Desks have long been the home of the mind: an intimate space where you figure out what you think. Desk spaces have changed through the years to accommodate different styles and types of work, and the recent trend toward co-working also represents a change in the nature of the workplace. You can now rent workspaces around the world with funky furniture, pool tables, rock-climbing walls, and free wine. In London, people even rent chairs at their dining-room table by the hour—an attractive alternative to those living in small apartments who are tired of working in coffeehouses.
Amelia Earhart intrigues me not only for her guts and goals, not only for her courage to grab her own life and live it in her own terms, but for her eyes--her sight and foresight. She was a visionary who wanted to push the horizon of women, of aviation, and literally expand her horizon by seeing from above. As the first female to fly the Atlantic in 1928, first as a passenger and later as a solo pilot in 1932, she was the emblem of an emerging new world. She flew the Pacific solo from Honolulu to Oakland in 1935 when few people flew airplanes, man or woman. Her accomplishments broke norms, challenged reality in her times like the first astronauts of our times.
But what I love about Earhart is how she used her eyes--as a visionary that pushed the envelope, as a pilot and navigator who flew solo over oceans, as an amateur photographer, and as a poet, who transmuted her sight into words.
I think of desks as the home of the mind. In many particular ways, desks are the portals where ideas birth into art or action. I’m not proud to say it but mine is a mess. If our desks give us a glimpse of our thought process, I’m hoping my organized chaos implies spontaneity and invention, along with disorder. In my travels over the last few years, I’ve stood near the desks of Ernest Hemingway, Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky, Madame Sun Yat-sen, and Mahatma Gandhi. Places carry their own power. They make us remember; they stimulate senses and ideas.
What can we learn about the mindset of these particular world figures just by seeing their desks?
In my latest Quartz article, I explore the childhood landscape of presidents. I was born on the flatland of Houston where the sky was open in all directions, with no obstacles to climb, no blocked views. How did your childhood landscape shape you?
My TEDxSMU talk is now live on Youtube. I'm thrilled to be a part of TED's endeavors to share ideas. Comments welcomed.
In my solo tent, under the night sky I was alone in the Colorado woods, during a leadership workshop. I looked to the night sky as my bedtime reading. Seeing the Big Dipper, I was immediately oriented. By finding north from the Dipper, I then knew south, east, and west off the North Star. I could find my place, thanks to the Dipper.
So needed, so sure is the image of a Dipper, it’s easy to forget the Dipper is in my mind, not the night sky. Before the Dipper was our automatic pilot, the same stars were seen by other cultures, in other centuries, on their own terms.
To Native Americans, these same stars connected to form a Bear. Early Greeks knew north from this cluster of stars as a Wagon. The Chinese drew a Heavenly Emperor to remember the stars. We can remember things by associating them with the familiar. But all too often we get stuck in thinking the familiar is the only answer. The stars do not change. Only the map in our mind changes.
Many of us learned the periodic table of elements as a grid, lined up in rows of stacked straight lines to give us a familiar order. It’s easy to think of the elements as locked in a grid. Yet the same sequence of chemicals can also be drawn as a helix, or sequenced twirling in loops, or organized in a torus, the shape of a donut. The sequence stays the same no matter the format. The grid is not in nature; the grid is in our mind.
What could be more absolute than the sun rising each morning? Yet to the astronaut in a space station, orbiting the Earth, there are sixteen sunrises in twenty-four hours. The eternal constants of nature do not change. We change our perspective, and the picture changes. The very thing we understood as absolute, changes to a partial piece of a larger scheme.
What could be more absolute than numbers? We are familiar with calculating by tens. Yet other number systems use bases of two or twelve or sixty. Other systems give the same answer to a problem, but arrive at it through another model.
The cluster of stars, the sequence of chemical elements, the morning sun, or numbers all give ways to know the universe. These formations and formulations work. They point us in the right direction, unveil sequence, give us daily rhythm, and open the invisible world of numbers. They give us pattern we can rely on.
But there is another lesson within the sureness of these answers. Remember: these are our impositions, our templates, our models. Our answers are only toeholds to ever-larger truths. We fight wars, hold prejudice, picture the divine in a single way. The truths we hold most dear do not need to be dropped. They can grow as we grow. We still use the number ten system, even as we know there are multiple math systems, even negative numbers, even quantum realities.
We do not just live in the world, we live in our versions and views of it. Our answers can work so well for a time, we forget that there are other ways of seeing, believing, measuring. So multiply your points of view, enlarge your lens, and what looked like opposites may turn into variations on a theme.Read More
"Nature does not change, the map in our mind changes."
The mission of TED talks is to spread ideas that matter. TED talks have become a vital artery is today’s world. Originally the acronym stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design, drivers of change. But the very name TED makes it friendly, like a person speaking to you, one on one. And that has remained its character through its evolution. In tone, it is a conversation from one person to another, even when the other is a global audience. In subject matter, TED Talks encompass the full spectrum of human imagination, communicated through personal passion.
So it thrills me to be able to add my voice to the chorus that endures in TED formats. My personal passion has been trying to understand how humans shape their world, and then how that shape shapes them. We can be liberated or locked by the way we order the world. We always see through a lens, even when we are not conscious of it, like a fish not knowing it is swimming in water. The best we can do is to realize our prism can become our prison, and then enlarge our lens to take in more of the world. I will be giving a TEDx Talk in Dallas, Nov 15, 2016. The press release for the event is attached. The recorded talk will be uploaded on YouTube by the middle of December 2016. I welcome you to gather round the fire of TED’s global circle.
HIDDEN SHAPES CLUE US TO HOW THE WORLD WORKS, WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
In Dallas SMU TEDx Talk, Emmy Award Winner Lois Farfel Stark Invites Us To Enlarge Our Lens, and Glimpse the Big Picture
DALLAS, October 24, 2016 -- How can we make sense of the world?
To this timeless question, Emmy-award winning TV producer and documentary filmmaker Lois Farfel Stark, responds, quite simply:
Stark, who was a producer and writer of documentary specials for NBC network and has created over 40 documentaries, filming in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Cuba as well as throughout the U.S., will explain this concept in a TEDx Talk at SMU in Dallas on November 12, 2016 titled “Shape: Hiding in Plain Sight.”
Her November 12 TEDx talk will examine how shape reveals the mindset of cultures through time and provides cues to our future. Illustrated with a series of captivating photos, including originals taken by Stark, “Shape: Hiding in Plain Sight” offers a remarkable journey through time and place, from tribal ceremonies in Liberia and the pyramids of Egypt to Dubai and China -- where a hotel built in the shape of an upright ring upends all expectations.
Drawing on her experience as a filmmaker and global explorer, Stark reveals how shapes such as those of shelters, sacred sites and social systems reflect our frame of mind. Round thatched huts and labyrinths show us that migratory humans saw the world as a web. Church steeples and skyscrapers show us that urban humans viewed the world as a ladder.
“Nature does not change. Only the map in our mind changes,” Stark notes. Even the digital world holds a hidden shape. The network is the map we impose on everything. It is not just technology that develops. The very way we think shifts.
“Shape: Hiding in Plain Sight” prompts reflections on chaos becoming pattern, opposing forces becoming balance and the beauty of the big picture: how we are all connected, to nature and to each other.
A transcript and the photos are available upon request.
About Lois Stark
Lois Farfel Stark is an Emmy Award-winning producer, documentary filmmaker and author of the book The Telling Image: Shapes of Changing Times (Greenleaf, 2017). During her distinguished career with NBC News, she produced and wrote over forty documentaries on architecture, medical research, wilderness protection, artists, and social issues. She has covered Abu Dhabi's catapult to the 20th century, the British withdrawal from the Persian Gulf, Cuba ten years after their revolution, the Israeli Air Force in the Six Day War, Northern Ireland during its time of religious conflict, and Liberia's social split.
Along with an Emmy, Lois is also the recipient of two CINE Gold awards, two Gold Awards from The International Film Festival of the Americas, the Matrix Award from Women In Communications, the American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award, and the Silver Award from the Texas Broadcasting Association. She has served as a trustee for institutions in education, health, the arts, and public service, including Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. She lives in Houston.
How do we humans make sense of the world? It depends on how we see the world.
As a documentary filmmaker, I was trained to look for the telling image to communicate a story. In covering Liberia or Abu Dhabi, Cuba or Northern Ireland, I had to look through other people’s eyes to learn how they saw the world. I practiced having new eyes, open to take in the unfamiliar, discovering cues to their worldview. While histories give us facts, images have the power to reach a deeper truth.
How we see is much broader than the picture in front of our eyes. We organize and orient by a mental map. We imagine inventions and novels before they come to life. Thirty percent of our brain is devoted to visual processing, the largest single function. Our time can be described as the Age of the Eye. Information comes from digital screens, virtual reality, and simultaneous uploads from opposite sides of the globe, or images from space and quantum levels showing us worlds never seen before.
My goal for this blog is to help build an awareness of our lens, to enlarge it, to multiply our points of view. Perspectives will be a recurring theme—how the way we see influences the way we think. Understanding that the Big Dipper was perceived as a Great Bear to Native Americans and what this meant. Exploring how different American Presidents have seen the world through the literal landscape of their childhood. Recognizing that one culture’s idea of justice can take the form of retribution, while in another it can come as reconciliation.