There are elements in this year's Ideas Festival that have been part of the activity and exploration from before, but this year we’re doing something brand new, which is creating a working relationship with a unit at Stanford University, with a view toward making things happen here which are of a particular groundbreaking and rigorous nature. This gives us access to scientists who are absolutely pushing the boundaries in their fields, and we get the benefit of having them work with us and with people from other disciplines, on topics of a lot of interest, such as spiritual disciplines.
It's part of a wave now happening in Telluride, with many people at many nonprofits asking, “What is the next step? What is the next chapter of Telluride going to be like?” That’s what the folks at the Summer Science Research Institute are doing, and at the University Centers of the San Miguel, too, where they’re beginning to offer things way beyond the usual satellite university offerings.
I think that these things are not happenstance, and that we are all working on the next version of what Telluride is going to be like. I see it with this particular festival, and in our organizing partnership with Stanford, which we began last year, and which is going to be producing more Stanford programs and bring in more Stanford scientists, with a little bit less of a Telluride Institute-focus, which is fine.
What’s very interesting to me, when I start approaching this field of neuroscience, of which I was totally ignorant – so I am the rawest lay person – is how much of this research is going on, now that we are beginning to have the tools that allow us to actually look at the brain at work, rather than guess, and see how everybody is so super-excited at the implications. Allow me to make a horrible half-pun, and say it’s mind-blowing. It’s really extraordinary, just having a little bit of contact now with just a few of these scientists, who can give us such an extraordinary peek into what’s going on and what the implications are.
This is not just ivory tower science – this is science with implications for our daily lives that are just incalculable. It’s as if we are able to be in the physicists’ laboratories when they were splitting the atom – this is really fascinating stuff.
I think that there’s an argument that Western science has made some pretty impressive additions to the toolkit that we use now, so when we look at the universals, I’m not quite so contemptuous perhaps as some others might be of the Western philosophical tradition. There’s been some huge stuff there.
As far as the contribution of brain science to our universals, it seems to me that much is there in the offing. I’m very excited that some of these earlier extraordinary brain scientists are already going toward intersections where, for instance, in this case, they’re studying the brains of meditators engaged in Tibetan practices.