Solipsism is the belief in the idea that my self and my mind is the only thing that I can be certain of. If this is something people struggle with, then a path to overcoming it would be found in the last two days of the Explorers Festival.
This past Saturday a main question was asked: How do we save ourselves from ourselves? This is the question that guided the daylong event. It was hosted by Stephanie Ruhle and Kenny Broad. Ruhle is an anchor at MSNBC and correspondent at NBC News. She was the first journalist to break the 2012 story of the “London Whale,” identifying the trader behind the JPMorgan Chase $2 billion trading loss. After she told us that story of how it happened she said: “Everyone can make an impact, everyone can do one thing to make an impact.” Broad is a National Geographic Explorer and environmental anthropologist who, as he said, has one feet in academia and one feet in exploration. Recently he was with explorer Corey Jaskolski in Petra, Jordan helping create digital copies of what is there with the newest technologies. This is what also allowed for the Tomb of Christ exhibition to exist and bring us VR and 3D experiences of the Holy Sepulchre to Washington, DC.
A series of panels followed. The first one was titled: “What tipped the scale?” and was moderated by Andrew Revkin. Some of the ideas that came from this introspective look into what we have done to unbalance the scale included the shortcomings of academia, and an invitation for us to get out of our filter bubbles. Panelists included Victoria Herrmann, Emma Marris, Leland Melvin, and Iain Stewart. Melvin, an astronaut, said that the planet isn’t fragile, we are. That is why we need to work together as the human race to connect with each other in this pale blue dot we are fortunate enough to inhabit.
The second panel was titled: “What does balance look like?” which was moderated by Ian Urbina. Panelists included Mustafa Santiago Ali, Jonathan Baillie, Jess Cramp, and Natalie Jofler. Some of the ideas and questions that came from the panel were: How does human and wildlife conflict exist? Why don’t we often talk about it? What are the inter-generational climate effects? How do they affect our communities and their balance? A pointed question was also asked by an attendee: Is there a case in which balance is not what needs to be done? And the panelists, especially Ali, said that yes there are cases. Environmental injustices all across the nation and the world are not balanced, as they ignore some communities, and we have to sometimes flip things on their head. We need to recognize whose values we are defending or acquiring while deciding to tip the scale a certain way or another. And to include the values and human dignity of those communities would actually look more like balance. We need to celebrate human cleverness too, added Baillie, and have a sense of possibility to go towards that balance.
Then came lunch time. And from Grosvenor Auditorium we headed to the National Geographic cafeteria. This is where we – Explorers, panelists, and other attendees – all sat next to each other to not only enjoy our lunch, but to come up with solutions to these very problems we were immersed in earlier. We came up with some compromises and ideas. On my table, for example, we said that to save ourselves from ourselves we will: start with empathy, communicate a sense of urgency, while working hand-in-hand with the manufacturing and other businesses that can create solutions from the inside, and thus caring about ourselves and our planet.
A panel titled “How far can tech get us?” followed lunch. It was moderated by NPR’s Laura Sydell, and asked questions like: With our future hanging on this aforementioned balance, how should we harness technology? Should we focus our efforts on reversing what we have helped bring about, or is it more practical to use technology to help us adapt to the troubled environment in which we live? Of course, tech can get us as far as time, resources, and imagination can. But only if we use the tools we have created, and will continue to create, responsibly. Panelists included Cory Doctorow, David Gruber, Arthur Huang, and Jessica Trancik. Some of the ideas that were brought up included: How to go around risk homeostasis, the effects of the United States withdrawing from the COP 21, how we’ve created environmental problems with technology that was supposed to solve another previous environmental or economic problems, how convenience might not be always the way to go, and finally how we need to understand the limits of growth.
The last panel of the day was aptly titled “Ignite Change” and was moderated by Susan Goldberg. Panelists included Vicki Arroyo, Heather Koldewey, Lyndon Rive, and Dekila Chungyalpa. Chungyalpa said that we need to reach people where they’re at. If they’re religious they will listen to a religious leader more often than not. If they love Instagram posts with a stunning picture, reach them there. And give them alternatives and options. A question from an attendee was: What can people do? The answers from the panel included things like thinking about how to engage locally, to stop being isolated from one another, and find and build communities that care about each other and what is in their world from within. It concluded with an invitation to believe in ourselves and in each other’s capacities to effect change.
Then, on Sunday, we engaged and witnessed the inspiring work of explorers in the field with the second annual FURTHER Film Festival. It showcased the work of explorers such as Jane Goodall, Topher White in the Brazilian amazon, Asha Stuart photographing and filming the gypsy communities of Rajasthan crossing the Thar dessert, the Symphony of Our World, some upcoming Costa Rican footage from Untamed with Filipe DeAndrade, a film titled “Person of the Forest” showing us the similarities and dangers orangutans face in the wild, the first installment in the collaboration of Clare Fieseler and Gabby Salazar showcasing the diversity of women in science and the issues they face with their short-film “Outnumbered in Africa,” as well as many others.
As a matter of closure for this year’s festival I wanted to offer a reflection. This week-long festival should leave us hopeful. Inspired to know that we can effect change responsibly. Because when you have responsibility for someone else, it changes the dynamic. It changes the way we perceive others and the world. Solipsism might make us forget about others, but powerful and emotional storytelling can help connect with those that don’t know much about something and get them feeling part of this world too. What are we doing to tell these stories and how can we change those things we care about? These two are very important questions to help solve the problems of today and tomorrow. And I think that the importance of a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approach that bridges ethics with science and technology, literature with innovation and communication, cannot be stressed enough. Recognizing the silos, identities, and tribes we inhabit, and then rising above our natures is also necessary. This, in order to cure the only-we-do-something-about-our-world mentality as it happens. When we get from solipsism to recognizing our interdependency and interconnectedness with the world we inhabit, and seeing it is also our world, we shall know and effect balance.