Monday, January 2, 2012

Changing Social Norms & Technology

Do you feel overwhelmed by your connectivity to the online world? By all this technology that enhances communication? By all the social relationships we have the luxury & obligation to maintain now that the internet gives us that ability?

There are a million different directions we could take a discussion on technology and communication,… and we already have had some of these discussions in one way or another.

One route I have been interested in and hope that other bohemians may, is how social technology has changed social norms over such a short time.

For instance:

Do you think people interact differently with eachother now that there is this ‘technological buffer’ like e-mail, text messaging, and facebook?

Do you feel like being connected to the “social matrix” has a few less obvious advantages or disadvantages on a small personal scale?

How do these social networks work for or against certain personalities?

How detrimental do you think two-dimensional (written) communication is, with the loss of infliction, gestures, reactions, and body language altogether? Do you think there is some level of de-personalization? Less authencity?

What do you think of the online dating phenomena?

This is a very open ended and broad topic, and multiple “reloaded” discussions are encouraged if you’d like to have them. I’m looking forward to hearing a variety of perspectives on this topic, and hope that you are too!


How certain do you really feel about who/what you are?
What do you identify yourself as? Your experience, your social identity, your body, your brain, all of the above? Any preference?

Is your experience reducible to neurophysiology, or is it made of "qualia" which are irreducible, and/or require a new ontology?
In other words, does experience have its own discrete "atoms", like matter, or in the same sense that color can be reduced to primary colors, secondary colors, etc.?

What is the value of experience in relation to other things? Could you see value in a universe without experience? If you were convinced that experience was the product of a kind of machinery, how would that affect the value of experience, or your sense of authenticity, if at all?

How does experience relate to behavior and causality? Why did evolution select for it? Is our inner life necessary for our bodies to behave adaptively?

Why is the inner life always "now"? Are "now" and consciousness even separable? Many physicists, including Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and Steven Hawking have said that our experience of time is an illusion, or that the past, present, and future exist simultaneously in a timeless reality. Can consciousness be explained purely by neurophysiology or psychophysics, or do we need to explain a particular conscious moment's relation to space and time to understand it?

Also, is the difference between the subjective and objective merely a matter of perspective? if so, where does this perspective come from?

Introductory reading:,9171,1580394,00.html

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Is Occupy Wall Street a force for anything? Thus far, its nebulous demands have made it seem like an opportunity for the unemployed, on their 99 weeks of UI, to get together and have lunch. Or is the media helping to make it seem that way?

Let's discuss what OWS means now and what it could mean in the future. Might this be a movement that leads to real change? Do we want real change? 

Realistically, what can we hope for? And what are potential bad outcomes? How destabilizing a force could it be?

Suggested watching:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Transcendent Man: Documentary & Discussion

Transcendent Man: Documentary & Discussion

(Posted by Emily Effner)

"Transcendent Man" is a documentary directed by Barry Ptolemy, that introduces the life and ideas of Ray Kurzweil, the renowned futurist who journeys the world offering his (relatively controversial) vision of the future. The idea he has made popular is called the "Technological Singularity", and it refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means. As this suggests, it means downloading the human mind and potentially living forever... and all within the 21st century.

These are pretty spectacular predictions, but are they really that spectacular in light of the rate of technological development?

How do you think this would affect society?

Even if people were given the option to live forever do you think they would?

The "Future of Technology" is a huge meaty discussion topic that we don't expect to tackle in one session, but thought that a viewing of the documentary and short discussion would be, A) Fun and B). A good start for additional discussions on technology.

"Transcendent Man" Official Trailer:

Cancer - a biography


(Posted by Pedro Sousa)

Is cancer merely the next domino to fall in the wake of the advances of modern medical science, before we can claim our inevitable immortality, or is it an intrinsic part of a complex living creature, as inseparable from us as the very code that gives us life?

In The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee writes a biography of Cancer, a story that spans from ancient times to these modern times. Only a master storyteller can make a book on a topic, as dry as the history of the human understanding of cancer, read as though it were a thriller.

Bohemian discussion:

What do you think about making engaging but non-technical books a part of a teaching curriculum as a way to get students excited about a subject?

Given the examples in this book and throughout history of medical experts being so horribly wrong, when can you trust an expert? When is it appropriate for an expert in an area to mock a quack that could potentially do harm to the public?

Given that the experts were often so wrong, to what degree should medicine be more open to new ideas and willing to investigate possibilities that seem far-fetched to the experts. At the same time, resources are finite, and there is a point of diminishing returns to investigating every theory. There are also many theories that have potential to do significant harm to the public put are constantly being put forth by quacks. Where should we draw the line?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Solitude as a constructive endeavor

(Posted by Emily Effner)
Would you ever consider solitude a constructive endeavor?

It’s a good question. You could find yourself saying, “Yes, I can see that”, but you could equally find someone of the opposite opinion: that it has no value, is wasteful, is selfish, or foolish.

The concept of Solitude struck my interest when I found a seminar offered on the eremitical (hermit) tradition at UCSD. What was there to learn about… hermits? What constitutes a hermit? They are like outcasts, but are sometimes highly regarded in certain societies. What are they to our culture? How can someone be so actively apart of society, and then just comfortably disappear?

A book by Philip Koch called Solitude (Chapters 1 & 2) clarified a great deal of the mystery and appeal of solitude with what he called the “5 Virtues of Solitude”:
(basically these are themes Koch identified in famous writers who sought solitude, such as: Lao Tzu, Plato, Jesus, Dickenson, Thoreau, Hesiod, Emerson, Muir, Rousseau,.. )

• freedom to think in whatever fashion you'd like, beyond all social constraint: no longer having to be that predictable person we share with the world. And beyond all social obligation that otherwise would be present if anyone else was there.

• attunement to self; to finally hear a clear voice in your head that is recognizably your own. An awareness of thought, feelings, and emotion (devoid of censorship) to understand the reason behind your own judgments, opinions, and actions; Perhaps a point where you are entirely honest with yourself. An ability to achieve a sense of ‘wholeness’ (or centeredness, completeness, etc).

• attunement to nature; it is extremely common to acquire a more sensitized perception of the world around you – namely, nature, when in solitude. A loss of of the sense of barriers with it (where we actually feel apart of it), and an incredible appreciation.

• a reflective perspective: involves a thoughtful approach to the elements of experience. To just quote Koch: “The more given to reflection a person is, the more a philosopher: and when, in addition, the objective of reflection is a connected vision of the whole reality, we have a philosopher in the strongest sense of the term”.

• creativity: goes beyond all the previous 4 mentioned. ‘It imposes a programmatic ordering upon its freedom of action’, ‘ability to gather disparate elements into the conceptual statement. ‘ To go farther.

Another great read, and great for discussion:

So my fellow Bohemians, what do you think? Do you agree with these categories set forth my Koch?
Do you think we are often infected by what is “normal” in our society?
Do you think a person who can fully welcome interaction & as they do solitude, is in any way enlightened?
What have you ever gotten from solitude?
Do you think as human beings we fear to be ourselves or to be alone?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Lying and Bullshitting...

Harry Frankfurt, in his little book ‘On Bullshit’, wrote that the difference between bullshitting and lying is that the liar acknowledges the truth but deliberately decides against it, while the bullshitter leaves the realm of honesty and dishonesty altogether. For the bullshitter truth has no inherent value and can be bent and twisted at one’s pleasure. This is the reason why, according to Frankfurt, bullshitting is worse than lying; since bullshitting damages the concept of truth - but lying doesn’t.

Frankfurt’s prime example of a bullshitter, if I remember the book right, is the politician who during a speech only cares about the effect his words are going to have while he doesn’t care at all if his words are true or not. So generally every time somebody chooses words for the mere purpose of manipulation, without any regard to honesty, for Frankfurt he is a bloody bullshitter. And I guess I am too. At the beginning of this paragraph I interjected my sentence with the words: “if I remember the book right”. I admit these words were written in disregard to honesty. Those words expressed doubts I didn’t have and were only added to manipulate you all into being impressed by my ability to summarize Frankfurt’s book - even though I evidently read it a long time ago…

So now that I came clean, I am still left wondering how often you guys lie - or bullshit (just a little) like I did. According to some studies mentioned in this link ( “most people lie once or twice a day and over the course of a week deceive about 30 of the people they interact with personally”. If you don’t think that Frankfurt’s differentiation between bullshitting and lying is bullshit, then the numbers might be even more interesting.

So I propose we have a discussion about the general topic of honesty, truth and bullshitting and we will see if we can cover some, or all, of the following questions:

Is Frankfurt right and bullshitting is a much more harmful activity than lying? (I realize that my own example of bullshitting was rather benign. However, I believe that most people know that ‘bullshitting a la Frankfurt’ can be much more extreme, and caustic to the idea of honesty, in some people.)

How many of us are aware when we are bullshitting?

IF Frankfurt is right, why do we seem to accept bullshitting more readily than lying? (Perhaps because it is so difficult to catch a bullshitter in the act – while this is less true for liars? Or is it because we are so accustomed to bullshitting ourselves?)

Why do most people think honesty is important? And at the same time, why do we seem to lie, or bullshit, all the time?

Everybody knows there are situations where lying is the right thing to do, but is this really only true in extreme situations – like in the famous example where your honesty would cause the death of innocent people. Or is it already acceptable when your lie will simply protect somebody from emotional pain?

What if somebody decides that he or she doesn’t want to know the truth? Must we humor them or must we set them strait?