Where did you hear about Out of the Box conference?
Well, I was sent an invitation, and when I saw what you were trying to do I was extremely enhusiastic about it. It’s actually rare for me to stay through the whole conference, because I get so many invitations to give lectures that I often stay only for the day of my presentation, stay for the day and then disappear again. This time I thought, what you’re doing is very relevant to the biggest problems universities and societies face today, which is this: the sense in which people are constricting their minds, we are forced as academics to look for money to do the research, and that encourages same ways of thinking; you have to think in the same way that the ones who are going to judge what you are going to put in as a proposal. If you put in a proposal that is way outside the box you can be pretty certain it will be very hard to get the funding for it – that is a huge problem in the world today, and academic disciplines tend to shift towards the orthodox view. I call the people that think outside the box the »pink diamonds«. The ordinary diamond, we all know what that is; the white or clear diamond that glows and is beautiful. »Pink diamond« is very rare. I think that is why it’s so important for me to stay through the whole meeting.
What you’re doing is encouraging the thinkers that will become the pink diamonds of the future.
What do you think about the concept of the conference?
The concept is what we need, and it’s terrific that you’ve done what you’ve done. We need something that encourages those who have ‘heretical’ thoughts. We should encourage the heretics, even. Some of them will be wrong, of course, but you have to put up with that. The few who are absolutely right will change the world; the few who show how you get out of one box and move to a different situation, will change the world. Of course you will have people who got, they think, excellent ideas for how you solve the big problems of society – some of them will be crazy ideas, some of them will fail. The difficulty is, you can’t judge in advance.
Initially, what appears to be a heretic, eventually becomes a revolutionary, somebody who changes the world.
So, what you’re doing is exactly what the world needs. The world of universities needs it, and societies need it.
What did you like the most so far in the conference?
Oh, that’s very difficult, because it’s an extraordinary range. First of all, I have been educated, for attending a conference on which there are talks of quantum mechanics and synthetic biology – on those two i don’t know a lot, and I’ve learned a lot. Then you’ve had talks on, for example, language and thought – curiously, that’s very important for scientists, because, as I tried to make clear in my talks at this meeting, sometimes the misuse of language, the misuse of metaphor, keeps people inside the box. They don’t sometimes realize they’re using the metaphor, they say »i’m using this to tell you the truth«; instead what they’re doing is using language to avoid telling the truth. But they don’t know that, they’re trapped – that’s another kind of box, of course. So what I’ve learned, coming to a meeting like this, where there are many talks in areas outside my own field is, I’ve been educated, and of course because you chose those thinkers who are trying to think outside the box it’s an unusual conference, because it’s from those who tend not to give the orthdox story.
We just had a talk on the area of biology – the presenter had presented the ideas that I would regard as ‘out of the box’, because they are not a standard way of dealing with problems.
Was the conference as you expcted it to be?
I didn’t know what to expect, actually, except that I’ve been to Slovenia before, and therefore I think you’re very unusual – you’re very tiny, but you have influence because of the way in which you put on these conferences and encourage academic activity. You have an influence beyond the weight of your population, and that’s great. I think it possibly comes from something else that I like in Slovenia; I can’t speak your language, but over many centuries of very difficult political situations you’ve kept the culture, and I think it’s what keeps you, as a nation, strong and proud. And I think it’s what enables you to do such conferences. It’s a long series of steps between preserving the culture of the nation and encouraging those who are strong enough and feel confident enough to do unusual things, but I think you see the connections.
The Out of the Box concept is, it seems to me, equivalent to the way in which I would put the need for the academic world to look for what I call the pink diamonds.
To look for the very unusual thinkers, and to try to encourage this kind of thinking is what Out of the Box is trying to do.