The Aspen Ideas Festival: Best Programs of 2007-2011

May 30, 2012

The World's Foremost Thinkers and Personalities Special Series: We have gathered together the Aspen Ideas Festival's most popular programs of the last four years. Enjoy!


Lewis Black: In God and Healthcare We Trust (Or Not)

BBQ, sausage gravy, the female breast ... comedian Lewis Black lists the reasons why he does, and does not, believe in God.


Niall Ferguson Likens Post-American World to Dark Ages

Historian Niall Ferguson fears a post-American world would bear close resemblance to the Dark Ages that followed the decline of the Roman Empire. He foresees chaos across the Middle East and the rise of China as the next superpower. "A world without a strong America is a dangerous world," he exclaims.

Bill Gates: The End of Textbooks as We Know Them

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates pinpoints the problem with today's textbooks, and predicts where the future of learning lies for K-12 students.

He stresses the importance of self-diagnostic tools, which he foresees as an important component of tomorrow's online, interactive texts.

Walter Isaacson on Albert Einstein's God

Albert Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson discusses the famous scientist's views on God and religion.

Michael Sandel: If Aristotle Could Debate Gay Marriage

Michael Sandel demonstrates that the ancient methods for deciding justice used by Aristotle reveal themselves in modern issues.

Sandel asks, "What is the purpose of marriage?" He also questions state involvement in personal affairs.

Antonio Damasio: How Emotions Help Us Make Decisions

Antonio Damasio, noted researcher and professor of neuroscience at USC, explains how emotions are integral to decision-making. He discusses his experiences working with people with brain damage who are unable to decide things as simple as where to go to dinner.

Emotions and Evolution: What Would Genes Do?

Antonio Damasio argues that even though emotions are viewed as a human trait, they are probably one of the earliest evolutionary advancements.

He explains that emotions are "a way to live for as long as possible", asking "if you were a gene, what would you do?"

Lewis Black Rails on Coverage of Michael Jackson’s Death

Grammy Award-winning comedian Lewis Black rants on the excessive news coverage of Michael Jackson's death.

"If they had devoted half the time, all 24-hour news cycles, to any problem that we have as a nation, we could have solved it."

Michael Sandel Uses Aristotle to Defend Discrimination

Michael Sandel believes Aristotle's theory of justice was not predicated on avoiding discrimination, but fairly allocating things based on their purpose.

Sandel defines justice "as giving people what they deserve" and defends non-racist, non-sexist discrimination.

Irshad Manji and Dalia Mogahed on Leadership in Islam

Irshad Manji and Dalia Mogahed discuss the system of leadership in Islam.

Bill Gates: End-of-Life Care vs. Saving Teachers' Jobs

Microsoft Chairman and philanthropist Bill Gates examines the impact that the misallocation of healthcare funds has on the education system.

He pins some of the blame on excessive end-of-life care, asking whether extending life by three months is worth laying off three teachers.

Michael Sandel on the Supreme Court's Golf Decision

Michael Sandel cites the Supreme Court golf cart decision as an example of Aristotelian reasoning in the courts of justice.

Using this reasoning, the court decided that the "essential nature" of golf did not require walking 18 holes.

Gail Morrison: Changing the Medical Education Model

Dr. Gail Morrison, Senior Vice Dean for Education and Director of the Office of Academic Programs at Perelman of Pennsylvania, examines how the traditional medical school model has changed to adapt to cultural and technological advances in the field. "It was clear to us that the concept of sitting people in lecture halls from morning to night was just not the way people learned anymore," she says.

Ideas Festival: Powell and Nunn on Foreign Policy

Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson interviews General Colin Powell and Senator Sam Nunn about the prospects for finding bipartisan consensus in 2008 around foreign policy.

Nunn and Powell discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Colin Powell and Sam Nunn Discuss China and India

Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson talks with General Colin Powell and Senator Sam Nunn about the rising power of China and India, and the prospects of Nunn as a vice-presidential pick.

Sam Harris: Misconceptions About Atheism

Author Sam Harris addresses what he feels are several commonly-held misconceptions about atheism.

US: The Next USSR? Ferguson Says Economy on Edge of Chaos

Harvard University history professor Niall Ferguson compares the United States economy to complex systems in nature. The U.S. financial system may appear from the outside to be in equilibrium, says Ferguson, but it is actually "quite close to the edge of chaos."

The Difference Between Feeling and Emotion

Antonio Damasio explains that even though many people use the words "feeling" and "emotion" interchangeably, there is a key difference between the two. "Emotion," he explains, is "a set of actions" programmed into us from birth, while "feelings" are how our conscious mind interprets these responses.

Powell and Nunn Discuss John McCain and Barack Obama

Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson talks with General Colin Powel and Senator Sam Nunn about the presidential prospects of Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama.

Sam Harris on Faith or Reason

Sam Harris gives a lecture on the dangers of mixing iron age philosophies with modern day technology, common misconceptions theists have about atheists and why we need to build a morality system separate from faith.

Dalia Mogahed on Political Radicalization Inside Islam

Dalia Mogahed, of the Gallup Organization, discusses surprising data about political radicalization inside Islam.

Mogahed co-authored Who Speaks for Islam based on a comprehensive poll of Muslims around the world.

Powell and Nunn on Nuclear Proliferation and Diplomacy

Aspen Institute President Walter Isaacson talks with General Colin Powel and Senator Sam Nunn about the issue of nuclear proliferation, Iran and diplomacy.

Robert Rubin 'Deeply Worried' About Debt Limit Debate

Robert Rubin, Secretary of Treasury under the Clinton Administration, argues "we're not having the debate we need" with regard to the debt limit impasse in Washington. He also criticizes the media for spreading misinformation about Obama's deficit reduction plan.

Weiseltier Slams Israeli Diplomacy Under Netanyahu

Revisiting the May 2011 outcry over Barack Obama's calls for Israel to return to its 1967 borders, New Republic literary editor Leon Weiseltier accuses Benjamin Netanyahu of "playing a dangerous game" by attempting to "drive a wedge" between the President and American Jews. Weiseltier sharply rebukes the Israeli Prime Minister's overall diplomatic strategy by negatively comparing him to his predecessors.

Why There's No 'Weight Watchers' for Kids

Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff explains why his company does not have a weight loss program for children. "The crux of childhood obesity is the parents," he says. "It's really difficult to address childhood obesity if you're not making a valiant effort to address adult obesity, because they tend to go together."

About this series

About The Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute mission is twofold: to foster values-based leadership, encouraging individuals to reflect on the ideals and ideas that define a good society, and to provide a neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC, Aspen, Colorado, and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and has an international network of partners.

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About Atlantic

Since 1857, The Atlantic has helped shape the national debate on the most critical and contentious issues of our times, from politics, business, and the economy, to technology, arts, and culture. Through in-depth analysis in the monthly print magazine, complemented by up-to-the-minute insights delivered throughout the day on, The Atlantic provides the nation’s thought leaders and professional class with forward-looking, fresh perspectives that provoke and challenge, define and affect the lives we’re living today, and give shape to the lives we will live tomorrow.

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