Despite having no experience with schools of its stature beyond what I’ve gleaned from Take Ivy, I do know that Harvard University cultivates minds to discuss the next big ideas. That, in fact, has provided the premise for Harvard Thinks Big, a series that takes a handful of Harvard educators and the Harvard-educated and has them talk about what’s next for humanity. The fourth and most recent annual iteration of Harvard Thinks Big brought seven speakers on stage, allowing each of them twelve minutes to break down a topic of great importance. Seemingly with an eye toward the widest intellectual variety, Harvard Thinks Big 4 features information-dense mini-lectures from experts on statistics, literature, evolutionary biology, law, classics, Chinese history, and jackfruit. (That last one comes from Annemarie Ryu, current Harvard junior and founder of Global Village Fruits.) You can watch a collection of Harvard Thinks Big talks on Youtube or on iTunes. At either location, you’ll also find talks from past years including Jill Lepore on the meaning of life and, just below, Edward Glaeser on the ever-increasing importance of cities.
There you can watch selected talks from Harvard Thinks Big 4, to which the Crimson offers a “tl;dr guide” here. “According to Kant, art can communicate that which doesn’t have a name yet,” writes the paper’s Lynn Miao, describing professor Dorris Sommer’s lecture, viewable at the top of this post. “That somehow involves the mayor of Bogota replacing cops with pantomimes to direct traffic, which actually correlated with a decline in traffic accidents and homicide rates. Apparently, the shock value of clowns, and public art, reaches across nations.” Or perhaps you’d prefer to hear why milk “can prevent obesity, save up to 1.5 million deaths from diarrhea by contributing healthy gut bacteria, save premature babies — essentially everything short of curdling when in contact with lemon,” for which check out professor Katherine J. Hinde’s presentation below. It’s called “Why Mammals Suck.” We think of Harvard as one of the most serious places in America, but clearly, at events like Harvard Thinks Big, they know how to have a good time.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.