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36th Annual Asilomar Conference - February 17 – 20, 2023
“A faithful study of liberal arts humanizes character, and allows it not to be cruel.” -- Ovid
If the news of the day is getting you down, take heart – it’s once again time to reserve your weekend of learning, inspiration and fellowship on the magnificent Monterey coast!
Past participants describe the weekend as “the best aspects of college, without the exams” and “the greatest high of the year – without drugs!”
If you have questions on this year’s program, please contact email@example.com. For registration or logistics matters, please contact Barry Haskell at firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration is $125, which goes mainly to scholarships. Cost will be about $640 per person, double occupancy, and includes all nine meals and parking. All registered participants will receive forms to reserve their Asilomar accommodations, including meals; please check your email. (Remember, to be part of the PBKNCA package, do not reserve directly with the facility.)
Please join us once again for the annual Asilomar Conference, where we gather to learn, engage in discussions, and to listen to one another in new ways.
Deirdre Frontczak, Asilomar Chair
A preview of the 2023 event:
Friday night – Nico Orlandi, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, U.C. Santa Cruz. “Concepts and Conceptual Engineering: The Concept of a Woman”
Everyone has an idea of what a woman is. But what is occurring in our heads when we think of a woman -- or a man, or a white man, or any other social concept? Philosophers and psychologists hold ideas as concepts; in this standard view, having the concept or idea of a woman consists of having a general description of what "being a woman" really means.
This talk explores a view that many of our ideas are simple labels in thought. Our labels act as a sort of headline, an umbrella under which a variety of information about that idea is catalogued -- for example, the notion that women are adult human females, or that they play a particular role in human reproduction. I suggest that the ideas we associate with the label do not, in fact, constitute that thing; i.e., that it is not a conceptual truth that “women” are adult human females. This insight has direct implications for current public debates on trans inclusion – or on other womanly roles -- since the concept of “woman” does not imply a certain reproductive role by nature. This position also allows us to make sense of “conceptual engineering” – an idea we will explore in this talk.
Nico Orlandi is a philosopher of mind and cognitive science, whose work draws on research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and computer science. A central theme is understanding what kind of capacity perception is, and what kind of relationship it affords with the environment. Their* current projects concern predictive coding models of perception; and the significance of fMRI research for understanding cognition. They are also affiliated with the Feminist Studies department at UCSC. A first-generation student, Dr. Orlandi completed undergraduate studies in Florence, a doctorate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill ,and has taught at both Rice University and Stanford.
(*Note: Orlandi's pronouns are "they / them." It was not a syntactical error.)
Saturday morning – Kerry Driscoll, Ph.D., Associate Editor of the Mark Twain Papers and Project, U.C. Berkeley: “Mr. Clemens and the Saturday Morning Club of Hartford.”
This presentation tells the little-known story of Mark Twain’s involvement with a group of young local women between the ages of 16 and 20 established in 1876 to “Promote Culture and Social Intercourse.” He assisted in the club’s founding and eventually became—as one member fondly recalled—its “patron saint.” He addressed the group on at least fifteen occasions (significantly, always in the role of “Mr. Clemens” rather than his nom de plume), and persuaded other literary friends to do the same. The writer’s devotion to the Club is most tangibly expressed in the exquisite pins he commissioned from Tiffany & Company in 1880 and presented as gifts to its members. I will discuss Clemens’s role as confidant and mentor to these young women and explore the innovative methods he devised for cultivating their self-expression—offering a fascinating glimpse of the more serious side of our nation’s most celebrated humorist.
Saturday afternoon David Feldman, Ph.D. ,Psychology, Santa Clara University; PBK (De Pauw). "The Science of Hope."
David B. Feldman is the Thomas and Kathleen McCarthy Professor at Santa Clara University, teaching courses in cognitive-behavioral therapy, brief psychotherapies, and personality theory. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas and completed a health psychology fellowship at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System. His research and writings have addressed such topics as hope, meaning, and growth in the face of physical illness, trauma, and other highly stressful events. He has authored numerous articles and book chapters, presented at national and international conferences, and conducted research. He is the co-author of two books: The End-of-Life Handbook: A Compassionate Guide to Connecting with and Caring for a Dying Loved One, which addresses the needs of families as they face the life-threatening illness of a loved one; and Public Speaking for Psychologists: A Lighthearted Guide to Research Presentations, Job Talks, and Other Opportunities to Embarrass Yourself, which helps psychologists deal with their own public speaking anxiety.
Saturday night – Tom Greene, Ph.D., Astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center
"JWST: NASA's Greatest Observatory and its Fantastic Science"
"JWST: NASA's Greatest Observatory and its Fantastic Science"
The James Webb Space Telescope is the most complex and powerful astronomical space observatory ever built. It launched on Christmas Day in 2021 and has recently been commissioned in its final orbit in the Sun – Earth system. The large 6.5-m diameter JWST primary mirror and its infrared instruments will allow it to see some of the very first luminous objects that formed in the Universe shortly after the Big Bang. Other major science themes of JWST encompass studying the assembly of galaxies, the birth of stars and planetary systems, and planetary systems and the origins of life. JWST will be the premier astrophysics space observatory for NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and scientists from all over the world will use it for 10-20 years or more. It employs several unique technologies, and the mission was in development for over 20 years. In this talk I will illustrate the mission's science goals and highlight some aspects of its design, technologies, and initial science results.
Thomas Greene is an astrophysicist in the Space Science and Astrobiology Division at NASA's Ames Research Center. He conducts observational studies of exoplanets and young stars and develops astronomical technologies and instrumentation. Dr. Greene is a co-investigator on the NIRCam and MIRI science instruments of the James Webb Space Telescope and serves on the JWST Users Committee. While at NASA Ames he has served as the Director of the Ames Center for Exoplanet Studies, Project Scientist of the SOFIA mission, and Chief of the Astrophysics Branch. Before joining NASA, he worked at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center on NASA astrophysics missions. Prior to that, Dr. Greene was on the faculty of the University of Hawaii where he was a support astronomer and later Director of the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF). He received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona.
Sunday morning – R. Jay Wallace, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, U.C. Berkeley, and PBK Visiting Scholar, 2022
“Why Is Everyone So Angry?”
My topic is the dominance of anger in our political culture and discourse, a phenomenon that I think Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals sheds some light on. Nietzsche thought that large parts of aristocratic societies were consumed with “resentment,” a hostile attitude on the part of the dispossessed toward those who are structurally privileged. This negative emotional orientation eventually gives rise to a new scheme of moral values, which are adopted precisely because they enable the masses to make sense of their prior hostility and animus. So you have an original attitude of antagonism, and then a specific set of moral views become prevalent because of the way they render this hostile orientation intelligible to those who are subject to it.
Something similar may be occurring in contemporary social processes. These are characterized by a tendency to forming negative group identities, whereby we come to understand who we are by defining ourselves in opposition to other groups. This leaves us with a hostile orientation toward the Other that doesn't really make sense, morally or intellectually. Under these circumstances, we tend to accept narratives of grievance, which attribute to The Other moral infractions that justify and render intelligible our opposition to them, and thereby satisfy an emotional need. But the process of accepting such narratives turns our antagonism into chronic anger, which is characteristically an attitude of emotional opposition to moral wrongs.
Sunday afternoon – Forest Rohwer, Ph.D., Microbial ecologist and Professor of Biology at San Diego State University. PBK Visiting Scholar, 2022
“Coral Reefs and Piggybacking Viruses”