Ellen ter Gast
Dr. Ellen ter Gast is a medical biologist and philosopher. She wrote a thesis about the pioneer in the biotech revolution: de genetically modified mouse. At the moment she is mainly concerned with (bio)technology and ethics, media and the importance of stories.
She discovered that science fiction scenarios often play a bigger role than facts in debates about technological developments in the life sciences. There is hardly any biotech debate without reference to Brave New World or Frankenstein.
That is not surprising, because laboratories are unknown territory for most people. And our imagination is an important element in innovation. Our image of science and technology is therefore mainly determined by fantasy stories that we see in films and series. And sometimes they actually have predictive value. The first zoom meetings already took place in the 1960s, in Star Trek. And isn’t the metaverse just some sort of holodeck?
However, we should not confuse science fiction with science fact. The “superhuman” will not exist any time soon. It also seems unlikely that robots or supercomputers will take over the Earth. What lessons can and can’t we learn from the great stories? How should we deal with the blurring line between fact and fiction? These are the questions that Ellen likes to explore in her lectures.
Ellen is a passionate speaker with substance and a very broad work experience. She was a lecturer in Bioethics at Leiden University, a lecturer in Art & Science at the art school iArts in Maastricht and an ethical adviser at ABN AMRO. Her secret weapon is without a doubt her multidisciplinary background.
She recently published her book De Dappere Kijker, why NETFLIX has more to offer us than Kant, in which she argues that we watching series better than reading philosophy books for developing our morals.
A number of lectures that Ellen recently gave:
Addicted to stories, about the secret of successful media innovations.
Ellen is quite sure about it, according to her, innovations and new developments in the media are only successful if they meet the deepest desires of people: to become like God, being virtually omnipresent. That is why we hang cameras everywhere and look at screens. What are we looking at? Mostly at other people. What do those people do, how do they live? We want to hear and see their stories. We are addicted to stories. Understanding what happens in our brains when we watch or listen to stories can predict whether new media will be successful.
Science fiction scenarios play an important role in debates about robot technology. That’s not surprising, because in Hollywood they understand that humans are thoroughly technical beings fascinated by the blurring line between human and machine. The big stories about human-machine technology come to life on the silver screen. What do these stories tell us about our deepest fantasies? Aren’t robot stories always about us, humans? Why do men fantasize about female robots? What does that teach us about love? Will robots ever love us?
Women@work, about women as a design issue.
This interactive lecture focuses on the question of how women shape themselves. Or more specifically, how today’s working women with ambition do it. What do they look like? How do they behave? And, who are they inspired by? Using a series of strong female characters from popular NETFLIX series, Ellen discusses the way women struggle to combine the different roles assigned to women. These “superwomen” are having a hard time. They must have an impressive set of (often very contradictory) properties. The lecture is not only intended for women, men are the main target group.
Better than God?
Whether it is about cloning, a gene editing technology such as CRISPR-cas, Deep Brain stimulation, or genetic screening, all discussions about the social implications of biotechnology are about whether we are allowed to ‘play for God’ and whether, by crossing scientific boundaries, we are not also crossing moral boundaries. In her answer to these questions, Ellen takes a critical look at commonly used notions such as perfection, improvement, evolution, malleability, health, free will and God. What do we mean when we talk about the blueprint of life? We’re not machines, are we?
Just like in the movies, the science & fiction of organ transplantation.
In this lecture, Ellen uses examples from science fiction, true stories from the Daily Mail and even punk music to show how organ transplantation has been practiced for more than a century, stimulates our imagination and raises questions about the relationship between body and mind. Conversely, Ellen shows how fiction also determines how we view organ transplants. What lessons can you draw from this as a medical specialist?
The challenges of the 21st century demand a new type of leadership: moral leadership. A combination of insight, skill and the decisiveness to do the right thing. This goes much further than drawing up a code of conduct or a mission statement that speaks of good intentions. It’s about actions. In this lecture, Ellen uses current examples and insights from ethics to show how ‘doing the right thing’ can be put into practice in your organization.