TED Weekends ponders the wonder of life

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Human beings: we are approximately 100 trillion cells, and yet so much more. In his talk “Conception to birth — visualized,” Alexander Tsiaras shows the incredible journey we all take from a single cell to a crying baby born into the world. In a video that makes use of micromagnetic resonance imaging, Tsiaras shows the stunning pace of development leading up to the moment of birth. As Tsiaras says, it’s the “unbelievable machinery that will become the magic of you.”

Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth -- visualized Alexander Tsiaras: Conception to birth -- visualized This week’s TED Weekends on the Huffington Post expands on Tsiaras’ talk, getting other perspectives upon seeing the miracle of life at work. Here, three of the great essays that are available now for your reading pleasure. 

Alexander Tsiaras: The beautiful and efficient anatomy of pregnancy

I have spent most of the last decade focusing on the marvels of developmental biology — “the study of how multicellular organisms develop from immature forms into an adult.” I study this using scientific visualization technologies that my team at TheVisualMD have developed. It’s almost impossible to express how privileged I’ve felt to watch the process of conception to birth, as genetic mechanisms dynamically instruct each fetal cell of where to go and what to become.

In the 7th, 8th, and 9th weeks, a baby’s lungs develop. In this finely tuned and choreographed fetal development process, the right lung grows longer and separates into three lobes while the left lung forms only two because the heart needs to grow; this protrusion, these heart cells, actually “talk” to the developing cells of the lung, saying, “Hey, I need some room here”. These lungs’ asymmetry accommodates the architecture and design of the cardiovascular system. Our beautiful and efficient anatomy is truly awesome and endlessly fascinating.

Read the full essay >>

Andrew Hessel: 3 Gigabits of Genetic Code

Alexander Tsiaras’ video, “Conception to Birth — Visualized,” is both exciting and humbling. It is stunning to see the magnificent embryonic development of the human body, from sperm and egg to birth, all the more because his visualizations are not simple medical illustrations, but algorithmically processed data sets from high resolution micro MRI images of the fetus. It is humbling because Tsiaras’ video is a reminder about how little we actually know about the molecular self-assembly processes that create us. Understanding this cellular dance is, as Tsiaras notes, beyond current mathematical comprehension, and can only be appreciated through the lenses of mystery, magic, and even divinity.

Scientists have been working to collect knowledge of biological systems for centuries. What Tsiaras does with micro MRI is give us yet another tool for observing, non-destructively, the development program at work from the earliest stages. It reminded me of the Hubble telescope and how it changed our view of the universe. Only here, rather than looking outward to the stars, we peer deeper into our own bodies than ever before. The results are no less mind-blowing.

Is self-assembly of the human body proof that God exists? Does the existence of the universe? For me, these questions are red herrings.

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Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman: What Makes a Miracle?

Do we still experience miracles today? It all depends on what we think a “miracle” truly is.

Often, when we think of miracles, we envision the events that form the basis for many religious traditions — the parting of the Red Sea, Jesus healing the lepers, Mohammed rising up to heaven.

But we also use the word “miracle” in more everyday situations. When a family member recovers from an illness, we call it a “miracle.” When we narrowly avert a disaster, we call it a “miracle.” When we think, “If had missed that dinner party, I never would have met my spouse,” we call it a “miracle.”

And perhaps the most common way we use the word miracle is in “the miracle of birth,” which Alexander Tsiaris’ TEDTalk, “Conception to Birth — Visualized” shows us quite concretely.

Read the full essay >>