TEDx explores the worlds beyond ourselves

There are unknown worlds everywhere. There are places in our world too small to see, foreign traditions ingrained in everyday life that other cultures could never relate to and possibly universes behind the veil of our reality’s fabric.

TEDxUSF brought together undergraduates, alumni and professors Saturday to discuss “A World Beyond Ourselves.” Only 100 attendees were permitted to view the live presentations, with another 100 attendees observing from an on-site live streaming room.

“Imagine for a moment that we are aliens looking down at humans,” Deby Cassill, an associate professor at USF St. Petersburg, said. “Humans wander around, go places … at this scale they could never understand our stories, personal lives and emotions.”

Cassill studies the “rich inner lives of fire ants.” The self-proclaimed ant whisperer surveyed the activity of fire ants through a microscope and found behavior patterns comparable to humans.

She said the neurons of humans and ants were interchangeable and fire ants “booty waggle” in response to pleasure from taking care of little sister ants or ingesting good food, similar to a dog wagging its tail.

Cassill also said ants survive better as a family, when every member is doing its part ———-—-—another characteristic shared with humans. 

“In a world beyond ourselves, no matter how big or small, everyone counts,” she said.

USF Research Associate Parmvir Bahia discussed the importance of bridging the gap between scientists and non-scientists through organized events in social settings.

She directs the U.S. chapter of Pint of Science, an organization that brings together scientists and non-scientists to discuss science in an understandable way over a brew.

Rhondel Whyte was the first of two undergraduate speakers to give his presentation. “Quantum Mechanics with the Prime Minister, the Vice President and the Crime Kingpin” envisioned three alternate universes in which Whyte’s life changed entirely based on certain important decisions.

“You can’t change your past to affect your future,” Whyte said. “You can flash forward.”

Prolepsis occurs when the mind flashes forward and envisions a possible outcome. Whyte said prolepsis could be used as a tool for decision-making to ensure that we live our lives to the fullest. 

Whyte said prolepsis is an indicator that parallel universes exist —— that in a different universe we live with whatever consequences arise.

He asked the audience to “visualize a moment where, if you made a different decision, your life would be fundamentally different.”

“If there’s something in your life that has you dissatisfied, go out and change it,” Whyte said. “Because there’s a version of you that is happy.”

Before intermission, USF alumni team member Gloria Munoz and La Lucha, a jazz trio of alumni, took the stage. Munoz and the band said they developed music that examines the many aspects of living with people who have neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s.

“Oh, body that is swept of its senses, you learned to love with your brain and your breath. Your children will be born into the fog-clogged years,” recited Munoz as a soft, jazzy melody played behind her.

Munoz and La Lucha played three songs in-between discussions about the severity of Alzheimer’s, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. 

Munoz is hopeful her unique approach will affect change: “After all, it’s better to travel in hope than arrive in despair.”

The speakers were all in attendance at intermission. Whyte answered questions from the audience in the concert hall.

“You’re thinking to yourself, everyone here is at the height of research in their field, has degrees, some have companies and I’m just an undergraduate,” Whyte said. “It was intimidating.”

Whyte said his intrigue for “what if?” scenarios is part of what made him go through with giving a talk as an undergrad. After all, in a parallel universe he never seized the opportunity to give a TED talk at USF.

After intermission, a lecture titled “Why Play?” was presented by Ryan Swanson, a USF alumnus and founder of The Urban Conga, a nonprofit that encourages community activity and social interaction through play as a way to catalyze creativity and inspiration.

“As we get older, our idea of play gets a negative connotation,” Swanson said. “We’ve forgotten how to play.” 

Swanson said activating your city streets through play and giving the community opportunities to create and inspire eliminates dead space in communities. The world of play doesn’t disappear after childhood.

Daniel Yeh’s presentation, “Taking on the global grand challenges of water, energy, food and sanitation at their nexus through bio recycling engineering,” explained the importance of harvesting energy from less popular sources — like poop.

The USF professor discussed photosynthesis as “nature’s perfect way of harvesting solar energy” and “poop power.”

“Waste material is sprinkles of sunlight,” Yeh said. Plants utilize sunlight more effectively for energy than humans because human waste holds almost 90 percent of the energy we consume. Essentially, poop holds solar energy.

Jill McCracken’s lecture, “Selling Sex: Contradicting Violence with Choice,” explored the world of sex work, and how negative stigmas create more problems for people taking part in the controversial line of work.

“Sex workers are some of the most courageous, strong and powerful people I have ever met,” said McCracken, a professor of rhetoric. “It may be hard for people to understand that some people willingly choose sex work and enjoy it. It’s the criminalization and stigma that keeps sex work hidden in plain sight.”

She said viewing sex workers as victims was incorrect, and further pushed the theme of “a world beyond” to a much more palpable and real world not far from our own. 

The final speaker of the night, Carissa Caricato, gave a lecture on turning the dark stories of one’s past into new and purposeful life. “Dancing for Freedom: Your Dark Story has a Purpose” documented her journey from victim of sexual abuse to champion and benefactor for joy overseas.

Caricato, a USF alumna, talked about the integral role the hula-hoop played in freeing her from her dark story, and in teaching others to do the same.

“The hoop has changed my life,” she said. “It helps me feel graceful and beautiful like a child.”

Caricato traveled to India to teach children how to use story-telling dance to transform their dark stories into beautiful dances. Caricato’s five-color hula-hoops represent the stages of getting past darkness, from before the darkness sets in to after it has been used to help others.

“We all talk about being the change you wish to see in the world,” Caricato said. “It’s time to tell your story to a world beyond yourself.”