Attending the lecture

I woke up yesterday morning a few hours before my alarm went off. I didn’t think anything of it since I have trouble sleeping. I picked up my phone and scrolled my feed on Facebook. My alma mater posted that the Distinguished Lecture Series had been scheduled for that same night, and the speaker was renowned physicist and futurist, Dr. Michio Kaku. Looking at the time of the event, I was disappointed since the lecture had been scheduled to begin at seven while I had been scheduled to work until eight.

I’ll admit I wanted to go. As I lay in bed, I wished there was a way I could attend, and then one of those rare happenings occurred. My phone rang, at around seven-twenty in the morning. I saw that my employer was calling me. I answered and they wanted to see if I would be interested in going in early, as soon as I could.

I immediately said yes and rushed to get ready. If I could be at work by nine, I would be off by six, and I would have plenty of time to get to the lecture. Nothing remarkable happened, except that I was ambushed by management. They surprised me with a card, a present, and forced to endure a silly hat while my photo was taken, but that’s another story entirely. I made it to the West Texas A&M University campus and to Legacy Hall, where the lecture would take place, thirty minutes early.

I felt uncomfortable being so early, but within ten minutes there was not an empty seat in the hall and people roamed the aisles, desperate to find a place to witness the lecture. University officials had to nudge students who had decided to sit in the aisles, invoking fire code issues. There was a mad rush to remedy the situation. They, Lecture Committee, hadn’t figured that so many would want to attend a lecture by someone as boring as a physicist, even one as renowned as Dr. Kaku.

They scurried to come up with a solution, and around seven-twenty, they announced that they had a solution, and that the lecture would be streamed to a few classrooms in the basement of the JBK Student Center, below Legacy Hall. For a moment no one moved, and I wondered if the Fire Marshall would show up and cancel the lecture, but my fears were unfounded. A few minutes later, after two officials began the introduction, Dr. Kaku walked up on stage.

What followed was an exciting look into the future. He gave a brief history on science and physics and its role in the economic cycles, of bubbles and depressions, starting with railroads and the industrial revolution, the stock market crash of 1929, the real estate boom and bust of 2008, and the next wave that is to come.

He discussed at length how ubiquitous computers would be, so much so that they would become invisible, much like how electricity has disappeared from the world. It’s there and we use it, but we take it for granted. Computing will become the same, easier and cheaper to use. He even discussed the future of healthcare, of how lifespans may increase with the ability to manufacture body parts via 3D printing using the patients own cells.

There’s no way I could do the lecture justice. Dr. Kaku was engaging. He had an accessible and humourous delivery style, of talking to the audience simply, but never talking down or being condescending. The only negative I took away was during the Q&A, where a WTAMU student used the opportunity to ask a question in such a way to insult conservatives and the religious. Dr. Kaku didn’t take the bait, feigning that he didn’t understand her question, and politely offering an alternative take on the question.

But, her clumsy and insulting jibe aside, I think her question was valid. What of the moral and ethical questions of creating a method to sustain human life almost indefinitely? What are the ramifications of creating virtual immortality? How do you counter objections that will likely be raised by the religious community, that God’s plan is for us to be born, to live, and to die?

I don’t have the answer, and I wonder if Dr. Kaku or the scientific community has the answer. Like many such philosophical questions, it may have to be deferred until such the moment we are faced with that particular dilemma. But such as it is, I enjoyed the lecture. I found the look into the future to be both exciting and frightening. I came away with some questions as well, but I believe a good lecturer should inspire us to ask them and to discover those answers for ourself.

All in all, it was the best birthday present I could give myself, and it’s all thanks to the serendipitous turn of event that had no one scheduled in my department all morning, forcing them to call me in early.

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