In 2015, 52 Insights made its mark by filling its pages with enlightening conversations from various pioneers in their fields. From Academy-Award Nominated actors to controversial scientists, each interview surprising us constantly in completely different ways. What we’ve enjoyed most is simply giving remarkable people the opportunity to speak about the things they’re passionate about. Here are some of our favourite quotes from this year:
1. “If a concept has not been used in nature, then it is likely it is not a good concept.”
Carlos Magdalena aka “Plant Messiah”, is a senior botanical horticulturist at Kew Gardens, famous for his unparalleled knowledge that has allowed him to bring back numerous species of plants from the brink of extinction.
Technology taking inspiration from nature is one subject that keeps resurfacing in our conversations. Last week we interviewed Maria Pereira, who studied sea creatures in order to develop a ground-breaking surgical technology that can more effectively seal wounds within the body. One of our top 10 science stories of the year was also inspired by nature; a mesh that can separate water from oil was modelled on the bumpy surfaces of lotus leaves.
2. “Within my lifetime women have gone from the kitchen to the boardroom, gay people from the closet to the altar, black people from the woodshed to the Whitehouse.”
Canadian anthropologist and explorer Wade Davis is arguably the most eloquent person we’ve interviewed. He speaks in a rapid monotone that often conceals the profundity of his words with an air of understatement, but both the poetry and importance of the things he has to say come across perfectly in print. A natural storyteller, once we got Davis talking it was hard to make him stop, and he delighted us with tales from his travels to some of the most isolated parts of our planet.
3. “Music is never just music. Its silence, noise, structure, all the things you have to encounter when you listen.”
Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) gave us one of the most honest and entertaining interviews of the year, not holding back on his disdain for U2, dismissing them as “neither bad enough to hate nor interesting enough to remember.”
But beneath the musician’s playful veneer we found an artist who intellectualises his work to the highest degree and knows exactly what he’s trying to achieve through his seemingly disordered sound. Our chat covers everything from politics to philosophy to abstract sculpture.
4. “I look at acting like this: it’s my job to disappear.”
If you think you don’t know Michael Shannon it’s because of this remarkable ability he possesses to vanish into the characters he plays. Actors such as this are a rare pleasure to watch and we believe this places him firmly within a small group of true talents in this era of cinema that includes that likes of Gary Oldman, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Daniel Day Lewis.
His sentiment was echoed by another extraordinary actor, Cillian Murphy, who talked to us earlier this month, “The less the audience knows about the actor, the further the actor can disappear into the role.”
5. “I’m asking myself the question now, which was worse, Saddam or anarchy?”
Hans Blix has been involved in some of the most defining events in modern history, from the Chernobyl disaster to the Iraq War, so we’d be lying if we said we weren’t slightly overawed by the prosepect of this interview. But we found him to be an absolute joy to talk to. From his home in Sweden he spoke passionately about his very public investigation into WMDs in Iraq and didn’t hold back on his assessment of the situation unfolding in the Middle East today. No stranger to being bugged, when at one point our conversation was momentarily cut off, Blix Joked, “perhaps that was the CIA.”
6. “Over the course of evolution, viruses have infiltrated their hosts, including humans and our ancestors. It is estimated that about 8% of our DNA comes from these kinds of sources. So what does it mean to be human even when our DNA is not even entirely human?”
Listening to Dr Turhan Canli speak is like being continually beaten around the head with facts so astonishing that a single conversation is likely to call your entire worldview into question every thirty seconds or so. Canli argues for the possibility that psychological illnesses like depression could actually be a form of infectious disease. “There is a link between schizophrenia and the pathogen T.Gondi, the parasite that infects cats,” Canli tells us. His work could lead to a whole new approach in the treatment of mental illness.
7. “Future Library questions the path of humanity and what the planet may encompass in one century’s time.”
Katie Paterson is an artist undaunted by the scale of her own ambition. She discussed some of her favourite projects with us including the Future Library, which aims to collect one original story by a popular writer every year for the next hundred years and publish them all in the year 2114. She has even planted One thousand trees in Oslo which will be used to print the books.
Paterson’s fascination with the future of art is shared by photographer Carla Coffing who also gave us a wonderful interview, “I have a sort of obsession with the idea of time capsules. . . I like the excitement of making work and not knowing who will see it, or when.”
8. “I would hope that this would be in the next 4 years; this is the immediate future. We’ll start seeing a different class of medicine, what I would call a ‘digital medicine’.”
In September we spoke to the man at the centre of an exciting new field of medicine, an idea straight out of science fiction. Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley talks us through his work developing video games that may slow the decline or even enhance our cognitive abilities. Could 2016 be the year that gaming blurs the line between art and science?
9. 52 Insights: What would you want your legacy to be?
“That data matters. And that I am forgotten.”
We ask a lot of the people we feature this question and we can usually guess what their answer is likely to be. We would not have predicted that Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a scientist famous for championing the importance of amassing ‘big data’, would like the only piece of information not recorded to be his own life. Mayer-Schönberger gave us a compelling argument for the benefits of data collection in a society that is often accused of intruding on the privacy of its citizens.
10. “He [Daniel Ellsberg] told me that the release of the papers would end the Vietnam War. I told him that I didn’t think so, I said it would have some consequences but I didn’t believe that it would end the Vietnam War.”
In October we sat down with the formidable lawyer described by Time Magazine as “Legendary.” With a client list that includes Vaclav Havel, Andrei Sakharov, Nelson Mandela, Salman Rushdie and Al Pacino, we can hardly disagree.
Martin Garbus described to us his involvement in the trial of Daniel Ellsberg, which led directly to Nixon’s resignation, and the similarities between this and more recent cases such as Edward Snowden’s.
Photograph courtesy of: Victoria Will