The language of bacteria

Yesterday at Morphosys we had an interesting discussion based on the TEDTalk by Bonnie Bassler on how bacteria “talk” to each other, using a chemical language that lets them coordinate defense and mount attacks by recognizing “self” and “other”. I asked the course how she “hooks” her listeners, and they said one of her main hooks was turning bacteria into actors, humanizing them, giving them “a mind of their own”. One of the participants said this was dumbing down, and didn’t like this type of popularized talk. But it got us thinking: Do we think actively, or is our brain just producing a series of chemical processes? What is consciousness? How legitimate or important is it to make an essential distinction between various levels of complexity in living organisms? I went home and read up on the “philosophy of mind” and the “theory of mind“, and I’m going to take some discussion points related to what I’ve found out back to them the next time I see them.

I love TEDTalks precisely for the way the speakers manage to popularize their enormously complex research to reach an interested audience, a skill any scientist must learn in order to get out of his or her highly specialized daily work to speak to people from other related disciplines – and to people in business! Plus they are 18 minutes long, a length proven to be just about ideal to keep an audience’s attention (See John Medina: Brain Rules for public speaking). That makes them the best source for learning presentation skills currently available on the Internet. The questions we ask are: How is the talk structured? How does the speaker hook the audience to engage them and bridge the gap between generalists and specialists? What is the take-home message?

Mike Hogan posted an article on how teach with another TED presentation, this one by Richard St. John, on Ask Auntie Web.

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Anne

Teaching English for business communication skills, writing online for learners, translating, sailing whenever I can, from Washington, D.C.

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