"So, what are are you up to this summer? What new ideas are you exploring? What new questions are you asking yourself? How about emailing a postcard?" A summer-long Edge event.
[most recent first:] J. Craig Venter, James O'Donnell, Stephen Kosslyn, Philip Zimbardo, Stewart Brand, Maria Spiropulu, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Steven Johnson, Brewster Kahle, Joseph LeDoux, Paul Davies, Gregory Benford, Jordan Pollack, Keith Devlin, Steven Pinker, Steve Jurvetson, Roger Schank, Leonard Susskind, William Calvin, Gary Marcus, Timothy Taylor, Catherine Bateson, Daniel Gilbert, Sue Blackmore, Stuart Hameroff, Karl Sabbagh, Marc D. Hauser, Daniel C. Dennett, Ned Block, Bruce Sterling, John Markoff, Esther Dyson
Papeete — Tonga — Fiji
II Expedition Log-10
APRIL — FRENCH POLYNESIA
After a hectic sampling schedule in the Galapagos Islands we started the long crossing toward the Central Pacific Ocean and French Polynesia. On the way, we targeted sampling near two of the long-term physical oceanographic data moorings, which are part of the Tao Array of buoys.
After taking these samples, we proceeded on to the French Polynesian region. The central region of the Pacific Ocean in which the Polynesian archipelagos are scattered is almost entirely swept by the immense South Pacific Gyre. The circular motion of the Gyre results from the combined effects of the tropical trade winds and the westerly winds prevailing in the sub-tropical regions. The convergent nature of this circular pattern of flow leads to the surface waters accumulating in the centre of the Gyre. The relatively homogeneous water mass thus formed behaves like a floating disk some 200 metres thick, supported by the denser, deeper surrounding water. Owing to the great vertical stability conferred by this process of stratification, the very low nutrient tropical waters are isolated from the surrounding ocean. We anticipate that this unique system will provide an interesting data set.
Our specific sampling sites were chosen after multiple conversations with our collaborators (both in France and in French Polynesia) and a good review of the existing literature. We also employed the expertise of our collaborator, Dr. Dave Karl from the University of Hawaii to assist us with the nutrient analysis of our water samples. Dave's lab has experience and equipment that is uniquely suited to detecting very low ambient nutrient levels.
Once in French Polynesia, the Sorcerer proceeded to the island of Moorea.
Moorea is home to two research stations: the Richard B. Gump South Pacific Research Station (operated by UC Berkeley) and the Centre de Recherches et Observatoire de l'Environnement (CRIOBE). The scientists working through these labs will help us to place our obtained data into ecological context during the analysis phase of the program. We also hope that our data will compliment other research programs in the region.
While the vessel was in Moorea, members of the crew were able to take some much deserved vacation time and have a more casual pace with normal work days and vacation time for all! Charlie enjoyed a two week trip home to Canada to visit family and to check out his house in Regina. When he returned, refreshed with Canadian gifts for the crew, the rest took local vacations enjoying the jungle, beaches, kite surfing and lots of lounging. Soon after, we set off happily sampling once again with the necessary permits and the full cooperation of the French Government. We returned to the Tuamotus region to sample Tikehau and Rangiroa atoll lagoons, both well-studied sites by the French Institute for Research and Development (IRD) program.
In the Tuamotus Islands, Scott Nicholas joined the vessel in preparation for evacuating a large set of samples back to Rockville.
We enjoyed the solitude of this area with no other boats in sight and the only real crowds were groups of hermit crabs. Charlie got his chance to finally rig up the kite-surfer, which is a giant and powerful kite with a harness that holds a person in as they are being dragged across the water. As if this isn't daunting enough there is a dangling board strapped to your ankle. Witnesses have seen the kite pull humans swiftly and gracefully across the water at high speed, leaping 10-20 feet in the air! This was not the case on this day and the practice session presented a spectacular show for the rest of the crew! We were delightfully entertained by the vision of Charlie soggy and dragging behind the kite until the colorful kite swooped dramatically downward, crashing into the blue waters. Spirits were high and a bonfire under the stars was in order!
The sampling trip was quick but fruitful, and we were happy to
have these important samples in hand.
We had 3 days in Huahine and Raitea which were beautiful and much less crowded and developed than Moorea. Then after another provisioning stop in Papeete and topping off the fuel, we departed for Bora Bora. When we arrived we were treated to miles of sandy spits with hotels and a huge lagoon surrounding the famous dual peak of the island center. It is truly a classic island paradise. From there it was a 3 day sail to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.
not far geographically but is very different from the islands
in French Polynesia,
being a colony of
instead of France. Suddenly everything was English, which
took some getting used to since we were accustomed
to speaking our
minds very colorfully and verbally with no one understanding.
this island to be friendlier at half the price and so for
3 days we lived like kings.
A beautiful group of limestone islands with friendly people, a gathering of cruising boats from all over the globe, and a friendly government scientist, named Apai, welcomed us to Tonga. Apai, the Tongan representative who would oversee our sampling and learn about what we were doing, was a soft spoken, kind man who specialized in water quality for the whole island group.
Apai and Crew
Again, the island was home (permanent and temporary like us) to many friendly people. We enjoyed listening to stories from fellow cruising boats and we even had a fun evening of karaoke one night. This was a hit with the female crew who created a new music sensation as the "B Sharps". They were a PHENOMENON!
winds persisted while we were in Tonga and limited our excursions
but we still had a chance to explore areas such as "the Mariners
Cave," a fascinating snorkel with its underwater entrance and
airtight chamber. And "Swallows Cave," which was large enough
to drive the dinghy into!
Wrecks on a reef in Fiji
Levuka homes on hillside
Once we were cleared in it was just a 60 mile day sail around to the main city of Suva where we needed to apply for our long-term Australian visas. On the way into the harbor we were welcomed by the antics of a humpback whale breaching for almost 10 minutes outside the reef at the entrance. Inside we found a good anchorage and close to the town however we were a bit shocked by the confusion of cars, buses, markets and shops and the multitude of pedestrians.
Tess was pleased though with the well-stocked market! Charlie found the local crafts market a fun place to bargain for some of their fine local wood carvings, Jeff and Wendy found the nightlife entertaining, Brooke enjoyed the people watching and Indian food, while Cyrus found Suva offensive. Cyrus had issues with the sanitation procedures and commented, "they use a bulldozer to push heaps of trash into the harbor!!"
After replenishing our supplies and enjoying the sites and sounds of the town, we moved on our way with a two day sail up to Savusavu, stopping for the night at Makoqai.
This island used to be a leper colony and is now a nursery for giant clams and sea turtles. The afternoon of the second day we arrived at Savusavu, the main harbor on the second biggest island where we made plans for our next sample sites and island routes. Brooke was eager to dive as this was one of her dream diving destinations. Her dreams were soon realized at our next destination: Taveuni. We anchored off a backpacker's hotel and enjoyed two amazing wall dives with soft corals. Another highlight of the stop was a Sevusevu (gift) ceremony where we learned how to drink Kava. We unfortunately had not been able to enjoy a Sevusevu in our last destination.
When one arrives to a new village, it is customary
to introduce yourself, and present a gift (Sevusevu) of Yaquona
root (used for making the Kava drink). The villagers will bring
you to the chief for this ceremony. All will sit around a large
wooden Kava bowl to listen to the Chief. He accepts our gift, welcomes
us into the village, and blesses our travels (or he may chase us
off, but fortunately this never happened). We found the bitter
drink numbing to the lips and now understand why people compare
it to dishwater. However, we enjoyed meeting the various villagers
that we encountered and the ceremony was a wonderful way to absorb
more of their fascinating culture.
traveling 10 miles to the new marina in Denarau we spent a day
provisioning and getting ready for a visit by Craig, board of
trustee, Juan Enriquez, and some other friends and family.
just had time to do a 4 day trip up thru the Yasawa island group
to take in Manta Ray viewing, beautiful beaches, more diving
and caves, once the Family
After saying farewell to Juan and Nico, we headed to Vanuatu with a few changes. Crew member Wendy joined a boat named "Don Juan" for a trip to Australia and then back to America, and "Jess" a diver and adventurer joined us to take Wendy's place. Soon all our extra crew, Craig and the guests left Vanuatu. Tess, our chef, will be headed home at the end of the summer bringing our crew down to just 5 for a month or so. It looks like we are going to slow things down for approximately the next six months planning to spend cyclone season in Australia. The team back in Rockville is busily procuring the necessary permits and collaborative agreements with the government and with scientists in Australia as we hope to make this extra time there very intently focused on our science. Stay tuned for news of our latest adventures from New Caledonia and sailing into Australia.
Tongan Market with Tess
St. Petersburg—Southeast isia
It took a little effort to get the airline to sell us a "round the world" ticket, but when there's one meeting in St. Petersburg and others in southeast Asia, it's the only way to go. Flying Bangkok Air, Lao Aviation, and Vietnam Airlines was a trip, to say the least - and Vietnam Airlines much the most impressive, but all of them did their jobs perfectly well. Here are a few images.
Case of butterflies, "Nymphalidae", on display in the library of the house in St. Petersburg where Vladimir Nabokov grew up. The house had a checkered history under the Soviets (at one point serving as Danish embassy and then as an architecture school. A few ground floor rooms of the three story mansion are now open as a museum, with a few quite interesting things (first editions of VN), but mainly in seriously dilapidated state. They have hopes of raising funds to restore the house and make a more ambitious museum.
Toilet busses parked outside the Hermitage in St. Petersburg: notice signage and sewage house running along the ground underneath — truly portable portapotties. St. Petersburg has a long way to go.
Row of sculpted figures from Wat Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang, Laos, the old royal capital and site of many temples. Now a small but steady stream of western tourists pass through. The cybercafes are the cheapest I've ever seen, taking payment in Laotian currency, which has essentially no value outside the country.
The Mekong river towards sunset from downtown Vientiane, Laos. Laos is small and poor and remote, but the people were remarkably engaging and aware of what they need to do to improve their lot. Busts of Ho Chi Minh are still on display and the international bank of commerce has the hammer and sickle flying outside and the telecommunications infrastructure needs work, but the signs were promising.
The most surprising consumer product on sale in Laos and Cambodia was the American style birthday cake, labeled "family cake". We saw at least a dozen small sidewalk bakeries with identical refrigerated cases on the sidewalk, as here, each with an average of a dozen or so circular layer cakes, brightly frosted, and usually with the English language inscription "Happy Birthday". These were not products for expats or wealthy westernized locals, but clearly were for the "mass market".
The Peace Book Center, big and erratically stocked bookstore on Boulevard Monivong in downtown Phnom Penh. English language stock includes a wide variety of language-learning books, children's books, business books, and books about the pope and George Bush. There were also several copies of The Bell Curve.
The English language non-guidebook shelves in the airport bookstore in the new international terminal at Pochentong Airport in Phnom Penh. This was a big surprise. Earlier visits to Phnom Penh in 1996 and 1999 found a failed state still living on the edge, gritty and slightly dangerous. Now a flood of consumer products filled supermarkets and sidewalk shops and the airport had moved from primitive to polished, with fourteen airlines now where eight years ago there had only been Thai Air coming into the country and Royal Air Cambodge flying ancient turboprops to carry tourists to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Now Eva Air was bringing in jumbos full of Chinese tourists.
Cambridge — Santa Rosa — Xi'an
me, the high point of our trip around the world in August was our
stopping off in Santa Rosa, California, where we toured the Alembic
factory and I ordered a new bass —but I must admit that visiting
Xi'an was also rather cool.
Wellington - Christchurch - Milford Sound, New Zealand
After giving a keynote lecture to the New Zealand Psychological Society (Wellington), on "The Psychology of Evil and the Politics of Fear," I also offered a workshop on: "The Psychology of Time Perspective: Achieving an Optimal Temporal Balance in Your Life."
Work done,I explored some of the beautiful places in the south island, enjoying the wines from the Marlborough region, good food, and very friendly company of many New Zealanders.
At Christchurch, I dined with philosopher Denis Dutton, editor and publisher of Arts & Letters Daily, and his psychological colleague from Canterbury University, Garth Fletcher, discussing the American political scene, the war in Iraq, abuse of prisoners by U.S. soldiers, and the foundation of my ideas on the ways in which humanity is transformed by situational forces.
After a trip to Mt.Cook and a stay in Queensland, a journey to Milford Sound proved as spectacular as advertised, despite the winter cold and rain.
was the year of expertise, and of taking on Spring Valley. As
usual, the encampment in June was at the place called Tilford,
with its big view of Mt. Washington
The experts, who came and went, were: Janet Bair—head of programs for The Nature Conservancy in Nevada; Greg Baiden—world class mining engineer and professor from Canada; Steve Reich—water engineer from California; The Dubnos—Dan from CBS and USGS imaging, and his brother Michael; Clifford Ross—high resolution photographer artist from New York; Gary Wolf—author and ace reporter for Wired; Peter Warshall—naturalist; with his Yaqui friend Dan; Matt Salzer and the rest of the bristlecone tree-ring crew from Arizona returning for a second summer.
Here are some of the photos:
Collider Point 5/CMS in France
Summer is not a walk in the park as the time is getting very close (~2.5 years) for 7 TeV protons colliding on 7 TeV protons here.
Thousands of scientists are working preparing the experiments and the accelerator for the collection of the physics data.
I just moved recently from the now highest energy machine in the world — the Tevatron at Fermilab — and there is a change in the scale of things. If what I knew I called grand this is brobdingnagian.
Nw York — Larchmont — Russia — Lebanon — Spain
will be unable to provide you with my summer pictures as I have
(almost) never used a camera. I prefer to keep handwritten diaries
instead. Photography (and the audiovisual) by reifying memories
invests them with the concreteness they do not necessarily need. (
This means that should you come to dinner, I will not subject you
to 12 volumes of photo albums).
The highlight of my summer was a visit to Saint Petersburg, as I spent a long weekend aimlessly wandering its streets. If you want to be lost in a museum, try the Hermitage. Surprisingly, you hardly see tourists there (but please don't tell anyone). It is a suitable place to spend time with yourself. If, in addition, you happen to be a writer, this is the place where you will be made to feel good about your profession. I saw children depositing flowers in front of a statue of Pushkin (it was not even his tomb).
Brooklyn — Westport Point — Napa
spent the first two months of summer in Brooklyn in an extended
stretch of research into and writing about the ways popular culture
has steadily increased its cognitive demands on us over the past
fifty years. (Sort of like that old joke from Sleeper where
the hot fudge and cream pies turn out to be good for us after all.)
Then I spent the last month doing everything I could to get it out
of my mind.
It wasn't a need to unwind that caused me to avoid thinking about work. I was using the vacation as a kind of tool: for me, one of the most challenging things about any long stretch of writing is battling the dulling effects of repetition. The more I ponder and re-read, every twist in the argument becomes laboriously obvious, and the prose seems leaden; it's like a song you've played to death, where you can't hear the music of it anymore. So my idea is to insert a month-long stretch of complete distraction, so that when you finally sit down with the work again, you can approach it with some sense of how it would play to an audience unfamiliar with the ideas.
And if it means taking a month off in beautiful parts of the world to keep my mind clear — well, that's just the price I have to pay.
in Amsterdam for 2 months. Life scrubbing at many levels.
and homeschooling for 4 weeks was a great learning experience all
the way around.
Attached are some pics from my summer. I've been at my hide a way in the Catskills, just 10 minutes from the hallowed site where Woodstook happened 35 years ago.
I've been brushing up on my blues licks when taking a break from writing and doing things with my family.
The photos show me with my Stratocaster, and with my family (Nancy, Milo, and Jacob).
They also show some scenery from our deck.
The photos were taken my my son Milo, the younger one in the family pic.
Hayman Island, Queensland
As in previous years, summer in the Northern Hemisphere is winter in Australia, so it has been business as usual. However, I did spend a very agreeable few days on Hayman Island in Queensland at a "Leadership Retreat."
This was a gathering of politicians, business leaders and a sprinkling
of arts and science folk. The purpose was to solve the world's
problems, or at least a few of them, in the most exclusive and
isolated resort in Australia. During the meeting, the Prime Minister
called an election, which predictably derailed some of the discussion.
The topics ranged from terrorism to investment strategies and population
ageing. I lectured on the search for life on Mars, outlining my
controversial plan for a one-way mission.
New Zealand & Australia
I and Elisabeth Malartre spent a good portion of the summer in New Zealand and Australia, The silences of that vast continent are nowhere more profound than at Ayres' Rock (Uluru in aborigine ). The world seems more vast and various in Australia. I spent some of the time working with theorists on astrophysics, and the sense of vast space and time there gives all such work more meaning.
lab is getting ready to roll out several more peer-to-peer educational
games based on co-evolution, like Spellbee. These
work by letting
students give each other problems over the Internet, using a novel
scoring equation to drive them to be good teachers for each other.
the convergence of VFA is very closely related to the single-value-limit
IFS fractals, and now I now perceive a new grand convergence between
recurrent neural net dynamics, iterated function systems, markovian
games, co-evolution and morphogenesis! We've been noodling for
the past couple of years about how to overcome errors in assembly
our evolved robot forms increase in complexity.
photo of me
on my hybrid is taken on the Marin Headlands, just north of San
Francisco, with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, taken
in July. Note the winter clothing, endorsing the famous line
about the coldest winter day you will ever spend being a summer
Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary
I just spent an educational weekend in Cape Cod with my 12-year-old nephew Eric, an avid birdwatcher who knows more birds than John James Audubon. Between the Nauset Marshes, Corn Hill, Pilgrim Beach, and the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary we saw 56 species, 13 of them new for Eric, including semipalmated plovers, long-billed dowitchers, lesser yellowlegs, and a horned lark. We also paid a pilgrimage to the Birdwatchers General Store in Orleans so that we could meet The Bird Folks, aka. Mike O’Connor, author of the "Ask the Bird Folks" column which appears in a local tabloid called The Cape Codder.
Eric quickly learned that Mike was not your ordinary bird-hugger when he asked him what we should do with a piping plover egg (a threatened species) we found on the beach and he said, "Make an omelet." Mike loves birds, he really does, but he does not crank out the reverential pomp that passes for most of today’s nature writing. In my book he is among the best nature writer in the country, even though he thinks of himself as a guy in Cape Cod who sells birdseed. Oh, and he tells me that a piping plover egg that is not in a tended nest won’t hatch.
Sand Hill Road — Half Moon Bay — Tallinn and Tartu — Olympic Park
Wild life included. There goes the neighborhood.
He is a great fisherman, and my wife caught the largest salmon (near the Mavericks surf spot in Half Moon Bay, CA)
I had a great trip to Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia for a Skype board meeting and a visit to EGeen and the Estonian Genome Foundation. I brought my father with me. His most recent memory of Estonia was as he was leaving on the last boat out of Tallinn in 1944. The flag was still flying proudly, the harbor was exploding, and planes were machine gunning the boats. This was his first trip back in 60 years, and it was quite moving. We found his old home, school, and even childhood friends who survived the Siberian gulag.
About to pull 4 g’s with Joi Ito of Technorati Japan…. It was a rest break from a weekend non-profit conference.
adorable and hyperactive fresh water creatures from the Devonian
period have three eyes and 140 feet (they breathe through their
feet). To survive the temporary ponds of pre-Jurassic Pangaea, they
can survive in diapause for 20 years without water. Strangely, they
also love to eat carrots. I guess that’s similar to cats eating
France — Greece — Palm Beach
have never been convinced that summer is the time for travel. It
is kind of like eating out on Saturday night, one of the best times
not to try it because that's when everyone else is trying it. So,
we journeyed out before summer began. I gave a speech in France
and then we hopped off to Greece to hang out on the seaside with
friends, which turned out to be way too cold to do (should have
tried summer I suppose) so we found ourselves reluctant tourists
in Greece. In the spirit of the Olympics, which I could care less
about, we visited the Olympic Flame in Athens.
we returned home. While my wife Annie was busy making stained glass
for a show she is exhibiting in this summer, I found myself with
plenty of time to contemplate questions such as whether my house
was soon going to resemble a religious institution because of all
the stained glass, how to improve my batting average in the old
guy's softball league, and why people can't seem to think their
way out of a paper bag. This last one has had my attention for some
years now, but hanging around in the old guys softball league has
brought it up again. I play with average Joe and average Joe has
some pretty odd beliefs. One of the players died the other day (this
happens in the old guy's league from time to time.) When this was
announced to the assembled players on the field before the game
the announcement came with the hope that Tom (the deceased) was
now playing softball in the heaven league and the expectation that
he would get five hits in today's heaven league game. Everyone said
isn't that these questions in particular are of concern to me. Rather
I have been wondering about conscious versus unconscious thought
and have come to the conclusion that people actually can't think
consciously at all. I have been collecting and reading books on
how to make a decision that purport to help people think more clearly
but they come with a serous anomaly. They make the assumption that
people have trouble thinking clearly which is obviously correct
but then they make the assumption that telling people how to think
clearly will suddenly make them capable of doing it. This is a bit
like expecting a book by Babe Ruth to suddenly make you a home run
hitter. It just doesn't work that way. We can think about how we
should think but we can't actually do what we just read we should
do, because thinking, like home run hitting, is simply not a conscious
Greetings from beautiful exotic Palo Alto. My summer has been fully occupied by writing, responding to journalists about Stephen Hawking's recantation concerning black holes and information, responding to Lee Smolin's critisism of "Unscientific Theories" (see Edge) and gritting my teeth and ranting about state of the nation and world. Other than that, I have spent an extremely quiet summer at home in my garden, watching the flowers grow with my wife.
Next week I'm off to South Korea and then Holland for a couple of months. Here is a picture of me with H. A. Lorentz in Leiden Holland. I am officially this year's Lorentz Professor, a great honor I am told. Lorentz is of course he of the Lorentz Transformation. The picture was taken by a Dutch Journalist.
Friday Harbor Labs, San Juan Island, Washington USA
What goes on up here at The Labs is marine biology, where students learn to appreciate what the dredge brings up from the muddy bottom. Then too, people like me may mostly write books or invent new lectures on the precursors of the "modern" mind.
We all assume that bigger brains are better, yet our ancestors went through several million-year-long periods when toolmaking techniques didn't improve, despite a lot of brain size increase. Even after our species was walking around Africa 162,000 years ago, we spent the next 100,000 years doing more of the same.
The burst of creativity (since maybe 75,000 to 50,000 years ago) is what we moderns associate with intelligence and our kind of consciousness. And clearly, this is not what the 2.5 million year bigger-brain slog was all about. If those ancestors were getting better and better (maybe for something that doesn't show in the archeological record such as short-sentence protolanguage or more extensive sharing), it sure didn't feed back to improve toolmaking, long-distance trade, or even using bone as raw material for toolmaking — surely the handy-to-hand raw material at any campsite.
No, as I watch the meteor showers in the clear skies away from city lights and think about thought, I reflect on how recent it must be to think complicated thoughts. If you can't speak sentences of more than 2-3 words at a time without them all blending together like a summer drink, you likely cannot think complicated thoughts either — where you also have to resolve the ambiguities and improve the quality of the ensemble offline. That takes an ability to structure thoughts, what you also need to speak long sentences or recursively nest clauses. ("I think I saw him leave to go home.") And without quality bootstrapping aiding structuring, you can't be a poet who creates ensembles where every word resonates with the rest, just so.
Though I traveled to no distant lands this summer (unless you count Quebec), I did rediscover recreational photography, right here at home. Here are three shots from NYC, taken a month before the Republican Invasion.
I am not the first to stand here. Like magic, a human footprint
suddenly appears, toes splayed. Then you see another another,
and over there
just the toes. Then a whole row of prints made by someone wearing
shoes. Then you see that the entire rock is covered with art:
footprints, shoeprints, oared warships, figures on horses, figures
figures in wheeled chariots, a snake, a dancing shaman (perhaps),
and a pair of horseshoe impressions. They are not actual prints
of things: each image has been carefully pecked into the hard
and now, when it rains, the pictures do what they did when they
were first made, over three thousand years ago. They disappear.
The conference was the culmination of a major 5-year interdisciplinary, international project aimed at investigating how the religion and ritual of deep prehistory was transformed into the paganism of Odin and Freya, and then lived on in Christianized form to the time of Wagner to be reinterpreted in the modern world by neo-pagan groups, Hell's Angels and wicca. The recent burning of some of the unique carved wood stave churches of Scandinavia in a bizarre attempt to reawaken the spirit of Valhalla made a more sophisticated understanding imperative. What the project has found is that there never was a unitary pagan past; instead there is a palimpsest of myths and legends, places and landscapes, changing and continuing.
as the the red and white medieval church with the sea behind
it can be seen from Järrestad, so Järrestad
can be seen from church and sea. It is no coincidence: the
knew as we do now that the quartz is a numinous surface. No
birds or fish break its strict two-dimensionality: it is to
be crossed, barefoot or booted, by chariot, on horseback, in
by a snake. If the makers saw it as a membrane, then they knew
it had two sides. Thinking like that, the processions we formed
the ancient dead, lined up beneath us.
— Croatia — Boulder — Hancock, New Hampshire
I've been in New Hampshire with grandson Cyrus, arguing that we should be making our voting decisions on the basis of their impact twenty years ahead, i.e. voting for the children because they can't vote themselves. Why is it that as we live longer we think shorter? US politics is not a great demonstration of lifelong learning but it could be.
And as if to demonstrate the changed shape of the life cycle today, which I keep writing about, this granny has been to London and Croatia and Boulder this summer for conferences about such topics as climate change and the systemic basis of trust between nations (part of the Gregory Bateson centennial).
The Granny Voter logo is a rocking chair flying through the air,
and that's what it's felt like.
Fenway Park, Boston
I've never understood why people leave Boston in the summer, when the weather is perfect, the restaurants are empty, and the Red Sox use the Yankees as tackle dummies. (In fact, this photo is from the July 24th game, which featured both a third inning brawl and a heart-stopping, come-from-behind, Red Sox victory on a ninth inning home-run). So I've spent the summer at home, thinking about illusions of foresight (i.e., the mistakes people make when they think about the future). Marilynn and I promise to send you more exotic postcards in the winter, when sane Bostonians travel as often as possible.
Tuscon — San Diego — Australia
This summer I'm taking a break from trying to solve the problem of consciousness, and am asking other people what they think— and some wonderful people have been joining in.
I've been to Tucson where Dave Chalmers was still struggling with the hard problem, while Stu Hameroff thinks he's solved it with microtubules. I've had lunch in a roadside “family restaurant” with Dan Dennett, who doesn't agree there even is such a problem. In Bristol I've discussed the qualia of coffee with Rama, served by Richard Gregory among his collection of antique telescopes.
And I've been to San Diego where both of the Churchlands convinced me (at least for the duration of our breakfast by the pool) that the problem will one day just disappear. Then I had lunch with Francis Crick, not long before he died, and was urged to ignore all those philosophers and get on with the real science.
Finally, I travelled to Australia where, in their gloomy mid-winter, I took an intensive workshop on memes and complexity theory, and had a great debate on consciousness with Paul Davies and Dave Chalmers who seems to be chasing me round the world, for he's now back in Australia to set up a centre for consciousness studies. I am no closer to knowing what consciousness is, but the conversations are great.
From Milan I took a train to Monte Carlo to visit
my friend, yacht contractor Mario Velona (see velona-yachting.com)
see the Grand
Prix of Monaco. Mario's villa is on a beach several miles
east of town, and I rented a scooter to beat the heavy race-week
traffic, learning to ride the center line in a continuous game
of chicken. With Mario's family and friends, we watched the
race from his office balcony as Italian Jarno Trulli, driving
for Renault, upset Ferrari's Michael Schumacher. Evenings were
spent sauntering around the harbor, wining and dining divinely.
My summer began with a trip to France for two meetings. I'd say it was business rather than pleasure, except that my business — writing — is always a pleasure.
First, I went to a beautiful old former priory about forty miles from Paris as a member of a study group following up a conference I participated in at Roger Williams University, R.I. in April. I had spoken about the history of Palestine to a group of macroengineers who were brainstorming ways in which large engineering projects could bring peace in the Middle East. Effectively I said they couldn't. The conference was called Land for Peace, as if the problem was merely a matter of not enough square kilometres for two peoples to share when there's actually far more at stake. But with a certain change of focus, the architecture department at the new Center for Macroengineering and Diplomacy at RWU had come up with three or four schemes for transforming Gaza to provide jobs, accommodation, agricultural land and a Gaza-West Bank rail link to ease the plight of the Palestinians. The meeting was hosted by Frank Davidson, a man who has packed into his eighty-odd years a whole clutch of large imaginative engineering projects, starting with the Channel Tunnel between England and France. He now wants to build a transatlantic train, maglev in an evacuated tube, that would cross the Atlantic in an hour. Seems OK to me.
The study group meeting came at a time when the evacuation of Israeli settlements from Gaza was being talked about seriously. Hot off the press and delivered to the house by a courier, was an addition to the portfolio of projects we were discussing. This was a plan drawn up by the architecture department for developing the sites that would be vacated by the Israelis. I pointed out one key defect in the plan. It was based on the idea that the buildings and infrastructure would be left as they are when the settlers leave. I said the chances of that were small and that it was likely that all the settlements, along with their water supply, sewage power and other infrastructure elements, would be destroyed by the settlers, with the help of the Israeli army, thus greatly increasing the cost of any redevelopment. All of this was useful thinking for my next book which will be about Palestine.
this meeting, I was driven off to a mediaeval Normandy
manor house in connection with an unrelated project,
to meet two people who wanted to discuss a future book
that I might write, about them and their activities.
It's early days at the moment, too early to describe,
but one attraction about the project would be the possibility
of working in this beautiful environment, where the butler
takes your bags as soon as you arrive and you find, two
hours later, that your dirty shirts have been washed
and ironed and hung up in the wardrobe of your guest
suite. The food was pretty good too, washed down with
Chateau La Tour and the estate's own Calvados.
We decided that the next step was for me to spend a week
there in July, writing a book proposal. It's tough
work but someone has to do it…
As we logged in our 60,000th subject from our moral sense web site, and submitted a paper to Science showing that centuries of philosophers have been duped into thinking that conscious reasoning as opposed to intuition guides moral judgments, I headed off with my wife Lilan and 3 year old daughter Sofia to the heartland of logic and reason Greece. My wife had lived on the island of Naxos when she was a child. Naxos owes its fame to mythology, the location where Theseus [of philosophical fame in the Ship of Theseus paradox on individuality] abandoned Ariadne [who had fallen in love with the god of wine, Dionysus] after slaying the Minotaur. A small part of the trip was centered on a conference exploring the evolution of a tool using brain, a fitting meeting for a country that did so much for the technological revolution. The majority of our trip was spent soaking in the beauty of the archaeological sites as well as the gorgeous topography.
I am proud to report that I left my computer at home, never once checked email, and managed to finish two awful books on moral philosophy and Tom Robbins' terrific new novel "Village Incognito." A vacation sans email is highly recommended!
Blue Hill, Maine (as usual)
After almost forty years of postponements for a tedious variety of reasons, I finally have my dream sailboat, a twenty-one-year old Beneteau First 42 that I found in Newport last October and sailed to Blue Hill, Maine, where my farm is.
Over the winter she was repaired, repainted, renamed (Xanthippe, after Socrates' notoriously shrewish wife). (John, I already sent you the video clip of me sailing her to Maine in snowy October. You could run it to contrast with the summer pix.) Here are a couple of shots of her. I'm training a racing crew of former students, and we'll try not to disgrace ourselves in Down East Race Week in August. And Susan—who won't race—is happy to cruise among the many islands and inlets, with friends or just us. Today we charged down Blue Hill Bay to Flye Point and anchored offshore to listen to the Flye Point Folk Music Festival wafting downwind to us, and then ran back up the bay, making 7 and 8 knots with just our genoa flying—Xanthippe is fast and agile.
she's also a great thinking platform, a place to work out kinks
in my book in progress on religion as a natural phenomenon.
(The trick now is to keep the nautical metaphors out of the
text. Let's see if I succeed.)
Villa La Pietra — Florence, Italy
am at NYU's Villa La Pietra in Florence where a workshop I organized
has just come to a close. Sir Harold Acton donated the 57 acre
estate on Montughi Hill overlooking Florence with its 15th
an unconscious state represent the same properties as a conscious
state? Are the contents of experience Fregean? Are there constitutive
connections between the content of perception and the explanation
of action? If so, why, and what are they? How more generally should
we conceive of the relation between the philosophy of perception
and the philosophy of action?
Back row: (left to right) Maja Spener, UC London; Rachel Bernstein, artist; Jesse Prinz, Chapel Hill; Gideon Rosen, Princeton; Anne Barnhill, NYU; Liz Harman, NYU; behind Liz Harman, partially obscured, Michael Tye, UT Austin; Beatrice Longuenesse, NYU; Alex Byrne, MIT, Dale Jamieson, NYU; David Velleman, Michigan; Benj Hellie, Cornell; Jessica Wilson, Michigan; behind Jessica Wilson, partially obscured, Charles Siewert; Jim Pryor, Princeton; Susanna Siegel, Harvard; Bob van Gulick, Syracuse; Scott Sturgeon, Birkbeck London, plus small Sturgeon; in front of Sturgeons, Veronique Munoz-Darde, UC London; Mike Martin, UC London, Paul Boghossian, NYU; Front row: David Chalmers, Arizona; Christopher Peacocke, Columbia; Ned Block, NYU; Bob Stalnaker, MIT
step forward into multimedia... It's from the start of the Canadian
Grand Prix in Montreal last week... (turn up the volume for best results...)
Moscow, Tverskaya Street
I can't resist... this is from my Treo. I'll send you more. (of course, it wasn't summer yet.....)