Monday, April 8, 2013

NECSS 2013 - My Thoughts and Associations

here, having done NECSS 2013 all three days, I share some impressions and associations.  I'd posted previous NECSS overviews of 2010 and 2012.  I've been to each one, I'm pretty sure -- I can't believe there have been five; I'm getting old, they are blending in my memory -- but I guess some years I just didn't write anything about it.  The associations aspect is due to the NYC location of the conference, where I went to college, entertained myself, and such:

001. NECSS 2013:
.[my tickets]


Friday


Workshops:


I attended every workshop and the day was quite worthwhile.  The podcasting workshop was what stands out in terms of utility.  It was interesting that few people raised their hands when asked at the beginning if they were thinking of actually podcasting.  They seemed to be fanboys there to see Steve and George, mainly.  I did raise my hand, as I have a music studio in my house and all the junk necessary, even the software, already.  I've thought about it for years, but I've never really got into doing it.  I've used all that stuff for the band.  It may be that my podcasting -- if I do such -- will not be about my usual skeptical topics at all [which get nowhere], but the music I write with friends [which gets unnoticed!  Oh this Sisyphean life!].  I don't know.  The other workshop that stood out [I did like the camp one and Galef's one, but I don't have children or $4xxx] is the Barnhill and Blaskiewicz one.  I have no graduate degree, but I did do half a masters in humanities at NYU before I was lured to that dreaded naturopathy college.  So, it was interesting to hear about skepticism being employed in the humanities.  Barnhill, who I remember from a previous NECSS, seemed at first to be a real dick when he got up in front of everyone, ready to speak, and stood waiting to be noticed for an uncomfortable while [skeptic audiences, apparently at times, in their fervor, seem unstoppable when they get going in their personal conversations, and, honestly, can be dickish in their vertical self-absorption / lack of social awareness].  I've been a teacher for more than 12 years, and I've never used that method with my students [honestly, I'd yell!].  Such silence, for whatever reason, I think sets a bad tone.  I equate that with King-Kong chest thumping, passive-aggressive style -- a kind of passive sarcasm.  But, as he talked, I warmed up and okay, he's fine.  His better angels and such.  Now, Bob's talk really went off its rails but it wasn't much of a problem for me because he did something rather revolutionary and high-order: he threw the topic out to the audience and really asked them for their input, their participation, their possible production of answers.  Now, as a teacher of adults, I've admired a certain credo: "be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage."  Yes, you are the captain, but, most importantly, the people in front of you are not vessels you are filling but active participants in the outcome of the course and eventually have to be left in that "cogita tute" sense, to think for yourself.


Stimulus Response:


this was great.  I'll admit I'm exceptionally biased regarding the topic in the sense that the night was about improvisation and for years I've made improvised music with the band spaceScat [Rob, Paul, Lon] that I've come to term "guerrilla instrumental improvisation".  Our Vimeo versions of selected songs are here, and three albums are up on Google's Play store here [the latest is free, the two-part best of is .98 cents; the songs for the free one were mainly named from a Lawrence Krauss lecture and science topics].  The song "Come In (SETI)" from "Dark Matter" has a title actually inspired by last year's NECSS, and has to do with waiting for a source to produce a signal, something we're all at times waiting for [be careful what you ask for; as the song exemplifies, you may be answered by a robot or machine culture who are tough to understand!]:
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  Watching the music and art being made from whole cloth was something I can sympathize with in terms of a certain 'this better not be shit, people are watching' tension.  Also, watching GH gave me some good ideas in terms of holding down keys on a keyboard or piano or midi interface with whatever will do it, so I can then make other noises while that's going on.
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 I thought the round table was interesting.  Jay Novella was quite a sport for offering himself for, basically, personal ridicule.  The comedy troupe, I must say, was funny and yet never mean.  What's interesting actually is the amount of empathy that I think they conveyed for any characterization's situation.

Saturday


Leonard Mlodinow


was simply fabulous.


 Pigliucci vs. Shermer:


was fine.  I'm on Michael Shermer's side mainly, yet, I'm not of the 'rugged individualism = paradise' flavor.  Shermer is quite a contradiction [so perhaps he isn't either!] because while quite affable and polite, he has been of a hyperindividualistic camp to some extent that is, roughly, heartless. Admittedly, he is now quite a contradiction himself in that he admitted to supporting gun restriction laws, which is not hyperindividualistic and quite considerate.  So, overall, I don't mind his 'getting milder' libertarianism, so to speak [if  such].  But overall, I'm wondering if, and it seemed so, both Pigliucci and Shermer end up in the same place in terms of outcome, that is: comparing how they are 'thinking' WITH the world and how it works and the practical outcomes of their thinking.   Shermer, I believe, is thinking about the world [is that pragmatism?].  Pigliucci is thinking first and foremost, and some of it may matter in the world but most of it is thinking merely to think in-itself [is that 'big R' rationalism?].  But, regarding philosophy, does it really make any sense to go through the mental gymnastics of philosophy only to, in the end, subjugate those results to the empirical world anyway, which I think Pigliucci said is primary 'as an admitted empiricist'?   It makes philosophy look like a tiresome act 'for itself', and then there's a comparison to practicality and a rubbishing of what doesn't have such.  I do think that Pigliucci is not ALL of philosophy as well, though he'd like to apparently be that icon, in that his trope is something particularly metaphysical and philosophy is so vast.  But I do think he wants it both ways: he delights in the metaphysical yet wants to be empirical.  I'd argue that merely from within the boundaries of what's empirical, an awful lot of good thinking can be done that doesn't float away into la-la land. And I'm not convinced that Pigliucci's gambit that since historically knowledge=scientia that now philosophy must be melded to modern science.  Philosophy, in its shrinking world, would LIKE to be relevant as our empirical knowledge grows, but it seems to be an expensive chandelier when one MERELY needs something as simple as a candle [go Carl Sagan!]. 


SGU podcast:


was fine.  I'm not a regular listener.  After a few episodes, one can almost guess what each person will do and say each episode.  Plus, and I'll be bold here because there's NOTHING to lose [how brave!], I can't really tolerate RW anymore.  I see her as a facade personality on SGU.  There's a truer, more nastier RW skeleton, IMHO.  I came late in awareness to the whole fervor, so to speak, of elevators and sexism, but, I'm left with the sensation overall of a meal repeating on me and the primary junk bothering me is RW burps.  Yet, honestly, I want to see so many more women in science and skepticism.  Also, I can't help feel that the audience being focused upon by SGU is about 16 years old.  Incidentally, what I'd like is when the podcast is put up, one could accurately tab to an area of topical interest by having the sections listed with their time-of-start within the file provided in the description or segmented.  Also, I am happy that SN signed my course guide to his Teaching Company "Medical Myths..." on Sunday [starting my collection!].  But, interestingly enough, he didn't care to ask me about me or ask 'what do you want me to write?'  There was no personal engagement; there was no interest, camaraderie or concern.  And then I started thinking, 'well, he's an academic, a scientist, and he's a skeptic, an Ivy ________.'   And truly, we as common thinking people MUST BE against such responses of crap infrastructure and effete airs merely interested in IT'S OWN ENDS [oh how the revolution has become counterrevolutionary! Götzen-Dämmerung anyone? Aka nebulous false idols and philosophizing with a hammer...].  On my tongue was this: "Steve, you think you are cool, but you are mostly an all knowing DICK."  Never used it though, because I don't engage with people that way [except ex post facto, obviously!; and I don't actually mean it beyond a friendly ribbing].


Storytelling panel:


was good.  I think the idea of 'narrative craft' has to get more attention [a term here I'm coining].  I do like the deliberate [?] use of women-as-main-participants throughout the conference.  It's good marketing when the thing goes up somewhere online.


Simon Singh:


really disappointing.  Why?  Well, the book the talk centered around is from 2005.  It's 2013.  Simon's delivery is great, but the material was so crusty, really, and basic.  It would be great as some part of a freshman science survey course or the like.

Fundraiser: didn't go.

Drinking Skeptically

did go.  Great bar, Connolly's: great black and tans.  So, here's where I plug a favorite NYC band: Shilelagh Law, who have a new 'best of' 2012 album recorded live at Connolly's (here).  I'll refer to them again in associations, below [see 002.].  Now, honestly and such, I can say this about 'the crowd' at NECSS, 'most people I talked to seem socially deficient.'  I hate to reinforce cliches, but it's true IMHE [am I picking on handicaps?  am I mean?].  I think if you go to such events AND their social events, there's a certain kind of armor you need to wear which is the same kind of armor one would wear when dealing with bees or something.  So, with that in mind, I feel that the DS session was a lost opportunity for people to mix in a more organized way and improve their socialization skill-set [can adults change?  hmmmm?].  What I saw were about ten or so cliques of people sitting at tables talking to the people they already know and nobody else, 'buzzing'.  But I come to a skeptical conference to EXPAND!  In that light, this was a missed opportunity for experiencing 'new people' as a culture.   I'd love to have had there a microphone and people introducing themselves and their backgrounds, minimally.  I stayed for about one and a half hours, observing as a journalist would [through the lens of my black and tan], and then I went to find the real craic (good tunes, enjoyable conversation).

SGU live taping: didn't go.

Sunday


Sharon Hill:


was great and introduced me to the word "scientifical" and the term "sham inquiry."


Deborah  Berebichez:


was great and of great heart to share her angst.  It was a really humanizing thing, and she may be the greatest lion of all people I heard.


"The Skeptical of Psychopathy" panel:


was good.  The fact that 'lack of empathy' is a very important parameter in the measurement of psychopaths reminded me of the 'test' from Bladerunner that determines the difference between a human and a simulated human / replicant.  Being that the concept originates from Phillip K. Dick, there's usually a very ironic twist involved: in that world, replicants DO feel empathy or at least CAN behave empathetically towards any human, but what they lack and possibly weren't programed or designed to possess, that determines their 'fakeness' so to say, is a LACK of empathy for the suffering of animals [the turtle test].  There's a psychopath/sociopath on my street, in full bloom, who has been tormenting me and my neighbors for years, and so this talk 'was close to home.'


Jamy Ian Swiss:


gave a fabulous talk.  I particularly liked the expressions "consumer advocacy for the scientific method" and "no sacred cows" [that's why one MUST say honest things about parts of NECSS and peoples' behavior].  I actually think his monologue skills surpass his MC persona, and in both cases he has great craft because he's quite aware of his audience and looking 'to deliver the goods' / in a sense 'please'.


Rationally Speaking's live podcast taping:


made me miserable, and I've studied a lot of philosophy, particularly existential philosophy.  Now, the session began with the label that the topic was existential, but none that I'm familiar with unless cosmology and metaphysics are now existentialism [which they hugely are not].  Overall, it was like 500 little birds had grabbed me and with their claws lifted me up to Cloud Cuckoo Land so I would be tortured by mental gymnastics [and pinhead gymnasts!] that, in the end IMHO, only exist for themselves.  Now, I happen to really like and enjoy physicist Lawrence Krauss, and this panel of 'philosophers' ragged on him and the particular point is that they want more mentalistic, Cloud Cuckoo Land ornamentation above, beyond, and away-from 'this world' [my interpretation].  Massimo said at one point "it's not supported or refuted empirically and it's fun" [to paraphrase].  Fun?  Krauss is fun. This was like a noxious stimuli test, and this time I was the turtle turned on its back and the people up there speaking had no sympathy for MY suffering and seemed like heartless replicants unaware of the audiences' disengagement.  I began to think of seppuku, but all I had was a pen.  So, this sent me home when it was over [I did politely wait until the podcast's end, which was very difficult to do; a podcast I'll avoid, for sure], and therefore I can't report on the rest of the day but, perhaps, those parts will be up on the intertubes at some time.

002. associations:

002.a. I took the subway a lot during the days of the conference, and immediately was reminded of this Shilelagh Law song about the subway, especially when heading uptown [an original composition melded with the great Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town; with huge audience participation!]:
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"I met my love, by the gasworks wall...[...]
with the guts and the grit and the love in the heart."

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002.b. I actually got down to NYC on Thursday, checked in, and caught the group Carolina Chocolate Drops at the Bowery Ballroom.  This was an excellent, sold out show, and this is how I got to there:

002.b1. as a long-time fan of Solas, I noticed that they had a new album "Shamrock City" [excuse the Scot's gallic introduction!  the show is in english.] and when I searched for it, it took me to this Solas Youtube video:
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and therein, I found out that Rhiannon was part of Carolina Chocolate Drops.  I then looked at their schedule and coincidentally they were in NYC and I could see them.  I didn't actually listen to CCD beside the Tedx thing they did.  And I went, because I wanted something unexpected.  The music encompassed Afro-americana, but also Haitian, and surprisingly and delightfully, two songs sung in Scots' gallic that truly rocked [it turns out that there is quite a Cape Fear, N.C. Scottish presence since 1739].

002.c. the alma mater of my B.A., the City University of New York, by the way, is a place I stopped by on the way home:
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"Bronx-bound uptown that's my line..."
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002.d. and by the way:

throughout the time of NECSS, I was listening to and judging a new spaceScat track possibly to be titled "Chipotle Fish Sandwich Bolero" [I think it will make it up on Vimeo, but we are our harshest critics; update: it did go up, altered in title.], and reading and criticizing a 1980 chapter by the recently departed ND D'Adamo titled "I Am a Naturopath" in which he tells us that his primary mode of diagnosis is....
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wait for it...
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iridology.
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and he was NEVER sanctioned by the ND organizations in New Hampshire or Ontario!
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