difficult to overcome.

“The link between knowing the effect exists and knowing what to do about it is critical,” Alter adds. Now that we know these cues exist, we can start to manipulate them to induce more positive behaviors. In his keynotes, he presents his eye-opening findings and pairs them with practical actions. For example, changing the language used to describe a car accident (the car was “hit” versus the car was “smashed”) can alter eye-witness accounts. If aware of this phenomenon, lawyers can then make note of how language impacts memory to make the most out of witness testimonials. Or, as another example, Alter says we can increase hurricane relief donations by changing the way we name the storms. Since people are prone to give 50 per cent more money to a storm relief effort when the storm shares the first initial of their name—we can manipulate how we name storms to ensure the maximum amount of donations. The more we learn about how our environment shapes our cognitive processing, says Alter, the more apt we will become at manufacturing cognitively healthy environments.

Drunk Tank Pink: Adam Alter Sees The Color As An “Emblem” For His Book

Science speaker Adam Alter says Drunk Tank Pink (the name of his new book) is the same hue as “the worst antibiotic you had to take as a kid.” This “bright pinkish, sickening color,” seems to have powerfully positive impacts on those exposed to it. In fact, it has been shown that this particular color has a widespread calming effect. In one of his keynotes, Alter discusses the history of this color and why he chose to name his book after it.

“It's an emblem, I think, for a lot of the effects I talk about in the book,” Alter explains to the audience in his talk. “It arose out of nowhere,” he continues, “people couldn't believe that something so innocuous as a color could have such powerful effects, and yet it seems to have those effects.” Gaining traction in the 1960s, the color proved effective in calming disruptive students, violent prison inmates, and even took some of the spark out of rowdy football players. Multiple tests all came to the same conclusion: The color had systematic effects on human behavior.

The impact of this color—and other forces in the world around us—on the way we think, feel, and act is explored in depth in Alter's book and speeches. Currently the Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU’s Stern School of Business and Psychology Department, Alter analyzes the way judgment, behavior, and decision-making intersects with behavioral economics and marketing. His research is both fun to read, and practical in application. When we discover what external forces are driving the things we do, we can then adjust to live happier, healthier, and more productive lives.

Inception: David Eagleman Critiques The Film’s Perception Of Time & Dreams

Inception, the nearly one billion dollar-grossing blockbuster film from director Christopher Nolan, explores the way our brains perceive time in relation to dreams. While it may not have gotten the facts exactly spot-on, neuroscience speaker David Eagleman still found it to be compelling fodder for further discussion. As the renowned neuroscientist tells Metro, he wanted the film to be featured in BAM Cinematek’s Science on Screen series because its themes directed related to “scientific issues that are very close to [his] heart.”

Eagleman says he first became intrigued by the way our minds perceive time after falling off of a house. “I had lots of thoughts on the way down,” he says in the Metro interview. “When I got older I realized the whole thing took place in a fraction of a second. I was fascinated by that, so I became a neuroscientist.” This week, Eagleman gave a lecture about time and dreams after a screening of Inception. While he says that dreams don't actually move in slow motion, as they do in the film, the way Nolan portrayed the dreams themselves was indeed accurate. He also notes that, despite criticism about how mundane the dreams were in Inception, he believes that it actually added to the film. “The whole key about dreams is that whatever your brain serves up, you buy it, hook, line and sinker,” Eagleman says. “When you’re inside the dream, you feel like this is reality, even if bizarre stuff is happening. If you put in bizarre magical creatures, then the audience would not enjoy that benefit of feeling like this is reality.”

In this talk, Eagleman discussed complex neurological phenomenons with clarity and zeal. However, he is quick to point out that the work he is doing may one day be overturned. “The exciting part of science is we’re just at the foot of that mountain. Whatever I say on Monday night might turn out to be totally wrong.” This is not unlike the work of Sam Arbesman, the author of The Half-Life of Facts. He too believes that scientific fact has an expiry date—but that the overturning of truth is what makes the quest for knowledge so exciting. In his keynotes, Eagleman shows us how much—but also how little—we know about our minds. The research he shares with his audiences is not only eye-opening, but also prompts us to re-think all that we previously thought about the way our brains truly work.

Jared Diamond: What Can New Guinean Conflict Teach Us About Modern War?

When science speaker Jared Diamond first went to New Guinea to study birds, he never imagined his travels would soon take him in an entirely different direction. In his new book, The World Until Yesterday, Diamond chronicles the experiences he had living with the traditional New Guinean society, and why he ultimately choose to study people instead of birds. And, he explores the lessons we can learn from analyzing the way these people live. As he says in a new interview, one of the main differences between our two societies is the role that war plays in our lives.

Diamond recounts waking up one morning to see New Guinean children playing around him with bows and arrows. While the arrows were made of grass spears and would hurt—but not kill—their targets, it's still important to note these kids were indeed playing war. While he says some people romanticize traditional society as a peaceful place, the reality is quite different. War was an ongoing and constant aspect of New Guinean life. And, despite the fact that their overall population is much lower than many modern societies (making the body count of war much lower) more people die of violence proportionally in traditional societies. In fact, he argues that “you had a lower change of dying in Polland in WWII [which had some of the worst death tolls in the 20th century] than in almost any traditional society in a year.” One of the highest one-day death tolls in New Guinean history was 125 people. Now, compare that to Hiroshima where around 100,000 people were killed in a single day. While the two may seem incomparable, Diamond explains that those 125 New Guineans made up 5 per cent of the population. The victims of the Hiroshima bombing, however, only made up 1/3000th of the total population.

Another thing to note, he says, is that deaths in New Guinean warfare are not limited to male soldiers—they also include women and young children. And, they opt to kill everyone they capture rather than take them hostage. What has this research taught Diamond about modern versus traditional war? It's important to remember that people are people, he says. “They do things [in traditional society] that seem horrible to us, and we do things that seem horrible to them.” We can take comfort in knowing that many modern societies have advanced beyond the brutally violent nature of constant, ongoing war. On the other hand, the way these societies care for their elderly and manage risk are behaviors that we can learn from. In his award-winning book, and his fascinating keynotes, Diamond shows us a world much unlike our own—and explains how much we can learn from traditional societies.

Behind The Name: Adam Alter Tells BigThink What Inspired Drunk Tank Pink

Why did science speaker Adam Alter decide to title his new book after a shade of pink that once graced the inside of jail cells? As he explains in a new BigThink segment, Drunk Tank Pink—which is the name of this unique shade of pink, and the title of Alter's book—was originally used to pacify violent people. In the 1960s, psychologists in Canada found that painting school hallways pink tended to make the students calmer, less aggressive, and more engaged. When hearing about these results, Naval officers in Seattle wanted to see if this color would have the same impact on violent criminals. It did. As Alter cites, the officers found that putting dangerous inmates in these pink jail cells (often referred to as drunk tanks) for 15 minutes dramatically decreased their aggressive behavior. In fact, “over a 9 month period, there wasn't a single violent or aggressive incident,” he says.

Why did this color have such a profound impact on those who saw it? Alter says there are several theories. One theory is that there's something about the way the color hits the eyes that triggers a calming response in our brains. Alter says he isn't completely sold on this theory. “I think the better explanation is probably about our expectations and our associations when we see the color pink,” he tells BigThink, “but that complexity, I think, is what's present in a lot of the examples in the book.” In Drunk Tank Pink, Alter explores the environmental cues that impact how we think, act, and feel. Sometimes, these forces are at work without us even being conscious of them. Want to get more hits to your online dating profile? Having trouble getting any one to pick you up while hitchhiking? Alter suggests wearing the color red. Want to get more people to donate to a disaster relief fund? Alter tells Lavin there's evidence to suggest we're more likely to give money to victims of a storm named after us or containing the first initial of our name.

In his book, Alter supplies us with the ammo to better understand the environmental cues that impact the way we live. On stage, Alter expands on his intriguing research. With applications that span from the health and education sectors, to the boardroom, government, and justice departments (to name a few), the ideas in Drunk Tank Pink can help us craft better policy and live better lives. Whether it's in the lectures he gives as the Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU, in media appearances, or in stunning keynotes, Alter shows us why we do the things we do. And, he shows us how we can apply this newfound knowledge to be more productive and live happier lives.

What’s In A Label? Adam Alter On How Names & Colors Affect Our Behavior

Drunk Tank Pink. Not only is that the name of the new book from science speaker Adam Alter, but it also embodies the idea that unconscious cues from our environment directly impact our behavior. As Alter says in a new interview on NPR's Science Friday, this Pepto-Bismol, bubblegum-like shade of pink was proven to have a dramatically noticeable calming effect on prisoners held in cells painted that color. In the interview, he unpacks this theory in more depth—sharing several eye-opening cues that affect the way we think, act, and feel.

We have all heard the term 'dress to impress', but, few of us know that those wearing red shirts tend to give the best impressions. According to Alter, people who wore red shirts in their online dating profile pictures tended to receive much more attention than those who did not. Here's some more food for thought—hitchhikers tend to be picked up more often if they are wearing red shirts, also (something to keep in mind in case you ever finding yourself thumbing for a ride on the interstate).

Alter's findings have a plethora of applications ranging from every day living, to treating sick patients in a hospital, and even to the stock market. For example, stocks that had names or ticket codes that were easier to pronounce (or, as Alter says, were more fluent) tended to do much better on the market. Another of Alter's applications translates to the classroom and describes how labeling children can directly impact their performance. Children who were labeled as academic bloomers, for example, outperformed other children not labeled as such by an average of 10-15 IQ points. Alter, the Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU’s Stern School of Business and Psychology Department, custom tailors his findings to each audience. He shows us how we can understand—and manipulate—these cues to create healthier and more productive environments.

Nature Sharpens Our Minds: Adam Alter’s Highly Shared Atlantic Article

Why did some patients recovering from gallbladder surgery in Pennsylvania recover quicker than others? As science speaker Adam Alter proposes, a picturesque view of natural surroundings may have attributed to their speedy recovery. In an excerpt of his book Drunk Tank Pink: The Unexpected Forces That Shape Our Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors, Alter explains that, despite receiving identical treatment, “by some measures, patients who gazed out at a natural scene were four times better off than those who faced a wall.” The benefits of being engrossed in a natural environment extend beyond the hospital room.

In the excerpt—recently published in The Atlantic—Alter explores the impact that nature has on the well being, wealth, health, and wisdom of those with cancer, Attention Deficit Disorder, and those operating in high stress environments. Alter's findings have touched a nerve: the article has been shared over 10,000 times on Facebook, over 1,000 times on Twitter, and prompted a lively discussion on the comment forum. He claims that nature acts as a restorative element in our lives. “While man-made landscapes bombard us with stimulation, their natural counterparts give us the chance to think as much or as little as we'd like, and the opportunity to replenish exhausted mental resources,” he says. Some findings even suggest that merely looking at a natural setting through a window can be more restorative to someone's mental acuity than playing outside in a man-made location.

“Attention is obviously a long way from recovery,” he is quick to point out, “but patients with sharper minds often respond better to treatment, stick to their treatment regimens, and behave more proactively during recovery. Of course, nature is not a panacea, but it's an inexpensive and effective tool for dampening the impact of illness, and dulling the intrusion of everyday stress.” In his book, his keynotes, and his lectures as the Assistant Professor of Marketing at NYU's Stern School of Business, Alter shows us the profound effects that unexpected cues can have on the way we think and feel. His insights are both intriguing and practical—shedding light on why we think the way we do and how to use that knowledge to be happier and more productive.

We Need To Value Our Elderly: Jared Diamond at National Geographic Live

Measured on the time scale of human evolution, science speaker Jared Diamond says that people were living in traditional societies until virtually yesterday. That's why his most recent New York Times bestselling book is titled The World Until Yesterday. And, it's why he argues that we have a great deal to learn from these societies even today.
In his talk at National Geographic Live, Diamond unpacked the key themes from his book, focusing on one chapter in particular: the aging process.

As he told the packed audience, we're getting a lot of things wrong when it comes to the care of our elderly in society today. “The lives of the elderly constitute a disaster area of modern society,” he argues. “We can surely do better by learning from the lives of the elderly in traditional societies.” Diamond, who is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, has seen the way these traditional societies treat their elderly first hand. In some hunter-gatherer societies, where they are forced to continually shift camps, the provisions simply do not exist to continue to care for older people who are not able-bodied, contributing members of the group. While it seems cruel to us here in modern society to simply abandon or cease caring for the elderly, Diamond notes that we face similar choices here when we have to decide on medical care for our aging spouses and relatives.

On a more positive note, however, he also says that societies in New Guinea are actually more devoted to the care of their elderly than we are in modern society. In fact, he argues that he hasn't seen a Western society as devoted as they are in terms of caring for aging populations. These societies place great value on the elderly, because they have a wealth of valuable experience and knowledge to pass on to younger generations. This is especially true in non-literate traditional societies where the wisdom imparted by older community members can literally be the difference between life and death. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author urges us to reconsider how we view and treat the elderly in modern society. Since there are so many of them living here today—with many more to come as the baby boom ages and life expectancy increases—it is crucial that we take the lessons of other societies seriously and place a higher value on the more experienced part of the population.

Can We Design Buildings To Make Us Healthier? Jessica Green At TED [VIDEO]

“Everything is covered in invisible ecosystems made of tiny lifeforms: bacteria, viruses, and fungi,” science speaker Jessica Green reveals in an exciting new TED Talk. “Our desks, our computers, our pencils, our buildings—all harbor resident microbial landscapes.” If we know that these worlds exist—even though they are invisible—why shouldn't we develop all of our products and structures to positively interact with these microbial ecosystems? And, as Green adds, why not design them to interact with our own personal ecosystems, as well? Considering there are trillions of microbes in the human body that interact with other systems of microbes every time we touch something, designing our buildings with that in mind could be tremendously beneficial to our health.

“I get asked all the time by people if it's really possible to design microbial ecosystems,” Green says in the talk, “and I believe the answer is 'yes.'” In fact, she says we are doing it right now—we're just not aware of it. Using a visualization tool she is developing in partnership with AutoDesk, Green presents a compelling account of the way we are consciously, and unconsciously, affecting these invisible, microbial worlds. She showed the audience how microbes travel and are dispersed in buildings—often by people and by the air. If we can understand how these microbes travel, she believes we can design buildings that reduce the spread of dangerous germs that cause illness and infection. Further, we can also do the reverse, by designing in such a way that accommodates the microbes we want (the good ones with health benefits) into our products and buildings. This type of conscious approach to design (which she calls 'Bioinformed Design') is possible—and it has the potential to change the world.

Green is known for using non-traditional tools like visualization to open our eyes to the complex microbial world that exists around us. A TED Senior Fellow, a Professor at both the University of Oregon and the Santa Fe Institute, and director of the Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center, Green conducts exciting research in sustainability and human health. Her work has been recognized internationally and she was awarded the 2012 Portland Monthly Brainstorm award as one of eight “innovators changing our world.” While we make decisions every day based on the visible world around us, Green wants us to think about what we can't see, as well. Our microbes are a big part of who we are—and it's time we started consciously incorporating them into our lives.

Personalized Medicine: Science Speaker Nina Tandon On Tissue Design at TED

Each individual's body is complexly unique. The problem with this, science speaker Nina Tandon says in a TED Talk, is that it can lead to major complications when you fall ill. Since our bodies are all different, and react differently and unpredictably to standard medical treatments, it can be difficult to treat health problems using a one-size-fits-all model. In her talk, Tandon presents a potential solution—personalized medical treatments that are tested on organs mimicking those of the patient. The tissue engineer and TED Fellow is on her way to doing exactly that—experimenting with pluripotent stem cells and computer chips to test drugs and treatments on miniature organs.

“One day,” she says “we hope that these tissues can act as replacement parts for the human body.” For now, however, Tandon is using her miniature organs as models to expedite and improve the drug testing phase. Currently, it costs billions of dollars and takes years for a drug to go from concept to market. Not only that, but even when it reaches the market, it can cause unpredictable reactions in different patients. Tandon's model organs provide a less expensive and less time consuming method than traditional testing. And, these tissues mimic the human response to drugs much more effectively than using rats. Tandon explains that perhaps the most intriguing part of her research is that her team can grow any kind of tissue from an individual's cells—and they will mimic that person's reactions specifically. Her methods even possess the potential to generate tissue from people with genetic diseases, so researchers can provide better treatments for people with specific ailments.

“Essentially, we're dramatically speeding up that feedback between developing a molecule and learning how it acts in the human body,” she concludes. “Our process for doing this is essentially transforming biotechnology and pharmacology into an information technology—helping us discover and evaluate drugs faster, more cheaply, and more effectively.” While she isn't quite at that stage yet, Tandon is well on her way to developing revolutionary medical advancements. In her exciting talks and post-secondary lectures, she explores the future of tissue engineering and the unbelievable potential that exists within the field.

Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter Will “Change The Way You Look At Our World”

How does the name you give a child affect what other people think about them? What do weather patterns have to do with our thoughts, feelings, and actions? Science speaker Adam Alter has the answers—and they're all contained in his fascinating new book Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave. Released today, the book is a compelling look into the cues and forces that affect how humans think, feel, and act—some of which we'd never suspect.

The book outlines three major categories that these cues fall into: those that make up the world within us (the cues that we process independently of other people); the world between us (the cues that arise when we experience life in the presence of other people); and the world around us (the cues that make up the physical world). When combined, these forces are a major factor in determining our well being, wealth, health, and wisdom. An Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology at NYU’s Stern School of Business and Psychology Department, Alter's work focuses on the intersection of marketing, behavioral economics, and the psychology of judgment and decision-making. The book has gotten tons of positive press so far, even sparking the interest of Malcolm Gladwell who will interview Alter in New York on March 27. (Event details available here). Here's a few of the glowing reviews that have come in so far:

“You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll shake your head in disbelief as Alter shows you that we are all, to some degree, balls in a giant pinball machine. If you want to see the bumpers — and regain some control of your destiny — read this delightful book.”  — Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind
“With remarkable clarity and subversive humor, Alter presents a radical new perspective on human nature.”
Paul Bloom, author of How Pleasure Works
“Drunk Tank Pink is a smart and delightful introduction to some of psychology’s most curious phenomena and most colorful characters.” — Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
“Reading Adam Alter’s book will change the way you look at our world.” — Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational
“I guarantee you’ll want to share the incredible anecdotes in Drunk Tank Pink with friends.” — Joshua Foer, author of Moonwalking with Einstein
“A fascinating compendium of the hidden currents that influence our thoughts, beliefs, and actions.”
Gary Marcus, New Yorker columnist, and author of Guitar Zero
“Adam Alter’s book about the many ways our perceptions are affected is so compelling that it put me in a seriously suspicious frame of mind…Alter’s book is essentially a compendium of such studies, with a refreshing lack of editorializing; he seems to realize that his material does not require much to make it fascinating—not even a fancy font.” The Smithsonian (a “Notable Book”)
“Adam Alter has applied his own inquisitiveness to compose a fascinating tome about the hidden things that make us think, act, and feel the way we do. The debut result will please readers of Malcolm Gladwell and other writers about unexpected wonders. Editor's recommendation.”Barnes & Noble (A “Book of the Month” and “Editor's Recommendation” book)

Does Free Will Exist? David Eagleman Discusses Human Nature In TIME

“Under certain circumstances it might be useful to drop the question of free will and just assume that people are not at all the same on the inside,” science speaker David Eagleman says in a new interview in TIME.  “For example, if you were to look at Ted Bundy and say, well, I use my free will to make terrific choices in life and Ted Bundy over there had used his free will to make terrible decisions in life. What would be missing from that narrative is the fact that your brain and his brain are totally different.” There's a lot about our brains that we still have yet to uncover. As Eagleman says in this article, free will is one element of brain function that he doesn't think has been definitely proven yet. What is clear, however, is that each of our brains develops differently based on a combination of our genetic makeup and our environment. The complex ways in which our genes and environmental cues combine sends each of our brains on a different “developmental trajectory.” How they combine and impact us, however, is still extremely convoluted.

How we come to do the things we do, and what makes us who we are, are questions that the Obama administration hope to answer in their new brain map project. Eagleman—who directs Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law and is the bestselling author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain—believes that the $3 billion initiative will be a good investment. While we have become more adept at diagnosing brain diseases and problems with brain function, we haven't been able to effectively treat these illnesses. In his talks and his media appearances, he prompts audiences to rethink what they know about the brain and to dig deeper into the way our minds work.

As he tells TIME, we still do not completely understand why we do the things we do. What we can do in the present, however, is acknowledge that not all brains work the same way. We then have to analyze people's actions with that in mind—and determine what the most appropriate consequences for their actions would be. “In the case of drug addicts, can you rehabilitate them?” he asks. “In the case of people who have mental illness, can you work to help them and reintegrate them into society?” Or, he adds, “in the case of somebody who’s really dangerous and aggressive, you might have to lock that person up.” The more we study the brain, the more we can learn about who we are and what drives our behavior. And, the more we learn, the more it becomes obvious that we still have a great deal to learn about humanity's true nature.

Traditional Cultures Are Like Experiments In Human Society: Jared Diamond [VIDEO]

In a short new segment with Bookworld, Jared Diamond provides an overview of the scope and tone of his new bestseller, The World Until Yesterday. The book, he explains, creates a framework for looking at what small, traditional societies can teach us in the industrialized world. “[These societies] are like thousands of different experiments in how to run a human society,” he says, “they face the same problems that all of us do, they bring up children, they grow old, they have problems of health, they face dangers, they have religion. In some of those respects they are very different from us, in some of those respects, we prefer the way we've got it.”

Diamond doesn't suggest that after reading his book, we will want to convert back to a more traditional society where we live in tribes and operate without centralized government. However, he does say that we can stand to learn a thing or two from these cultures. We can apply these lessons to our own lives, including tips on child-rearing, how to think clearly about danger, and how to stay happy, healthy, and useful as we move into old age. As Diamond explains, he wrote the book partially because he found these societies fascinating, but also because he felt that there was something we could all learn from studying the way they live.

Earlier this year, Diamond presented his book at a free talk in conjunction with The New School and The Lavin Agency. An award-winning author and scientist, Diamond takes his audiences to the far regions of the world—and shows them how the things they've learned can apply to their lives here at home.

Science Speaker Adam Alter: Thinking About Thinking

In a new talk with Edge.org, science speaker and NYU Professor Adam Alter discussed the role that metacognition plays in our lives. He isn't studying what people are thinking, so much as what is it like to think. As he explains there are two layers to our thought process: the basic level where we process thoughts, and an “overlayed experience” where we think about how these thoughts affect us. While we think about something, we simultaneously wonder if we are having a hard time processing that thought and if we fully comprehend it. This process takes place on a continuum, he says, that ranges from fluent to disfluent.

Fluent thoughts are ones that are easily processed by your brain. For example, Alter says that if you speak English and come across a common English name it is often less difficult to process than a non-English name you haven't seen many times. The difficult thoughts, on the other hand, fall on the disfluent end of the spectrum. His forthcoming book, Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, builds off of this research. For example, Alter says that you can take this basic idea and expand it to better understand how people make judgments, based on where their thoughts fall on the fluency scale. “People feel more positive about stuff that's easier to process,” he adds. Generally speaking, if we feel more positive about something (or someone), our thought process is much different than if we do not.

In the book and in his talks, Alter shares intriguing insights on the way that cognitive responses to external influences shape the decisions we make. Widely applicable to many audiences, he explores the ways that understanding how we think about our thoughts—and how different environments influence those thoughts—can help us better interact with one another. Not only that, but he shows us how to apply these ideas at the upper tiers of management and leadership to ensure that our work environments are promoting positive interactions—and productive employees in the process.

Constructive Paranoia: Jared Diamond On Managing Risk In Traditional Society

You may not realize it, but you have a near death experience every time you step into the shower. According to Jared Diamond, it's important to be attentive to “hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently.” This includes sudsing up in your shower. If you take one shower a day for 365 days, Diamond has calculated that your risk of having an accident is 1 in 5,475. Now, this may seem alarmist and slightly paranoid, but this “Constructive Paranoia” has been saving the lives of New Guineans for years. Given that Diamond's New York Times feature on the subject is one of the top five most-emailed articles on the site, many North Americans are putting stock in this idea as well.

Diamond, author of the new book The World Until Yesterday, says that his time studying the tribes of New Guinea brought him new perspective on managing risk. In New Guinea, he says that they have to think very clearly about danger given that there are no police or 911 personnel to help them. North Americans, however, tend to focus on the wrong types of danger. “It turns out that we exaggerate the risks of events that are beyond our control, that cause many deaths at once or that kill in spectacular ways—crazy gunmen, terrorists, plane crashes, nuclear radiation, genetically modified crops,” he writes. “At the same time, we underestimate the risks of events that we can control ('That would never happen to me—I’m careful') and of events that kill just one person in a mundane way.” It's not that Diamond avoids walking on sidewalk cracks or never showers for fear he may fall and become injured. However, he does think critically about these everyday hazards that, if he was careless, could cause harm.

He attributes his new-found hypervigilance to being told by his New Guinean friends to not sleep under old trees for fear they may fall down and crush him. Although he thought it was an overly cautious suggestion at first, he notes that he fell asleep to the sounds of trees falling many nights and his own wife was nearly crushed by tumbling timber. It is lessons like this that he writes about in The World Until Yesterday and shares in his keynotes. The Pulitzer Prize-winner and MacArthur Genius says that we have much to learn from the past. By being open to the practices of societies different than our own, we allow ourselves to become more productive—and safer—citizens.

We Live In The Past: David Eagleman On Our Perception Of Time [VIDEO]

Why is it that time seems to speed up as we get older and slow down drastically when we're in a life-threatening situation? In a new keynote from renowned neuroscience speaker David Eagleman, he explains that time is extremely difficult to study—but that we're starting to better understand how we perceive it. Because we can't physically see or feel time, it possesses an abstract quality which makes it hard to measure. In this talk, Eagleman discusses the way that our brains perceive time—giving some eye-opening examples in the process.

Eagleman says that our perception of an event depends on what happens next. We live in the past, he explains, because by the time our brain pieces together an event it has already happened. Your brain takes in the information, processes it, and then delivers it to your consciousness—but by the time you are perceiving it and are conscious of it, the event has already passed. Since conscious thinking operates with a bit of a lag, how far in the past are we living? Thanks to some of Eagleman's research, he's found that we are at least 1/10 of a second behind real time. Part of the reason for this lag is that the brain needs to sync up all of the different cues it is being given from the body. We hear, touch, smell, things at different times. However, the brain coordiates all of the senses to present your conscious mind with a unified picture of what is happening. Or, more accurately, what has already happened.

In his keynotes, Eagleman presents mind-bending findings that help us understand the complexities of the human brain. Using a combination of scientific fact paired with humor and a dynamic stage presence, he draws audiences in without losing them in technical jargon. He holds joint appointments in the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and is the founder and director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He is also the author of several bestselling books. Eagleman brings scientific discovery into everyday life—causing us to rethink what we know about human nature in the process.

You Don’t Have To Be One Thing: Nina Tandon On Pursuing Many Interests

What question does tissue engineer Nina Tandon get asked most by her students? In an exclusive interview with Lavin, the science speaker says that when her pupils aren't inquiring about course materials—they're asking her for career advice. What does she tell them? “Don't worry about being that one thing,” she explains, “worry about making sure that you keep several lights alive.” She believes that there's no one right way to live your life, and pursuing several different interests is the key to successful and rewarding career.

In the past, it may have been seen as a lack of commitment to be involved in several different areas. However, it's become increasingly more common for students to explore multiple possibilities simultaneously. “It creates almost a constellation of our career [and] all those little points of light make us who we are,” she says in the interview. Being a jack-of-all-trades, so to speak, can also open you up to new career possibilities and new breakthroughs. This is especially true in the scientific community. Tandon herself found a way to make a unique connection between two different disciplines when she was sitting in a physiology class and discovered a relationship between electrical engineering and the human body. Being open to exploring different interests helped lead her to her current project—
artificially growing hearts and bones.

Tandon wears several hats herslf. She's a TED Fellow, an electrical and biomedical engineer at Columbia University's Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, and teaches a “Bioelectricity” class at Cooper Union. She's been named one of the most creative people in business by Fast Company and shares her innovative research with eager audiences in her public speeches. By opening herself up to many different disciplines, Tandon has made revolutionary discoveries that may change the medicial field forever.

Science Speaker Nina Tandon: The Future Of Tissue Engineering [VIDEO]

Imagine requiring a new heart and receiving a transplant organ, made of living tissue, that was grown by a scientist in a lab. Sounds like science fiction, right? Nina Tandon says the idea isn't as far fetched as we may think. As she explains in an exclusive interview with Lavin, scientists have been able to grow all sorts of tissues in the lab for years. While she admits that the heart is certainly “hard to grow,” she doesn't believe that it is impossible. However, we may be waiting awhile before artificially engineered hearts are readily available. Bones and cartilage, on the other hand, are a little more within reach. “The heart is awhile away,” she says, “but the field is making progress.”

Because the heart requires blood vessels to operate, the TED Fellow and tissue engineer says that it is a difficult organ to develop ourselves. That's why she's starting small and is working on creating hearts for lab mice. Early in her post-secondary studies, she discovered that the body was actually guided by electrical impulses. Understanding how these electric signals control the cells in our body meant that, eventually, she could learn to make those cells do what she wanted.

This is what she does at Columbia University's Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, where she is an electrical and biomedical engineer. She is also an adjunct professor of Electrical Engineering at the Cooper Union, where she teaches a class on “Bioelectricity”. Her life is a balance of her two passions: experimenting with the science itself, and then teaching it to others. In her lectures to her students and her keynotes to larger audiences, she opens our minds to the future of medical science. She discusses the exciting discoveries being made today and helps us imagine what's possible in the future.

Manipulating Electricity To Build Human Body Parts: Nina Tandon In Wired

When Nina Tandon was sitting in an evening physiology class, she made a connection between electrical engineering and the human body which sparked her interest in developing a way to grow tissue and bone. In a Wired profile piece on the TED Fellow and Tissue Engineer, she explains that the body is a truly electrical being. Learning to understand and harness the electrical signals that control the way cells operate, she says, meant that she could one day make cells do what she wanted. In short, the work she is doing has the potential to allow scientists to “build” functioning body parts in the lab.

While she says that it will eventually be possible to use electrical impulses to make hearts beat and bones grow, she predicts it will be between 10 and 30 years before we are regularly doing so. For now, she's working on something a little smaller—a 3mm heart that can be used for pharmaceutical trials, replacing the lab mice currently used. She has been experimenting with the creation of miniaturised tissues which are manipulated by humans controlling the  electricity being pumped into them. Since our cells are told how to operate and differentiate using electrical cues, learning how to replicate those cues will allow us to make those cells transform into useable tissue. She believes that the future of medicine and science (Body 3.0, as she calls it) involves growing our own body parts instead of replacing them with the cyborg-like replicas we use today such as pacemakers and artificial limbs.

Named as one of Fast Company's 100 most creative people in business, Tandon is on the verge of revolutionizing the way we think about the human body. In her speeches, she explains how her team's use of the biominetic paradigm—which mimics the natural environments of cells—can help cells to thrive and become more beneficial to us. She offers her eye-opening research as a means to showcase the future of modern science and provide her audiences with a better understanding of their bodies and in turn, themselves.

Movie Science Isn’t Anything Like Real Science: Janna Levin on BBC

We all know that we are supposed to suspend our disbelief when we watch movies and television shows. As Janna Levin explains in a video segment on the BBC, this is especially true when it comes to the science shown in film and on TV. Levin was one of several prominent real-life scientists asked to discuss the blatant errors and misconceptions about the scientific community that are portrayed in the media. As Levin explains, whenever there is a problem that a scientist needs to address on the big or small screen, it is always solved within a five minute span and generally never requires going back to the drawing board to come up with a Plan B. In real life however, the process rarely, if ever, works that fast—or that easily. “Science involves a lot of very slow processing of ideas and mistakes and missteps,” she says. While one obviously has to consider the fact that time restraints require things to happen more quickly on screen than in real life, she says it is extremely amusing to her that movie scientists are able to solve the world's problems so quickly.

Accessible and entertaining, Levin combines the smarts of a cosmologist with the compelling narrative style of an author in her keynotes and media appearances. She is the author of two books, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines and How the Universe Got Its Spots, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University, and a new Guggenheim Fellow. Her research is eye-opening and revolutionary and she is skilled at conveying her findings to any audience. It may take her more than five minutes to come up with her discoveries—but she is able to take her audiences to the furthest reaches of scientific study and relate it back to our everyday lives, all within the span of a keynote speech.

FORA.tv Calls David Eagleman’s Science Keynote One Of The Best Of The Year

2012 was a good year for David Eagleman, a renowned neuroscientist and internationally bestselling author. His keynote on the perception of time was listed as one of the top ten science speeches of the year by FORA.tv, and his book, Incognito (named as a “Book of the Year” by The Boston Globe) got a ringing endorsement from former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in the New York Times. A daring scientist, the Guggenheim Fellow brings complex scientific theories to the masses and makes them both accessible and relatable. In the popular talk, Eagleman discusses the reason why the passage of time seems to speed up as you get older. He is energetic on the stage and mixes just the right amount of humor with concrete evidence to deliver truly mind-expanding material to his audiences. 

Eagleman presents the complexities of the human mind in refreshing and easy-to-digest ways, something that Schwarzenegger says he appreciates about Eagleman's work. The actor (and now author himself) tells the New York Times that learning about the brain and the way it works is important and intriguing to him. He explains that what he thought he knew about the human thought process is nothing compared to what Eagleman has taught him in the book Incognito—and that's coming from someone who was famous for his “psyche outs” during his time as a bodybuilder.

Eagleman holds joint appointments in the Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, and is the founder and director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. He is the author of several bestselling books and his influential theories have been published in a wide array of popular media outlets. He is energetic and entertaining both on the page and on stage, and he is adept at explaining how our minds work—and how we can use that knowledge to better our lives.

Best Of 2012: Bill Gates Calls Steven Pinker’s Book A “Triumph”

It's one thing to top Bill Gates' list of the best books of 2012 (which Steven Pinker did with The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined). It's quite another to have Gates say that your book is “one of the most important books [he's] read—not just this year, but ever.” The computer software mogul gave Pinker's groundbreaking chronicle of human violence a glowing review on his website. He called it an important “contribution, not just to historical scholarship, but to the world,” and noted that it is “completely worth reading.” 

The Better Angels of Our Nature is a sweeping historical analysis of the way that violence in society has decreased significantly over time. This “triumph of a book,” Gates explains, has tremendous potential to help countries around the world move toward becoming more peaceful. By understanding why violence is on the decrease, Gates says governments and policy makers can learn how to improve on this positive trend. Pinker's provocative theory is one that challenges how we think about society. His book and his highly regarded keynotes offer a fresh perspective on the way that we live, and how we can leverage this new knowledge to create a more peaceful world.

Janna Levin: Scientists And Philosophers Can Learn From Each Other [VIDEO]

Science and philosophy may seem like two completely different worlds—one working in abstract psychological thought and the other in concrete physical action—but Janna Levin recently joined a team of the top experts in each field to discuss what they each can learn from each other. The three day conference and workshop was called Moving Naturalism Forward and asked whether the natural world is all that exists. Levin chaired a discussion in which a group of scientists and philosophers debated the similarities and differences between their disciplines, and explored what can be gained by finding common ground.

Regardless of the vast differences that exist between the two fields, Levin says that she found many of her ideas have “expanded” since taking part in the workshop. She explains that coming together as a community of intellectuals—rather than remaining divided because of differing viewpoints—is beneficial to one's scholarship. More debate between disciplines and more conversation of the overlapping principles in each leads to a better understanding of the world as a whole, she says. Even if you don't always agree, she says it is important to be exposed to new ways of thinking to learn new things and approach your own work innovative ways.

Levin is a both a gifted cosmologist and an accomplished author. She approaches her work using unique methods and as such, has found a way to bring complex scientific principles to the masses—without having to cut corners or make the discoveries seem less exceptional. Her debut book, How the Universe Got Its Spots, explores the value in examining remnants of the Big Bang and her most recent book, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, won the PEN/Bingham Fellowship for Writers. She is also an engaging and entertaining speaker and combines the far-reaching elements of our universe with our daily lives to show us how the world is connected, and helps audiences find their own place in the vastness of the cosmos.

The Mighty Microbe: Nathan Wolfe’s National Geographic Cover Story

“I’ve come to think of air as the medium for the next pandemic rather than the means to sustain life,” Nathan Wolfe decrees in a new article in National Geographic. “But breathe easy: Most of the microbes in the air do us little or no harm, and some almost certainly do us good. The truth is, we still understand precious little about them.” This has become the focus of Wolfe's recent work. Over the past 15 years he has spent his time “poking cotton swabs up human noses, pig snouts, bird beaks, and primate proboscises.” He is the founder of the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, and he travels around the world tracking and studying pandemics and viruses so he can crush the next outbreak—even before it starts.

He explains that despite how much we have learned about the planet, we have only recently learned about one of the most important organisms that exists in both our bodies and our environment. “We pride ourselves on having explored nearly every corner of this planet,” he writes, “but behind our world is a shadow world of microbes—and they are often calling the shots.” These microorganisms include bacteria—and the importance of understanding how these lifeforms exist and travel is vitally important to both our health and the health of the planet, Wolfe writes.  Because microbes are present in the very air we breathe and contain bacteria found in anything from sewage plants to hot springs, when you “take a breath,” you are taking in a sample of the world, according to the “virus hunter.”

What he has learned is that microbes function like a complex ecosystem in our bodies, meaning we should use “greater care in the use of antibiotics and, increasingly, targeted probiotic treatments that don’t just temporarily boost the numbers of one microbe or another but that shore up the whole population so that our health is improved.” This isn't the end of the story on fighting disease however, and as he explains in the article and in his speeches—there is much more that we have yet to learn about the organisms that make up so much of life on Earth. He focuses on the ways that viruses spread, and explains that understanding how these organisms operate can help us prevent and adapt to emerging threats to our health.

The Subconscious Mind: David Eagleman’s Keynote On Deep & Secret Thoughts

The mind is a very mysterious thing.  Even though we have learned a great deal about how it operates, neuroscientists like David Eagleman are seeking to delve further into the functions of the brain and the potential that it holds. At a new, upcoming keynote, Eagleman will discuss one of the most perplexing areas of the brain: the subconscious mind. Presented by the OHSU Brain Institute, the keynote is a part of the Brain Awareness Series. Eagleman will speak on Monday, March 4—tickets are available here.

World renowned in the field, the Guggenheim Fellow is as passionate in his lab as he is in his writing and in his talks. He is the author of Incognito, Live-Wired, and Wednesday is Indigo Blue, as well as being a regular contributor to The New York Times, Wired, Discover, Slate, and New Scientist. He challenges audiences to rethink what we know about our brains and brings science to the masses—explaining the complexities of the mind in an accessible manner that will both amaze and inform you, and change your perception about your most vital organ.

The Lavin Agency Presents Dr. Jared Diamond at The New School

The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, the first book from Jared Diamond in more than five years, is due out on December 31. In a joint venture between The Lavin Agency and The New School, the Pulitzer-Prize winning author will unpack the powerful themes explored in his new book in a free keynote event on January 7th. In his talk, Diamond will expand on the theories he provides in The World Until Yesterday; comparing life in modern, industrialized societies with traditional ways of life and arguing that traditional societies have much to teach us about conflict resolution, care of elders and children, risk management, multilingualism, and nutrition. The event will take place in New York at the Tishman Auditorium, Alvin Johnson/J. M. Kaplan Hall on 66 West 12th Street. While the event is free, registration is required and seating will be on a first-come-first-serve basis. You can register for the event here.

In his work, Diamond combines anthropology, history, sociology, and evolutionary biology to contrast a way of life that is starkly different from how we live today. This comparison provides us with lessons from the past that we can apply to our future to improve contemporary society. Diamond—a professor of geography at UCLA—has won numerous awards for his work including the National Medal of Science, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, Japan’s Cosmos Prize, a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, and the Lewis Thomas Prize: Honoring the Scientist as Poet, presented by the Rockefeller University.

His previous books, Guns, Germs, and Steel (which won the Pulitzer) and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, were cited by the New York Times as “one of the most significant projects embarked upon by any intellectual in our generation.” His writing and speeches cover some of the most pressing and sweeping questions in science, and in society. His talks are comprehensive, intriguing, and help us understand where we came from, how we got to where we are today, and where we are headed in the future.

Jer Thorp in Mashable: “Data is Becoming a Part of Our Everyday Lives” [VIDEO]

“More and more and more, data is becoming a part of our everyday lives,” Jer Thorp says in a new interview in Mashable. “We're producing so much data, we're consuming so much data, but we haven't really, I think, as a culture thought about that transition and what it actually means and what some of the implications are.” How does the Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times suggest we do that? By making data look good, and finding a way to design and visualize all the data out there. It comes down to utility, he says, and so far, only the business world has been able to find ways to use the data available to us in meaningful ways. “I think that there's a huge possibility for humans, society as a whole,” Thorp argues, “if we could share that data more usefully, for science and for the construction of cities, and for all these kinds of things.”

His method for doing this, he says, involves a lot of trial and error. He uses a non-traditional approach to designing the data visualizations he constructs. “I always think about what I would call a 'data first' approach,” he tells Mashable, “where I don't have an idea what I want this thing to look like when I start, and then the data sort of informs the design.” Drawing from his background in science, art and design, he occupies what he calls a “nebulous region between those things.” A divide that he wishes to close, or—at least—narrow.

“For me, I think there really is a division, certainly there's a division between design and art, and certainly there's a division between art and science. Science and design don't touch the way they should be touching, and so that's one of the things that I'm really interested in—using art as an axis to bring those two things together,” Thorp says. The way he is able to incorporate all of those disciplines really humanizes his work. Something that, Thorp stresses, is extremely important if we hope to provide a medium by which the masses can truly see the value inherent in the massive collection of data accessible to us. In his work, and in his speeches, Thorp shows us the rewards that lie in discovery—and how making numbers visually beautiful can open our eyes to the wide array of information available all around us.

Science Speaker Janna Levin at The Moth: Is The Universe Infinite?

“Albert Einstein famously said, only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity,” cosmologist, author, and science speaker Janna Levin says in a new talk on The Moth, “and then he added: and I'm not so sure about the universe.” As one of her biggest inspirations, Levin agrees with Einstein's theory. Well, in terms of the possibility that the universe may indeed not be as infinite as once believed, anyway. “I was fixated on the implications that you could leave the Earth, and travel in a straight line to a distant galaxy at the edge of the observable universe and realize it was the Milky Way you had left behind you, and the planet you landed on was the Earth,” the Guggenheim fellow says. The universe, she explains, might exist as a type of Mobius Strip where you can travel from one end to the other, and then back again in a loop. Further, if you start off your travels wearing a left-handed glove, it will eventually end up on the right when you return to your start point.

She expands on this concept in the wildly funny and mind-bending talk, where she draws intriguing parallels between her work in astrophysics and the events in her personal life. She explains how she met a man named Warren, and after dating for a brief time, the two sold all of their belongings and moved from San Francisco to London. After their breakup, Levin wrote and published a book (How the Universe Got Its Spots) about what can be learned about the size of the universe from the remnants of the big bang—juxtaposed with her and Warren's love story. After the book launched, she returned to the spot of their initial meeting, where the two rekindled their romance and ended up marrying and having a son. When their son was born, he had a condition known as Dextrocardia—where the organs in the body are developed on the right side of the body rather than on the left.

“It's as though Warren and I took our left-handed code on a Mobius Strip around the universe and brought back this right-handed boy,” Levin says in the talk. While it may not be absolute proof that the universe is finite, her story does indeed propose an insinuation that perhaps, we all do end up where we started. In the talk, as well as in her book, Levin has an aptitude for making complex scientific theory both assessable and enjoyable. She weaves stories of human nature between explanations of the cosmos to show us that we are all a part of this world, and sweeping questions about life and the universe directly affect us all whether we are conscious of it or not.

TED Fellow Nina Tandon: One of Dove’s Women Who Should Be Famous [VIDEO]

“Not only does Nina Tandon grow living hearts, she makes it sound easy.” That's what Katie Couric and Dove, partners in the Women Who Should Be Famous Initiative, wrote about the TED Fellow and Tissue Engineer; and it is one of the reasons they nominated her to be featured in the campaign. It is also her relentless pursuit of scientific discovery and her dedication to showing others that women can be successful in the sciences that earned Tandon the designation. The campaign features a list of “female role models doing positive, impactful work in their communities,” who are inspirational representatives of “true beauty.” Tandon, who is researching new ways of caring for artificially grown cells—to eventually grow replacement bones and hearts—certainly fits that criteria.

Tandon also recently appeared on Katie Couric's talk show, Katie, to discuss her research. “I like to say it’s a lot like a mix between gardening and cooking because you need the right ingredients and then you need to follow the recipe,” Tandon explains of how she approaches her groundbreaking work. Not only is Tandon extraordinarily passionate about science, she inspires other people—especially women—to get excited about it as well. She says that science is fascinating, cool, and has the potential to change the world—something that both sexes should feel excited about.

Named as one of Fast Company's 100 most creative people in business, Tandon is a biomedical engineer at Columbia University's Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering. She is also an adjunct professor of Electrical Engineering at the Cooper Union, where she teaches a “Bioelectricity” class. In her eye-opening talks, she presents a fascinating look at the future of medicine and biotechnology. She chronicles the history of medical innovation and uses the work she is doing, and the advancements she hopes to make, as examples of what science will look like in the future.

Nathan Wolfe: What’s Left To Explore? [VIDEO]

“I think there's a sense that many of us have that the great age of exploration on Earth is over,” Nathan Wolfe says in a recent TED Talk. He then questions whether this is indeed the case, and whether the generations of the future will have to travel to the depths of our oceans and the furthest regions of space to discover something new and exciting. His answer? If Martinus Beijerinck only discovered the existence of viruses a little over a hundred years ago, and those life forms make up the majority of the genetic information on the planet, then there is still a great deal on this planet we have yet to uncover.

With the advent of new technologies and specialized tools, Wolfe says we can now learn about many more of the 
intricacies of life on this planet—and we are far from running out of things to explore. As the founder of Global Viral Forecasting Initiative, Wolfe works as a sort of virus hunter, seeking out information about the next pandemics before they strike. Focusing on what he calls “biological dark matter,” he seeks to understand the inner workings of the human body; a great deal of which he says has yet to be fully researched, documented or understood. “Buried in this genetic information are signatures of as-of-yet unidentified life,” he says in the talk. “As we explore these strings of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs, we may uncover a completely new class of life, that, like Beijerinck, will fundamentally change the way we think about the nature of biology.”

It's his extraordinary vision that led to Rolling Stone naming Wolfe as one of their 100 Agents of Change and landed him a spot on TIME's 100 Most Influential People in the World list. He discusses his theories on the spread of viruses in his book The Viral Storm and in his keynotes. He explains how the study of microbiology and the quest for exploration at the most microscopic levels can attribute to life-changing—and life saving—discoveries.

Alan Lightman in Harper’s: Finding Our Place in the Universe

In Harper's this month, theoretical physicist and novelist Alan Lightman asks: What exactly is humanity's place in the universe? His essay takes the reader on a journey through humanity's rapid acceleration of scientific discovery. He begins with early Babylonian writings circa 1500 B.C.—where “the oceans, the continents, and the heavens were considered finite”—and ends at our newfound ability to map the universe through technological breakthroughs like the Hubble, and the Kepler missions. We’ve always strived to discover the innate truths of the physical world, Lightman says. However, only now are we beginning to understand the true vastness of the universe. And as our scientific knowledge increases, so too do our feelings of insignificance.

Lightman’s ponderous but grounded essay also delves into another question that has perplexed us for thousands of years: the question of whether we exist within the framework of nature, or as awkward observers of a system where we have no place. “The idea of Mother Nature has been represented in every culture on Earth,” he writes. “But to what extent is the new universe, vastly larger than anything conceived of in the past, part of nature?… And to what extent are we human beings, living on a small planet orbiting one star among billions of stars, part of that same nature?” It’s a great essay, expansive, assured, and sure to stoke much conversation. You can read it here!

In his writing, such as his novels Einstein's Dream and Mr g, and in his keynotes, Lightman proves to be one of our bright scientific thinkers—bridging the gap between the worlds of art and science to produce an inventive cross-pollination of new ideas. He challenges his audiences to examine what it means to be alive, and analyzes the true nature of the human condition through the lens of science.

David Eagleman: Novelty Can Change Your Perception of Time [VIDEO]

“Why does time speed up as you grow older?” science speaker David Eagleman asks in a new talk. “It's because when you're a kid you're trying to figure out the rules of the world,” he explains, “and everything is novel to you.” However, as you grow up and get older, you have already figured out a lot of the patterns and practices of the world. While Eagleman explains that this knowledge is advantageous for operating in the world, it seems to make time move by faster. When you look back on a time period as an adult, it seems to have flown by because you don't have a great deal of new experiences to draw from. Because you aren't making new memories when you do the same thing over and over, your mind feels as though no time at all has passed and time feels as though it has sped up. “How we estimate duration has a lot to do with how much memory we've laid down; how much footage we have to draw from,” he explains.

In his talk, Eagleman said that seeking novelty can help you feel as if time is moving slower and you are living longer. It won't actually make you live longer, he explains jokingly, but processing new memories and doing new things can have the effect of slowing down time. “Make sure you stretch your mental landscape by putting yourself in situations where you are learning something new,” he advises. Take a new route home from work or rearrange your desk when you get home, he says, and this formation of new memories will change your perception of time. In this speech, and others like it, the Guggenheim Fellow provides audiences with eye-opening ideas about the way that their brains function. Eagleman is a renowned neuroscientist and author of Incognito, Live-Wired, and Wednesday is Indigo Blue. He also regularly contributes to The New York Times, Wired, Discover, Slate, and New Scientist. Whether it's in writing or on stage, he frequently changes perceptions on the human mind and helps us understand why we do the things we do.

Steven Pinker’s Book Shortlisted For Prestigious Science Books Prize

The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker's New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year, has been shortlisted for another prestigious award: The Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. The book is one of six nominated for the award. When asked why they picked Pinker's book, the judges said that it, “pushes the boundaries of the science book in a refreshing way,” and that “it is a bold intellectual endeavour and at the same time a great read.” The winner of the award will be announced on November 26.

As part of a new series, The Guardian is reviewing all six of the books nominated for the prize. They gave Pinker's contribution a rave review, saying that, “it is something more than a science book: it is an epic history.” Further: “The attack is humane but headlong; the background reading is prodigious and pertinent; the evidence is marshalled with vigour and rigour; and the writing is laced with a casual, populist wit…the effect is exhilarating.” Known for his profound ideas, and his ability to translate those grand theories into accessible reading for the masses, Pinker is one of the world's leading cognitive scientists. He is the Professor of Psychology at Harvard and a New York Times bestselling author. Two of his other books, The Blank Slate and How The Mind Works were also nominated for the Pulitzer prize. His public talks are just as articulate as his writing. He presents fascinating theories supported by multidisciplinary research that engage his audiences and alter the way they look at human society.

Curiosity Is Essential For Innovation: Science Speaker Janna Levin [VIDEO]

When you think of the study of cosmology, generally notions of high-tech telescopes and complex lab equipment come to mind. Science speaker Janna Levin, however, likes to do things a little bit differently. “I really like to work in pen and paper in math,” she explains in an interview with the BBC. What is she working out, exactly? Chaos theory, black holes and the early origins of our universe, naturally. This is not to say, however, that the Guggenheim Fellow and TED speaker never goes to the lab. Rather, she just prefers to research new concepts in a more theoretical way first, so she can weed out any impossible theories before taking them to the experimentation phase.

A great deal of her work, she says, builds on Albert Einstein's theory of relativity. Despite being one of the oldest sciences around, Levin teaches her students at Columbia University—where she is the Professor of Physics and Astronomy—that understanding this branch of astrophysics is as essential to our future as it is to our past. “Understanding the phenomenon of black holes and astrophysics,” she explains in the interview, “…is part of recognizing who we are in the bigger scheme and how were all together on this little planet.” Further, she explains that funding for scientific space exploration and research is sadly lacking. “Curiosity and individual participation is really essential for innovation,” she argues, adding that we need to ensure that funding does not continue to deteriorate lest we lose out of this vital part of the human condition.

As well as being a gifted cosmologist, Levin is also an accomplished author. Her debut work, How the Universe Got Its Spots, is an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding how the remnants of the Big Bang can help to reveal the shape and size of the universe. Her most recent book, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, won the PEN/Bingham Fellowship for Writers. She explains that writing and researching are very different entities, but both her work in cosmology and literature deal with the exploration of the world through science. “Writing books, for me, was a very good way of having another outlet to sort of examine the human implications of what it is to do science,” she says. Levin's ability to make even the complex world of physics accessible to non-specialists in a humorous and entertaining way makes her not only an excellent scientist and writer—but a truly eye-opening public speaker as well.

The Invisible World of Microbes: TED Fellow Jessica Green [VIDEO]

New Lavin speaker and TED Senior Fellow Jessica Green is showing us the amazing and important role microbes play in our everyday lives—in our bodies, our forests, and even our buildings—and she's doing it in visually stunning ways. A Professor at both the University of Oregon and the Santa Fe Institute, Green uses art, animation, and film to help people visualize the invisible world of microbes, and to better understand the profound ways that they affect and control our lives. Her talks are a feast for your eyes and provide a whole lot of new knowledge about our microbial selves for you to chew on.

As founding director of the innovative new Biology and the Built Environment (BioBE) Center, Green uses a geometric-driven approach to urban design that she hopes will be the norm in the future. By modelling urban areas as complex ecosystems that house trillions of diverse microorganisms interacting with each other, with humans, and with their environment (called, the “built environment microbiome”), Green envisions creating cities that are more sustainable and promote better health and well being. In eye-opening and exciting talks, Green asks us to look at the magnanimously influential role of this microscopic world—and tells us how we can work more closely and harmoniously with it.

Nina Tandon: One of Fast Company‘s 100 Most Creative People

Nina Tandon, one of Lavin's newest exclusive speakers, was recently named as one of Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business. The TED Fellow is doing extraordinary things with bodily tissues and has been researching and experimenting with electrical signaling, with the ultimate end goal of creating artificial hearts and bones. One day, she hopes to be able to use her artificially constructed tissues for transplants in humans.

When Fast Company (known for featuring the work of some of the world's most imaginative people) asked Tandon how creativity could improve her field, she said that music seemed to constantly overlap with her work. Her first exposure to bio-electricity was when she designed an instrument that allowed the human body to interact with circuits. Now, she's working with another TED Fellow to use the cells in her lab to make another musical instrument. Tandon has an enormous amount of creative talent, and the electrical and bio-medical engineer at Columbia University's Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering says there is always room for more people like her.

“[The biotech field] needs more people embracing science,” she told Fast Company. “We need more kids, young kids, U.S. citizens who are psyched about it—especially young girls.” In her talks, she aims to do just that—inspire others to get involved in the sciences to unlock their human potential. She explains that the work she is doing with tissue engineering is just the beginning. Tandon uses her breakthrough research to explain how the human body functions on a cellular level, and expands on the world-changing implications that her findings may have.

Guilty: Neuroscience Speaker David Eagleman Explores the Criminal Mind [VIDEO]

“At some point there will be a crime committed…and we will find that the perpetrator had a brain tumor,” neuroscience speaker David Eagleman tells CNN. “Then, society is going to have to deal with [the] very difficult question about [the] relationship between brain and behavior and [the] question of culpability.”

As the founder and director of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law at the Baylor College of Medicine, Eagleman has been relentlessly researching the relationship between the activity in your brain, and how it affects your actions. CNN's Next List will profile Eagleman, and his research in the field of neurolaw, on Sunday, September 23.  (A preview of the interview can be found above, and the full length interview can be found here.)

“I'm interested in neurolaw because it's really where the rubber hits the road in neuroscience,” Eagleman says,”it's where we can take all the things we're learning about human behavior, and how humans are differenct, and translate that into social policy.”

The intersection of neuroscience and the law has been a highly contested issue in society for years. Understanding which of your actions you can control and which ones you cannot is essential to defining social policy and assigning punishment for criminal activity. Eagleman—who is a New York Times best-selling author and a Guggenheim fellow—says that his research will determine “how modern neuroscience will affect the legal system, how we think about criminal behavior and punishment, and new ideas for rehabilitation.”

Violence is Vanishing, Science Speaker Steven Pinker Tells Bill Gates

“Violence, in many ways, has plunged over the course of history,” science speaker Steven Pinker tells Bill Gates in a recent interview. “Half a century without a great power war is unprecedented.”

In a series of interviews with the former chief executive of Microsoft, Pinker discusses findings he presented in his groundbreaking book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined—which Gates described as “one of the most important books [he's] ever read.” Named among Newsweek's “100 Americans for the Next Century,” the leading cognitive scientist uses wit and pop culture references as tools to articulately share his profound discoveries with experts and non-specialists alike. After receiving statistics from several leading scholars, along with his own research, Pinker found revelatory evidence to support the theory that society is becoming less violent.

“It is a profound message that we have been doing something right,” Pinker said of his findings. “Unless you actually look at the numbers, over time, you don't realize that even if things are bad—they used to be worse. What we can do does make a difference.”

First Look at Jared Diamond’s New Book, The World Until Yesterday

The Lavin Agency is pleased to offer a first glimpse of the major new book from Dr. Jared Diamond—the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, and a scientist who doesn’t shy away from examining the big questions about human civilization. Called The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies, Diamond’s new work is due in January 2013. Watch the video above of Dr. Diamond’s recent visit to the Lavin offices in Toronto, in which he offered his own preview.

Here's the full description of The World Until Yesterday:

The mega-bestselling author of Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel surveys the differences between “traditional” societies and industrial or post-industrial societies, with an eye to the question: what can we learn from the former that can make the world we live in a better place for all of us?

People are basically all the same everywhere. “Not exactly,” says Jared Diamond, in his rich new book, the successor to his multimillion-copy bestsellers Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel. The differences are profound between so-called “traditional” societies and industrial or post-industrial societies; we count differently, select our wives or husbands differently, treat our parents and children differently, view danger differently, eat different foods, have different kinds of social and political organization, and wage war or resolve conflicts differently. Today, citizens of industrial states take for granted  metal, writing, airplanes, police and government, overweight people, meeting strangers without fear, heterogeneous populations, and so on. But all those features of modern human societies are relatively new in human history. For most of the 6,000,000 years since the proto-human and proto-chimpanzee evolutionary lines diverged from each other, human societies had none of these things.   

Today’s traditional societies are in many  respects a window onto the human world as it was until a mere yesterday, measured against a time scale of the 6,000,000 years of human evolution. Those societies show us pieces of how all of our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years, until virtually yesterday. Traditional lifestyles are what shaped us and caused us to be what we are now; all human societies have been traditional for far longer than any society has been modern. Farm-grown and store-bought food, tools of metal rather than of stone and wood and bone, state government and its associated law courts and police and armies, and reading and writing are relatively new features, and billions of people around the world today still live without many of them.

Traditional societies in effect represent thousands of natural experiments in how to construct a human society.  They have come up with thousands of solutions to human problems, solutions different from those adopted by our own  modern societies. Some of those solutions—how they raise their children, treat their elderly, remain healthy, talk, spend their leisure time, and settle disputes—may strike us as superior to normal practices in the First World. Diamond explains how we moderns are misfits; our bodies and our practices now face conditions different from those under which they evolved, and to which they may or may not be well adapted.  Traditional societies   may also help us appreciate some advantages of our own society that we take for granted; we no longer systematically kill weak infants or the elderly, for example.  The book focuses on our attitudes towards strangers and dangers; child-rearing; treatment of the elderly; languages and multilingualism; religion; healthy diet and lifestyle; dispute resolution and compensation; and the conduct of war.

The book draws extensively from Diamond’s own four decades of field work in New Guinea and adjacent Pacific islands, and as such is his most personal book. New Guinea is home to most of the world’s last remaining “primitive peoples,” who until a few decades ago still used stone tools, little clothing, and no writing. Diamond says, “That was what the whole world used to be like until 7,000 years ago, a mere blink of an eye in the history of the human species.” Also using evidence from the Inuits, Amazonian Indians, Aboriginal Australians, Kalahari Bushmen, African Pygmies, Ainus, and many others, Diamond gives us a first-hand picture of the human past as it has been for millions of years—a past that has almost vanished within our lifetimes—and considers what the differences between that past world and our present one mean for our collective future.    

The Great Neuroscience Debate: David Eagleman Defends the Brain

In a recent article in The Guardian, Lavin speaker David Eagleman debated Raymond Tallis on the age-old question of whether our personalities, desires, and actions are governed by our unconscious mind, or whether the human condition is much more complicated. Eagleman's New York Times bestseller Incognito explores this question in accessible detail, pointing out that our behaviors, thoughts, and experiences are inseparably linked to the vast, wet, chemical-electrical networks of the brain. While we still have much to learn about the connection between our conscious and unconscious mind, we now know that at the very least, there is much more going on “under the hood of conscious awareness” than we once believed.

Here's Eagleman:

“We have discovered that the large majority of the brain's activity takes place at this low level: the conscious part – the “me” that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning – is only a tiny bit of the operations. This understanding has given us a better understanding of the complex multiplicity that makes a person. A person is not a single entity of a single mind: a human is built of several parts, all of which compete to steer the ship of state. As a consequence, people are nuanced, complicated, contradictory. We act in ways that are sometimes difficult to detect by simple introspection. To know ourselves increasingly requires careful studies of the neural substrate of which we are composed.”

In the article, Raymond Tallis debates Eagleman, arguing that “it does not follow that our brains are pretty well the whole story of us,” and makes the case for humanity's social nature—our “community of minds, a human world, that is remote in many respects from what can be observed in brains”—as a major driver of behavior that neuroscience fails to account for. Eagleman admits that culture has a huge affect on personal values and choices, but says that culture leaves a “signature in the circuitry of the individual brain,” and that “moral attitudes…can be read from the physiological responses of brains in different cultures.” Eagleman doesn't believe that humans are biological robots devoid of free will. Instead, he argues that the human experience is a unique combination of unconscious machinations, evolutionary programming, and direct conscious action. In Incognito and in his energizing keynotes, Eagleman helps us understand how our perceptions of ourselves and our world result from the hidden workings of the most wondrous thing we have ever discovered: the human brain.

2012 Guggenheim Fellow Janna Levin Listens to the Sounds of the Universe

This month, Janna Levin—the theoretical cosmologist who spoke at TED about the sounds of the universe—was named a 2012 Guggenheim Fellow. Levin teaches physics and astronomy at Barnard College, and is a Lavin Agency exclusive speaker. She recently talked to us about her research, her thoughts on innovation, and why it’s “incredibly exciting to hear black holes clanging a billion light years away.”

Here are three highlights from our interview:

1) The Crossover of Art and Science Makes for Major Innovation in the Workplace.

Janna Levin’s office is on a particularly crowded floor of a Brooklyn building that is packed full of artists, architects, designers and scientists. Artists and scientists both challenge social norms, Levin says, and for that reason (among others), their work can move seamlessly from creative to scientific, creating a “profound outcome,” if given the right workspace.

2) Constraints Are Excellent for Innovation.

There are limits to what we know and what we're capable of. When we accept these restrictions, “we make a big creative leap,” says Levin. “There's a fundamental limit to the speed of light, but nobody, you know, hangs their head and thinks life is over. We go on to discover relativity; we build things. There's a whole new explosion, a revolution in our thinking of the universe, because of this limitation.”

3) It's Important to Listen to the Universe.

The universe has a sound, “a discography, if you like,” Levin says. Listening to it allows us to uncover more information about the dark areas surrounding our planet that, due to limits in photography, we know very little about. Levin elaborates:

For one, most of what we know about the universe just comes to us from life. So, here is the opportunity to observe the universe in some other medium that's not a picture of the sky—it's not a frozen snapshot of what the universe was like in the past. It's the first opportunity to really pick up dark objects. Only 5% of the entire cosmos is anything we've ever seen before, and the other 95% is dark matter or dark energy—forms or matter or energy that we've never reproduced in a laboratory or on earth.

So, if we want to discover a dark universe out there, we have to think of something else—and something like the reverberating sound of space/time ringing is a major opportunity to shut our eyes and pick up the soundtrack of the universe. It could be something totally different. We know for sure we'll pick up black holes because we know black holes are out there—they're dark but indirectly, we see them. So it's incredibly exciting to hear black holes clanging in the distance, a billion light years away. But what about all the other stuff that's out there? It could be a big revolution in how we perceive the universe.

Jared Diamond: The Internet Destroys (& Saves) Endangered Languages

At a recent keynote, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond warned that 6,800 of the world’s 7,000 languages are expected to go extinct in under 100 years—and technology is playing a big role in both their extinction and preservation. MediaBistro posted a short piece on the talk, highlighting choice insights from “L.A's favorite geography and philosophy professor with a wicked Boston accent.” Here's Diamond:

The language of the Internet is English. And that is absolutely contributing to the disappearance of languages. On the other hand, modern technology allows linguists to capture and store endangered languages. If a language were to cease to be spoken, all it would take is a capable linguist and some curious youth looking to recapture a piece of their cultural identity and the language could be restored.

A few months ago, Jared Diamond also spoke about the role of language with The Lavin Agency, at our Toronto offices. In the exclusive Lavin video above, he discusses why knowing multiple languages—and Diamond knows at least ten—is good for your mental health, especially as you get older. In his talks, Diamond tackles the giant questions on how civilizations prosper or fail—whether these questions revolve around language, human rights, business, or technology. His ideas explore the underlying forces shaping our society.

David Eagleman: Can Neuroscience Help End the War On Drugs?

This week, neuroscientist David Eagleman spoke at a Google 'Debates' series addressing the war on drugs. Other luminaries on the bill included Vincente Fox, Julian Assange, Eliot Spitzer, Richard Branson, and Russell Brand. “The reason why we're losing the war on drugs,” Eagleman said, “is because we're attacking supply, and that's like a water balloon: if you press it down in one place, it comes up somewhere else.” What Eagleman and his colleagues are attempting to do, instead, is attack the demand—or “the brain of the addict.”

David Eagleman is The Director of Baylor College of Medicine’s Initiative on Neuroscience and Law. Pointing to recent advancements in neuroscience and biology, he said that we now understand more about the circuitry of the addict's brain than ever before. This information is useless, however, if we don’t act upon it. He pointed to three concrete treatments that may help curb drug addiction:

1) Pharmaceutical drugs that block the 'high' in the brain of an addict.
2) A 'cocaine vaccine' that uses the immune system to sop up a drug before it enters the brain.
3) The use of real-time feedback imaging to help train the frontal (or control) parts of the brain to manage its cravings.

By better understanding our brains, we can focus on eliminating the demand for drugs within ourselves. Eagleman is a young leader in the field of neuroscience and the author, most recently, of the bestselling Incognito. Whether he's studying the brains of addicts or dropping himself in freefall from a 150-foot tower to see if time slows down in life-threatening situations, he consults new discoveries in brain science to help solve our most pressing problems.

To jump to David Eagleman's part in the video above, skip to 1:16:42

A New Book by Nathan Wolfe, The Viral Storm, Rethinks Pandemics

Biologist and virus hunter Nathan Wolfe, who is a member of this year's TIME 100, will release his first book, The Viral Storm: the Dawn of a New Pandemic Age, this fall. Called “a charismatic and rising star of the medical world” by fellow Lavin speaker Jared Diamond, Wolfe crisscrosses the globe to study the early warning signs of pandemics—tracking diseases in rural jungles, and charting their movement from animal to human populations. (Pandemics of recent memory—swine flu, SARS, etc—started in the animal world before tipping over, quickly and virally, into the human population.) A professor at Stanford, Wolfe was recently profiled in The New Yorker for its World Changers issue. Previously, he was named to Rolling Stone's 100 Agents of Change. He's a mesmerizing speaker, for scientific and general audiences alike. There is so much in the world we don't yet know, so much left to discover, he tells audiences. And this is cause, not for despair, but for hope.

More about The Viral Storm, from the publisher:

Dynamic young Stanford biologist Nathan Wolfe reveals the surprising origins of the world's most deadly viruses, and how we can overcome catastrophic pandemics.

In The Viral Storm, award-winning biologist Nathan Wolfe tells the story of how viruses and human beings have evolved side by side through history; how deadly viruses like HIV, swine flu, and bird flu almost wiped us out in the past; and why modern life has made our species vulnerable to the threat of a global pandemic.

 Wolfe's research missions to the jungles of Africa and the rain forests of Borneo have earned him the nickname “the Indiana Jones of virus hunters,” and here Wolfe takes readers along on his groundbreaking and often dangerous research trips—to reveal the surprising origins of the most deadly diseases and to explain the role that viruses have played in human evolution.

 In a world where each new outbreak seems worse than the one before, Wolfe points the way forward, as new technologies are brought to bear in the most remote areas of the world to neutralize these viruses and even harness their power for the good of humanity. His provocative vision of the future will change the way we think about viruses, and perhaps remove a potential threat to humanity's survival.

Read more about biology speaker Nathan Wolfe