The Aspen IdeasFestival launched into its fourth edition Monday evening and Tuesday, with a flurry of "Big Idea" presentations, panels, performances and interviews by a series of star players in their respective fields.
"There is nothing better than sharing ideas with a friend," Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson, a former CNN executive and recent biographer of Albert Einstein, said in opening the event amid a giant tent whose ceiling was decorated in green, yellow and blue octagons.
Isaacson emphasized that we may rarely remember a specific material gift given us years ago, but we rarely forget the gift of a good idea shared and discussed with a good friend. Indeed, such ideas are often at the root of our best innovations, and often lead to life-changing moments.
A series of speakers gave inspired summaries of the big ideas they planned to present or discuss during the week.
Amidst these, Damian Woetzel took the stage. He was until very recently the principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, and is in Aspen to assume the role of 2008 Aspen Institute Harmon-Eisner Artist in Residence. Woetzel ended a brief presentation by calling on his entire audience to come to their feet to perform an elemental set of ballet dance moves.
"A big idea is a humble proposition," said string theorist Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia University. "Science is the greatest of adventure stories...It is the birthright of every child."
Bill Clinton, who organizers said had originally asked to take a 'pass' this year after appearing at the previous IdeasFestival gatherings, turned up on the agenda after all, with a prime Saturday evening spot.
Though presumptive presidential nominees, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, have both spoken in other years here, this year they are not jetting into the event - though Obama's top economic adviser, University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, is eagerly awaited later in the week.
The weeklong event has become a fixture at this former mining town in a valley at 8,000 feet nestled just West of the continental divide in the Colorado Rockies, and so have the star-studded presenters it has attracted - ranging from Supreme Court Justices, former President Bill Clinton to leading performers, poets and cultural leaders.
Producers of the event, the Aspen Institute and the Atlantic publishing company, have gone to an unprecedented effort to make the sessions available, with both numerous public sessions in town and plans to post full videos of 95 of the 175 presentations on the Internet.
As usual, attendees are bound to enjoy wondrous chance encounters on this glorious Bauhaus campus.
My escorts to the opening session were Rev. Peter Gomes of Harvard, an old friend, and retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Let the good ideas spring forth!