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← How I made friends with reality

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Showing Revision 17 created 02/19/2019 by Oliver Friedman.

  1. I'm going to first tell you something that
    in my grandmother
  2. would've elicited a five-oy alarm:
  3. "Oy-oy-oy-oy-oy."
  4. (Laughter)
  5. And here it is ...
    are you ready?
  6. OK.
  7. I have stage IV lung cancer.
  8. Oh, I know, "poor me."
  9. I don't feel that way.
  10. I'm so OK with it.
  11. And granted, I have certain advantages --
  12. not everybody can take
    so cavalier an attitude.
  13. I don't have young children.
  14. I have a grown daughter who's
    brilliant and happy and wonderful.
  15. I don't have huge financial stress.
  16. My cancer isn't that aggressive.
  17. It's kind of like
    the Democratic leadership --
  18. (Laughter)

  19. not convinced it can win.

  20. It's basically just sitting there,
  21. waiting for Goldman Sachs
    to give it some money.
  22. (Laughter)

  23. (Applause)

  24. Oh, and the best thing of all --

  25. I have a major accomplishment
    under my belt.
  26. Yes.
  27. I didn't even know it until someone
    tweeted me a year ago.
  28. And here's what they said:
  29. "You are responsible
  30. for the pussification
    of the American male."
  31. (Laughter)

  32. (Applause)

  33. Not that I can take
    all the credit, but ...

  34. (Laughter)

  35. But what if you don't have my advantages?

  36. The only advice I can give you
    is to do what I did:
  37. make friends with reality.
  38. You couldn't have a worse relationship
    with reality than I did.
  39. From the get-go,
  40. I wasn't even attracted to reality.
  41. If they'd had Tinder when I met reality,
  42. I would have swiped left
  43. and the whole thing would have been over.
  44. (Laughter)

  45. And reality and I --

  46. we don't share the same values,
    the same goals --
  47. (Laughter)

  48. To be honest, I don't have goals;

  49. I have fantasies.
  50. They're exactly like goals
    but without the hard work.
  51. (Laughter)

  52. (Applause)

  53. I'm not a big fan of hard work,

  54. but you know reality --
  55. it's either push, push, push, push, push
  56. through its agent,
    the executive brain function --
  57. one of the "yays" of dying:
  58. my executive brain function
    won't have me to kick around anymore.
  59. (Laughter)

  60. But something happened

  61. that made me realize
  62. that reality may not be reality.
  63. So what happened was,
  64. because I basically wanted reality
    to leave me alone --
  65. but I wanted to be left alone
    in a nice house
  66. with a Wolf range
    and Sub-Zero refrigerator ...
  67. private yoga lessons --
  68. I ended up with
    a development deal at Disney.
  69. And one day I found myself
    in my new office
  70. on Two Dopey Drive --
  71. (Laughter)

  72. which reality thought
    I should be proud of ...

  73. (Laughter)

  74. And I'm staring at the present
    they sent me to celebrate my arrival --

  75. not the Lalique vase or the grand piano
    I've heard of other people getting,
  76. but a three-foot-tall,
    stuffed Mickey Mouse
  77. (Laughter)

  78. with a catalog, in case I wanted
    to order some more stuff

  79. that didn't jibe with my aesthetic.
  80. (Laughter)

  81. And when I looked up in the catalog

  82. to see how much
    this three-foot-high mouse cost,
  83. here's how it was described ...
  84. "Life-sized."
  85. (Laughter)

  86. And that's when I knew.

  87. Reality wasn't "reality."
  88. Reality was an imposter.
  89. So I dived into quantum physics
    and chaos theory

  90. to try to find actual reality,
  91. and I've just finished a movie --
  92. yes, finally finished --
  93. about all that,
  94. so I won't go into it here,
  95. and anyway, it wasn't until
    after we shot the movie,
  96. when I broke my leg
    and then it didn't heal,
  97. so then they had to do
    another surgery a year later,
  98. and then that took a year --
  99. two years in a wheelchair,
  100. and that's when I came
    into contact with actual reality:
  101. limits.
  102. Those very limits I'd spent
    my whole life denying

  103. and pushing past and ignoring
  104. were real,
  105. and I had to deal with them,
  106. and they took imagination,
    creativity and my entire skill set.
  107. It turned out I was great
    at actual reality.
  108. I didn't just come to terms with it,
  109. I fell in love.
  110. And I should've known,
  111. given my equally shaky
    relationship with the zeitgeist ...
  112. I'll just say, if anyone
    is in the market for a Betamax --
  113. (Laughter)

  114. I should have known that the moment
    I fell in love with reality,

  115. the rest of the country would decide
    to go in the opposite direction.
  116. (Laughter)

  117. But I'm not here to talk about Trump
    or the alt-right or climate-change deniers

  118. or even the makers of this thing,
  119. which I would have called a box,
  120. except that right here, it says,
  121. "This is not a box."
  122. (Laughter)

  123. They're gaslighting me.

  124. (Laughter)

  125. (Applause)

  126. But what I do want to talk about

  127. is a personal challenge to reality
  128. that I take personally,
  129. and I want to preface it
    by saying that I absolutely love science.
  130. I have this --
  131. not a scientist myself --
  132. but an uncanny ability to understand
    everything about science,
  133. except the actual science --
  134. (Laughter)

  135. which is math.

  136. But the most outlandish concepts
    make sense to me.
  137. The string theory;
  138. the idea that all of reality emanates
    from the vibrations of these teeny --
  139. I call it "The Big Twang."
  140. (Laughter)

  141. Wave-particle duality:

  142. the idea that one thing
    can manifest as two things ...
  143. you know?
  144. That a photon can manifest
    as a wave and a particle
  145. coincided with my deepest intuitions
  146. that people are good and bad,
  147. ideas are right and wrong.
  148. Freud was right about penis envy
  149. and he was wrong about who has it.
  150. (Laughter)

  151. (Applause)

  152. Thank you.

  153. (Applause)

  154. And then there's this slight
    variation on that,

  155. which is reality looks like two things,
  156. but it turns out to be the interaction
    of those two things,
  157. like space -- time,
  158. mass -- energy
  159. and life and death.
  160. So I don't understand --
  161. I simply just don't understand
  162. the mindset of people who are out
    to "defeat death" and "overcome death."
  163. How do you do that?
  164. How do you defeat death
    without killing off life?
  165. It doesn't make sense to me.
  166. I also have to say,

  167. I find it incredibly ungrateful.
  168. I mean, you're given
    this extraordinary gift --
  169. life --
  170. but it's as if you had asked Santa
    for a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow
  171. and you had gotten
    a salad spinner instead.
  172. You know, it's the beef --
  173. the beef with it is that it comes
    with an expiration date.
  174. Death is the deal breaker.
  175. I don't get that.
  176. I don't understand --
  177. to me, it's disrespectful.
  178. It's disrespectful to nature.
  179. The idea that we're going
    to dominate nature,
  180. we're going to master nature,
  181. nature is too weak
    to withstand our intellect --
  182. no, I don't think so.
  183. I think if you've actually read
    quantum physics as I have --
  184. well, I read an email
    from someone who'd read it, but --
  185. (Laughter)

  186. You have to understand

  187. that we don't live in Newton's
    clockwork universe anymore.
  188. We live in a banana peel universe,
  189. and we won't ever be able
    to know everything
  190. or control everything
  191. or predict everything.
  192. Nature is like a self-driving car.
  193. The best we can be is like
    the old woman in that joke --
  194. I don't know if you've heard it.
  195. An old woman is driving
  196. with her middle-aged daughter
    in the passenger seat,
  197. and the mother goes
    right through a red light.
  198. And the daughter doesn't want to say
    anything that makes it sound like,
  199. "You're too old to drive,"
  200. so she didn't say anything.
  201. And then the mother
    goes through a second red light,
  202. and the daughter,
    as tactfully as possible,
  203. says, "Mom, are you aware
  204. that you just went through
    two red lights?"
  205. And the mother says, "Oh, am I driving?"
  206. (Laughter)

  207. (Applause)

  208. So ...

  209. and now, I'm going to take a mental leap,
  210. which is easy for me because
    I'm the Evel Knievel of mental leaps;
  211. my license plate says,
  212. "Cogito, ergo zoom."
  213. I hope you're willing
    to come with me on this,
  214. but my real problem with the mindset
    that is so out to defeat death
  215. is if you're anti-death,
  216. which to me translates as anti-life,
  217. which to me translates as anti-nature,
  218. it also translates to me as anti-woman,
  219. because women have long been
    identified with nature.
  220. And my source on this is Hannah Arendt,
  221. the German philosopher who wrote
    a book called "The Human Condition."
  222. And in it, she says that classically,
  223. work is associated with men.
  224. Work is what comes out of the head;
  225. it's what we invent,
  226. it's what we create,
  227. it's how we leave our mark upon the world.
  228. Whereas labor is associated with the body.
  229. It's associated with the people
    who perform labor
  230. or undergo labor.
  231. So to me,
  232. the mindset that denies that,
  233. that denies that we're in sync
    with the biorhythms,
  234. the cyclical rhythms of the universe,
  235. does not create a hospitable
    environment for women
  236. or for people associated with labor,
  237. which is to say,
  238. people that we associate
    as descendants of slaves,
  239. or people who perform manual labor.
  240. So here's how it looks
    from a banana-peel-universe point of view,

  241. from my mindset, which I call
    "Emily's universe."
  242. First of all,
  243. I am incredibly grateful for life,
  244. but I don't want to be immortal.
  245. I have no interest in having
    my name live on after me.
  246. In fact, I don't want it to,
  247. because it's been my observation
  248. that no matter how nice and how brilliant
  249. or how talented you are,
  250. 50 years after you die, they turn on you.
  251. (Laughter)

  252. And I have actual proof of that.

  253. A headline from the Los Angeles Times:
  254. "Anne Frank: Not so nice after all."
  255. (Laughter)

  256. Plus, I love being in sync

  257. with the cyclical rhythms of the universe.
  258. That's what's so extraordinary about life:
  259. it's a cycle of generation,
  260. degeneration,
  261. regeneration.
  262. "I" am just a collection of particles
  263. that is arranged into this pattern,
  264. then will decompose and be available,
  265. all of its constituent parts, to nature,
  266. to reorganize into another pattern.
  267. To me, that is so exciting,
  268. and it makes me even more grateful
    to be part of that process.
  269. You know,

  270. I look at death now from the point of view
    of a German biologist,
  271. Andreas Weber,
  272. who looks at it as part
    of the gift economy.
  273. You're given this enormous gift, life,
  274. you enrich it as best you can,
  275. and then you give it back.
  276. And, you know, Auntie Mame
    said, "Life is a banquet" --
  277. well, I've eaten my fill.
  278. I have had an enormous appetite for life,
  279. I've consumed life,
  280. but in death, I'm going to be consumed.
  281. I'm going into the ground
    just the way I am,
  282. and there, I invite every microbe
  283. and detritus-er
  284. and decomposer
  285. to have their fill.
  286. I think they'll find me delicious.
  287. (Laughter)

  288. I do.

  289. So the best thing about my attitude,
    I think, is that it's real.

  290. You can see it.
  291. You can observe it.
  292. It actually happens.
  293. Well, maybe not my enriching the gift,
  294. I don't know about that --
  295. but my life has certainly
    been enriched by other people.
  296. By TED,
  297. which introduced me
    to a whole network of people
  298. who have enriched my life,
  299. including Tricia McGillis,
    my website designer,
  300. who's working with my wonderful daughter
  301. to take my website
    and turn it into something
  302. where all I have to do is write a blog.
  303. I don't have to use
    the executive brain function ...
  304. Ha, ha, ha, I win!
  305. (Laughter)

  306. And I am so grateful to you.

  307. I don't want to say "the audience,"
  308. because I don't really see it
    as we're two separate things.
  309. I think of it in terms
    of quantum physics, again.
  310. And, you know, quantum physicists
    are not exactly sure what happens
  311. when the wave becomes a particle.
  312. There are different theories --
  313. the collapse of the wave function,
  314. decoherence --
  315. but they're all agreed on one thing:
  316. that reality comes into being
    through an interaction.
  317. (Voice breaking) So do you.
  318. And every audience I've ever had,
  319. past and present.
  320. Thank you so much for making my life real.
  321. (Applause)

  322. Thank you.

  323. (Applause)

  324. Thank you.

  325. (Applause)

  326. Thank you.

  327. (Applause)

  328. Thank you.