Last Saturday, the University of Toronto Mississauga hosted its second TEDxUofTMississauga event four years after the last one in 2013. Under the overarching theme of “in the grand scheme of things,” the program consisted of presentations by UTM principal and U of T vice president Ulrich Krull, Aboriginal Elder Cat Criger, and faculty from the biology, psychology, and historical studies departments.  After a moment of silence for Remembrance Day, the event started with an honorary indigenous song, followed by a sage burning ritual.

“The burning of sage and the smoke is to bring us together […]. Having direction and vision in life and we invite people to be together and going together and seeking knowledge,” began Criger. He emphasized the importance of maintaining curiosity and says, “You have a title, you are a student, and for myself too, I feel privileged to be a student.” Criger said one of the privileges of being a student comes from choice: “Exercising our privilege to be students gives us the chance to look around and choose, choose what we would like to study, choosing to exercise our curiosity.”

Krull further asked students to focus on the notion of a shared perception. “Your perception of what is going to be delivered today is limited by your background knowledge,” he said, explaining how knowledge is the product of competing influences derived from different cultures and experiences. Through the process of gaining knowledge, Krull described, “We learn more about what our place in the world is, applying that knowledge to new things, and realizing that you have the potential to impact everyone around you.”

Afterward, the UTM principal highlighted advances in technology and social media and how they have “impacted [the] society, and has changed the way we appreciate our environment.” Krull discussed the computer age and said, “I didn’t grow up in what could be called the computer age, yes, I grew into the computer age, but it wasn’t in place when I was growing up.” On the other hand, Krull explained that our generation is constantly exposed to microprocessors and programming: “Social media is a relatively new invention, and I ask you to think if it has changed the way you think and how society functions? It has changed our ability to communicate and share ideas, and so has it changed how you perceive yourself in relation to your society?”

Our perception of the world he stated, has now expanded to include what our society knows and believes as a whole. In the context of influences on the advancement of our knowledge and questioning.

Krull said we are guided by asking ourselves: “Can we do it? And then does society say we should? May we do it? […] Does society allow us to do it?”

He also explained our progress, guided by these questions, are both determined by, and a reflection of, our shared perceptions. Krull gave examples by relating the advances made by Galileo and how his acceptance was limited by his society’s perceptions. Now, objects such as telescopes are taken for granted. The UTM principal presented a deep field image captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and said, “You look up in the night sky and you see the stars […], but do you realize you’re actually in a time machine? Whatever you see out there isn’t actually there, it has taken time for it to reach you.”

Scaling backwards from his emphasis on advancements on cosmic discoveries, Krull then discussed the advent of microscopes and the discovery of cellular structures. Krull explained that Malaria, for example, literally translates into “bad air.” Although air that smells bad isn’t directly relevant to the disease itself, Krull elaborated that this is a reflection of the shared perceptions of people at the time of the disease’s discovery. “It was only with advancement in technology that these perceptions could be changed, by furthering our understanding.”

By discussing how the introduction of atomic force microscopy and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) installations for observing gravitational waves have changed our understanding of how the universe functions, Krull emphasizes, “That is the message I wanted to deliver to you today, much of what we appreciate is based on what we know. Much of what we know is very much tempered by the questions we ask.”

Krull’s presentation was followed by a talk by associate professor in the biology department, Fiona Rawle.

Professor Fiona Rawle from the biology department at UTM spoke about cultivating curiosity.

“I am a scientist at heart and also a scientist by training,” said Rawle. After completing her post-doctoral studies in immunology, Rawle discovered her interest in teaching science and learning about the best ways to teach science. As Rawle described, solutions to many of the problems faced globally and by our community, such as accelerated climate change, access to education, and disease management, will be grounded in different disciplines with large contributions from science and science collaborations.

Peter Piper the rabbit, among other animals, as Rawle said, exhibit curiosity. “Curiosity however, is largely a human condition […] and there’s different types of curiosity […]. As we age and grow up, we shift in the types of curiosity that we exhibit.” The biology professor then described methods both educators and students can employ to cultivate curiosity. According to Rawle, curiosity is curated when education focuses on providing students with skill sets and opportunities to change their mind sets. “If we can find the limits of our own knowledge, that opens up so many opportunities for learning […] if we ask why and how, which are tenets of science, it opens up so many possibilities for learning,” she said.

Rawle’s discussion on curiosity and learning was followed by a talk delivered by assistant professor in the Department of Historical studies, Julie MacArthur. MacArthur discussed the concept of borders, their utility through the lens of the Kenyan remapping conflict, and the associated dimensions of community identity. The event also included a video presentation of Sarah Kay’s TED talk from 2011 on her journey towards finding spoken word poetry, and a talk by assistant professor in psychology Dr. Loren Martin.

“The power of these TED talk events is to raise awareness about certain things,” said Amir Khan, a fourth-year professional writing and communications student and a member of the organizing team at TEDxUofTMississauga, ”And with the theme of ‘in the grand scheme of things,’ we hope students can take away how their studies and efforts can have an impact on the community […]. We work as individuals, but we have more power as a group”