Starmus IV, Day Four: Trump sacked by Sachs, a King and a Prince doing a little bit of arson. 

Jeffrey Sachs - How we can survive Trump, Climate Change and other Global Crisis? Starmus IV
Jeffrey Sachs – How we can survive Trump, Climate Change and other Global Crisis?

“This is about money and greed. This not about science and denial.” Jeffrey Sachs came out swinging hard, unapologetically, and you could tell that his heart is angry. I know exactly what he is speaking to as a fellow American. My blood boiled, my emotions tumbled and, as always, I am left with the crushing question of how can there be humans who so deliberately chose such abhorrent behaviour? To me this talk was the hardest to hear, because those I love are living with the omnipresent and harsh realities created by the monsters parading as men.

Jeffrey Sachs
Jeffrey Sachs

What left the biggest lump in my throat was his appeal to not give up on the American people because we do know this is all wrong. Very wrong. We need those in this audience and in audiences similar to keep fighting back with innovation, solid facts and sound logic. It isn’t just a battle of economics, or science, or technology being developed to change the world. Not by a long shot. It is a war to save lives and help repair broken spirits.

Larry King - The Era of Post-truth and fake news
Larry King – The Era of Post-truth and fake news
Larry King - The Era of Post-truth and fake news
Larry King – The Era of Post-truth and fake news

Larry King, thankfully, brought us all to balance with his hilarious “interview” conducted by Garik Israelian. Poor Garek though. Larry is certainly one to talk and steer a conversation, and I think that his insights into good conversation were very much needed. The call for curiosity, honesty and building solid lines of communication has been a theme repeated by most of the speakers. The call to remember that we need to laugh more and use humour to help carry the human spirit was demonstrated in its effectiveness to do just that. His points of can we have too much information? Is there a danger of having everything at our fingers? Is it okay for everyone one to put information out there as fact? Have been topics that I would wager most of us have talked about with some friend over coffee at least once. Having accessible information has been enriching lives globally, but what is the cost to this? It was the questions within the questions and between the lines of banter that I found myself drifting on.

He said at dinner the other night that we need not only ask the big questions. We can just ask why and go from there. “Simple questions often get the most shockingly honesty answers because it surprises people and they forget answering grandiosely,” he said after I had asked what he felt the best type of questions to ask are. For a man who has interviewed 60,000 people, I am certain that advice is some of the wisest.

Starmus in the City - photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City – photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City - photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City – photo by Torleif Kvinnesland

The City Programme, on the other hand, unfortunately plagued by our wet weather, has soldiered on providing some fun for those who are not attending the Main Programme events. So, while those of us at the Spektrum headed into a break to see a moon rock, eat a donut and then pile back in for the last panel discussion, the City Programme was well… on fire, literally, as the Crown Prince set our city’s resident and aspiring Bill Nye, Forsker-Frederic on fire.

“There was an immense amount of bending the rules,” Frederic said about having the Prince set him on fire. Which came about because, as it seems, a certain Princess is rather happy for her Prince to set someone on fire. A few well placed elbows from Mette-Marit and Haakon was on the stage being Forsker-Haakon, setting Frederic on fire after he asked for a volunteer. All in a day of royally-awesome science.

For the main programme tomorrow I want a really good seat for Martin Rees talk Living Beyond 2100: On Earth and Beyond.  I am also very curious about how marine biology, twitter, DNA and crochet all fit together, because I’ve crocheted for 30 years and I am really not coming to any conclusions on my own. I am certain Nancy Knowlton will clear it up for me. And although I am rather lame with my early bedtime, I am going to try to keep my eyes open long enough to go to the concert tomorrow evening.

Oh, one last thing…. If you want to set Frederic on fire (tell him I sent you), be at the Torvet at 11:00 for a front row seat (it worked for Haakon).

 

Finn Kydland - Innovation, Capital Formation, and Economic Policy
Finn Kydland – Innovation, Capital Formation, and Economic Policy

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Oliver Stone - Decoding truth in films
Oliver Stone – Decoding truth in films
Oliver Stone - Decoding truth in films
Oliver Stone – Decoding truth in films

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Larry King.- The Era of Post-truth and fake news
Larry King.- The Era of Post-truth and fake news

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Starmus in the City - photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City – photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City - photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City – photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City - photo by Torleif Kvinnesland
Starmus in the City – photo by Torleif Kvinnesland

Words by Jennifer Wold, Photography by Wil Lee-Wright

Starmus IV, Day One: We Have Take Off

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What a gloriously confusing day I have just experienced. After many months of heightened anticipation, Starmus IV, hosted by NTNU, finally launched in Trondheim. And it is already confounding my expectations.

Sandra Magnus on stage at Starmus IV, Trondheim Spektrum
Sandra Magnus on stage at Starmus IV, Trondheim Spektrum

Today was somewhat of a soft launch, with the official opening ceremony scheduled for tomorrow. Torrential rain, several high-profile speaker cancellations and an odd Sunday start. I feared today would turn into somewhat of a damp squib, as I entered the cavernous Trondheim Spektrum venue to be greeted by eerily empty hallways.

I was surprised to discover, some seconds later, that this was because the auditorium was packed. Starmus is no place for class-cutters, especially when you consider that, in the words of speaker David Zambuka, the average IQ at this festival is “in the millions”. What Spektrum lacks in personality on the outside, it makes up for in an epic conference arena: minimal, dark and sleek, with those strong Starmus colours locking all eyes on stage.

Full house on day one Starmus IV
Full house on day one

But it was not the stage layout that attracted thousands of delegates out on a wet Sunday. It was the quality of the speaker line-up and so far the festival programme has delivered on its promise. There was next to nobody with their phone out, scrolling emails and social media, the modern-day affliction of these types of events. Instead, all eyes and ears were pinned to the stage. It was a refreshing departure from the norm.

Alle eyes on stage
Alle eyes on stage

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Perspectives from Space, Sandra Magnus Starmus IV
Perspectives from Space, Sandra Magnus

Alle eyes on stage Sarmus IV

The theme today surrounded the existence of life beyond our planet and there were some challenging thoughts put to the audience. These ranged from the existential (“if you don’t know what an alien looks like, how do you know what to look for?” Lynn Rothschild), to the mind-boggling (Exoplanets? Biosignatures? Thank you Michel Mayor and Sara Seager). But the organisers of Starmus, now in its fourth year, understand the diversity of their audience.

The Most Extreme Environments Where the Alien Life Could be Found - Lynn Rothschild Starmus IV
The Most Extreme Environments Where the Alien Life Could be Found – Lynn Rothschild
Origins and Aliens: The Search for Biosignatures on Exoplanets - Sara Seager Starmus IV
Origins and Aliens: The Search for Biosignatures on Exoplanets – Sara Seager

After the break the speeches broadened their appeal and lifted the whole experience to another level. Steve Vai brought fame, culture and whimsy to the proceedings, sat on a lone stool in the middle of the vast stage, like a philosopher, wandering in space. It was broad, expansive, evasive, like one of his guitar solos, riffing on ‘egoic perspectives’ and the limitations of these types of thoughts. One aspect really struck a chord with me; “truth and reality has no belief in it… truth has no opinion. It just is, and you have access to it through your intense attention, without thought… even if you can only do this for seconds at a time, it’s vital. This is the only place you can find the one thing every human being on the planet really wants. Peace.”

Creative Manifestation - Steve Vai Starmus IV
Creative Manifestation – Steve Vai
"Truth and reality has no belief in it… truth has no opinion" Steve Vai Starmus IV
“Truth and reality has no belief in it… truth has no opinion” Steve Vai
Steve Vat on "egoic perspectives" and the limitations of these types of thoughts Starmus IV
Steve Vat on “egoic perspectives” and the limitations of these types of thoughts

It reminded me of a Neil deGrasse youtube video I saw in the run up to Starmus, where he discusses how science is a fundamental part of society, yet people in the 21st century (America) have chosen to debate what to believe in, and to stand in denial of scientific fact:

This is one of the ideas that excites me about Starmus and science in general: the exercise in finding out what is true. With that in mind my top tip for today’s programme is Brian Cox and BBC Radio 4’s live broadcast: The Infinite Monkey Cage, at 10:30am.

Harrison Schmitt, photo credit NASA Starmus IV
Harrison Schmitt, photo credit NASA

I will also be interested to see how Harrison Schmitt steps into Buzz Aldrin’s shoes (not for the first time!), after the latter’s unfortunate withdrawal from the conference for health reasons. Buzz Aldrin will however join the discussion with fellow moonwalkers, Harrison Schmitt and Charlie Duke, via Skype at the scheduled time on Tuesday 20 June at 14:10.

Pollution Pods Starmus IV
Pollution Pods

On the city programme I will be visiting the highly anticipated installation Pollution Pods, up at Kristiansten Festning, by British climate artist Michael Pinsky:

This is a bit of a walk uphill from the centre (I don’t know if Starmus provide buses?) but it is one of those things which you put off and off until you are on the flight home, pinching yourself for not having visited.

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David Zambuka

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Everyday during Starmus, my colleagues from The List and I will be blogging what we see, and what other attendees are looking forward to. We will bring you photos, interviews, advice, stories and feedback from this pop-up community. Our focus is on increasing engagement in the event, especially amongst those of us with non-scientific backgrounds. If you are at the conference we will try to cut through the festival programme to highlight the elements which are vital for all of us, and if you are not here we hope to bring you some valuable lessons, along with advice about how everyone can get involved in the form of the City Programme (which has a mixture of free and ticketed events).

Words and photos: Wil Lee-Wright, Editor-in-Chief, The List Media