Photo by Taelor Pawnell
Eloquently melding the subjects of cats, The Matrix, color blindness, BB guns, and synesthesia, Cecilia Zhou and Madyson Muscarello brought home grand prize at the annual TAMS Talks event.
The juniors’ speech, entitled “Our Perception of Reality,” discussed qualia, a term meaning “what it is like” to experience something. The feeling evoked when seeing the color blue, getting punched in the arm, or smelling freshly baked cookies are all examples of qualia.
Madyson, who suggested the speech’s topic, is fascinated by qualia. “It is really interesting because it can’t be proven. It is something to marvel at, and the point of TAMS Talks I feel is to marvel at humanity.” Madyson also has a personal connection to the subject; her close friend has synesthesia, a condition in which one sense triggers another sense. This friend’s form of the condition, for example, allows her to see sound as color. The descriptions Madyson heard from this friend were an inspiration for choosing the topic as well.
For Cecilia, qualia are of great psychological interest. “We think we see our surroundings, but it could all just be fake signals in our brains. You may think you are talking to me, but you may actually just be a brain floating in a jar with electrical synapses telling you that you are speaking to me,” she asserts.
The pair spent a lot of time researching and preparing their speech. Using information from a broad scope of sources, they crafted their talk. Unfortunately, they discovered the day before the competition that their speech was two and a half minutes over the time limit. In a scramble, they cut it down.
Although public speaking is terrifying for most people, the fact that Madyson and Cecilia did not get a chance to run through their shortened speech added to their pressure. “I was kind of at that point of fear beyond fear,” says Cecilia. “But you know, that can be a good place to reach before public speaking. When you have fear beyond fear you can actually deliver a great performance.”
When the results were announced that the duo won TAMS Talks, they were ecstatic. “I just felt so happy. I thought, ‘Yay I’m glad to know that skipping lunch on Friday to practice was worth it,’” laughed Madyson.”
“It was really awesome to win after all of the work we did,” agreed Cecilia.
Although the speech focused on the human experience as a whole, Madyson asserts that their topic has a special relevance to TAMS students.
“TAMS students in general tend to have difficulty understanding when people don’t grasp things that you do or when someone understands something really quickly you find difficult,” she says. “We all need to take a step back and remember what one person sees is always different from what another sees.” Indeed, Madyson and Cecilia remind us all that we all have different experiences and perceptions, and that is perfectly okay.