The IA is IN: Mentoring block

Come enjoy a mentor-mentee interactive session. We’ll start with a structured introduction to mentors with a diversity of experience and then transition to organic conversations.

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Priyanka Kakar: Thank you so much. That was wonderful and it's lovely to be at this conference again. I see so many wonderful friends, old faces, and young faces. I got worried at first. I thought, "Oh no, it's all us old people. Nobody will be surprised by anything."


Priyanka: Here we go. We are all star stuff.

After hydrogen, helium, and lithium showed up during the origin of the universe, every other element was baked in the belly of a star and eventually became us. It's star stuff all the way down.

Even some molecules, like water and the precursors to amino acids, were formed in gigantic gas clouds and interstellar space before the birth of the planets. We know that molecules are assemblages of the elements and they're formed by electronic forces among atoms.

In the history of earth, at some point, with the causative factors still largely unknown, groups of molecules arranged themselves so as to form single-celled organisms where molecules functioned as systems with behaviors such as tropisms.

Some single-celled organisms became symbiotic, helping each other out, filling some of each other's needs. Some single-celled organisms somehow merged. Each one dropping the genes it didn't need because the other was providing it.

The late geo-scientist, Lynn Margulis, shook up the world of evolutionary biology when she asserted that this emergent behavior of organisms to hook up and become single organisms, symbiogenesis, is most likely the primary means of a speciation and evolution on earth.

That was a direct challenge to Darwin and the "Descent with modification" idea. Some of the most awesome examples are chloroplasts and mitochondria that through symbiogenesis are now part of the collective progenitors of all eukaryotic cells on this planet.

Margulis's theories have increasingly gained acceptances. Genetic evidence has been produced. In fact, Julia Schwartz and her colleagues have discovered a living example of symbiogenesis in progress in a sea slug that, through ingesting algae forever, has managed to incorporate and successfully maintain chloroplasts in its own body. More amazing is that it's moved some of the algal DNA into its own genome, DNA that contains representations for proteins that can build chloroplasts.

This creature with its solar cells can live for a year without eating and it's not done yet. It still needs to eat some of the algae to get chloroplasts until they're incorporated into its DNA sufficient to produce them on its own. That blew my mind. Let's take a moment to look at another kind of evolution, highly colored by emergence, and that's the evolution of technology.

Ever since humans began using things as tools, the story of human evolution has been progressively influenced by human thought and invention. Margulis points out that "The line between biological and intellectual invention is tenuous at best given the inventions of the microscopic forms of life." These are inventions in the transferal of genetic materials, inventions in the forms of being.

While consciousness gives humans a unique experience with themselves, it's not clear that something produced by consciousness is essentially different from something produced by nature. Let that sink in. [laughs]

I view humanity's technological inventions to be as natural as the adaptive abilities, biochemical, organic, or whatever, and extrusions like nests of other living creatures. Teleology is precisely the difference.

Humans can conceive of needed inventions and create them through the use of multiple abstract models. In this sense, technological tools are natural extrusions of human nature. They are not the other. They are us. Douglas Engelbart described the overarching power of computer technology as to "Augment human intellect." Tool use has been held as the great shining artifact of intelligence that proved that humans were distinct from, and superior to, all other beings on the planet.

However, tools are evidently also natural extrusions of the nature of crows, otters, Capuchin monkeys, and many other species, but human production and innovation leaves other species behind.

At least, so far as we understand them, [laughs] they do the same thing we do. The Caledonian crow invents tools to get inside of tight spaces and eat food. I'm going to show you a picture of something else Caledonian crows do.

They see opportunities for improvisational play. This, of course, is one of the best strategies for the invention. I think he's got a mayonnaise jar lid or something. This is shot in the Soviet Union.

He's going to experiment. You can see where the snow has melted off the slate there. One might predict that it might not work, and then there's this stick. Oh darn, well, let's go back over where it worked and do it again. Come on, let's do it again. Do it again. Yay, crow! All right.



Priyanka: These guys invent in some of the same ways that we do by improvisational play with stuff that they find, which turns into all kinds of things later on. Humans extrude tools through processes of improvisation, invention, design. Tools are never far from human wishes and needs. The need to punch somebody out, whack, the need to build a building, and the need to satisfy curiosity.

Once could argue that many of our most significant tools are extensions of our own capabilities to see and know. We grew the telescope first to see ships at sea in battle, but ultimately with Galileo's improvements to learn about the nature of the universe. Now, we have the Hubble and its progenitors coming along. What word do I want? Descendants, that's right.

We extruded microscopes, Mr. Van Leeuwenhoek, to look at the tiniest microorganisms. He was looking at different things than this. This is a single-celled marine creature. Now, with electron microscopes, we can look at atoms in motion.

This is a sheet of carbon atoms formed into a sheet of graphene that has been pulped with a laser and they're moving around trying to repair the edge. This is just due to natural forces. Carbon atoms aren't alive. This work was done at Livermore Labs, I believe.

We define an entity as a thing that has a perception representation action loop. I think it's a really important concept that it can perceive its environment in some way. That it has a representation inside itself that can map perceptions to actions through mechanisms as simple as chemical changes.

It takes some sort of action on the basis of whatever representation it's made. Single-celled organisms with tropisms meet this definition of an entity. But more recent work shows that their very DNA can...

[audio cuts off]

Priyanka: We're going to do an exercise that hopefully through that, you'll be able to get a chance to talk to some of the folks and talk through these. But, again, I will go back to the three things you can control and reinforce that because I've had a lot of success with that and really found that to be true for me, finding meaning in your work, being in a continuous learning situation, pushing yourself to do that, and building really strong relationships.

We need to raise the bar on awesome. This image, by the way, I had to figure out how to use it because it's crazy. You have this unicorn breathing fire, but really, clearly, the cat is in charge. I thought it was really hilarious. Really, what we're going to do next is raise the bar on awesome and have all of you act as mentors for each other.

One of the things that I've really learned is that there's no one-way relationship in mentoring. This is something I've talked about with a few folks. In our field, it's really all about co-mentoring, right? There are times in your career where you need advice. There are times when you're giving advice. We're going to do that today.

Here's the exercise. Actually, this is pretty unstructured. You'll have a chance to do the exercise, talk to the person sitting next to you, and then if you want keep talking, keep talking. This is going to be the end and this is really where the IA is. There're be a few folks wondering around. But, for this exercise, and, Richard, feel free to chime in since this is something Richard said he's used at USAA with a lot of success.

But the idea is to make a graph and you have two axes. You'll have the x-axis, which is the horizontal one, and you'll track your work career. It could be anything from, I think, Richard, you had paperboy as the first one.

I used to be an MC for Pepsi, so whatever. Track your entire career trajectory. Then on the y-axis, track the engagement, how much satisfaction you were getting with the job, how happy you were, and plot it with the curves, ups-and-downs, and swings.

Then turn to the person next to you and talk about those. The most important thing with this is to talk about why those ups-and-downs and those swings were happening, right? What were those points in your career trajectory that were really impactful for you? Was it that you were working alone? Was it that you had a lot of power, you had decision-making capabilities, you loved the people you were with?

If you grab a paper, it'll end up looking a little something like this. This was one I quickly did for myself as I've moved through my career. Those points that are highlighted, are highlighted for different reasons.

With that, the IA is in. We have John, Troy, Ben, and even Richard, who will be able to help with any of the questions you have. Please take five minutes. I'll play some music and then turn to the person next to you. That's the talk. Thank you.


Priyanka: Sorry.

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