Mark Pollock and Simone George wow TED audience with ‘love letter to science’

It has been described as a “love letter to science” and “the most powerful, moving talk” ever seen at TED, and now it’s available for all to see.

Explorer Mark Pollock and human rights lawyer Simone George took to the TED stage in Vancouver in April this year, presenting a joint talk exploring the tension between acceptance and hope.

At the time, their talk wowed audience members including TED curator Helen Walters and social psychologist (and fellow TED speaker) Amy Cuddy, who delivered the praise above, respectively.

The video of their talk was posted to the TED website on Friday 7 September and, at the time of writing, has reached more than 500,000 views.

The Irish couple had found they had to resolve this tension in the aftermath of Pollock’s catastrophic spinal cord injury. A determined endurance athlete, Pollock was the first blind person to race to the South Pole. In 2010, a fall from a second-storey window left him paralysed but also began his journey exploring the intersection between humans and technology.

He is now on a mission, along with his fiancée George, to find a cure for paralysis in our lifetime. Through the Mark Pollock Trust he intends to unlock $1bn to achieve this.

‘It was like the formal medical system was cancelling hope in favour of acceptance alone’
– MARK POLLOCK

 

The TED talk traces the couple’s journey from their first meeting to the fall, followed by more than 16 months in hospital.

“Simone and I were presented with the expert view that hoping for a cure had proven to be psychologically damaging. It was like the formal medical system was cancelling hope in favour of acceptance alone,” recalled Pollock.

In her career as a human rights lawyer, George represents women who are experiencing abuse and has applied her research and advocacy to help construct a new landscape of justice in Ireland. Following Pollock’s injury, she turned her research skills to helping find and connect people around the world who, combined, could fast-track a cure for paralysis.

“My research taught us that we needed to remind Mark’s damaged and dormant spinal cord of its upright, standing, running form. We found San Francisco-based engineers at Ekso Bionics who created this robotic exoskeleton that would allow Mark to stand and walk in the lab that we started to build in Dublin. Mark became the first person to personally own an exo and, since then, he and the robot have walked over 1m steps,” said George, to rousing applause from the TED audience.

Returning to his earlier point, Pollock concluded: “The realists have managed to resolve the tension between acceptance and hope by running them in parallel. And that’s what Simone and I have been trying to do over the last number of years.”

‘Science is love’

Considered an inspiring and resilient innovator, Pollock has delivered talks at world-leading conferences and events, including the World Economic Forum. It was at a talk in Switzerland that he caught the attention of TED curator Chris Andersen. “That night we met and he spoke with Simone and I over dinner. A few weeks later, he invited us to speak about our shared resilience at TED 2018,” said Pollock in a statement.

Pollock recognised this as a golden opportunity to make his quest to cure paralysis truly global, and so it came to be that he and George came to share the TED stage with SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell and Netflix CEO and founder Reed Hastings, among others.

‘Science is an act of creation fuelled by the desire for human progress and care’
– SIMONE GEORGE

“When Mark broke his back I fell back on the personal toolkit I had at the time – go all the way in, research, learn as much as you can in a short period of time, and fiercely love every person around you that is trying to help, and even more fiercely love those who might get in the way,” said George.

“This is why I say in our TED talk – science is love. Science is an act of creation fuelled by the desire for human progress and care. There is no insurmountable reason why people should remain paralysed after spinal cord injury.”

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