Thursday, December 22, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Discussion Questions re Washington, a Life (“Life”):
1. I think I understand more about the causes of the American Revolution after reading Life. Did any of the causes discussed in Life surprise you? Do you think American Revolution was a civil war? If so, among whom? Why didn’t the British southern strategy work?
2. Did US win the American Revolution or did the British give up? Why give up? Why didn’t the British southern strategy work?
3. Did Ron Chernow’s thematic organization of Life work?
4. Was GW a revolutionary? (One could argue that his motives were tangled with many personal slights, including lose of western land at the whim of the governor.) If so, did Ron Chernow adequately discuss what made GW a revolutionary?
5. In drafting Life, Ron Chernow used letters (to and from GW, as well as third parties), paintings, minutes of meetings, legislation, reports to and from battlefields and legislators, cartoons, maps, contemporary and subsequent secondary sources and objects. Did Chernow miss anything? If one could interview one person, other than GW, who would it be? Who would be the most objective witness of GW?
6. Could you envision GW’s plan to rid US of the French after American Revolution, or did he not really worry about that problem?
7. Why did GW tolerate slavery? Why did he favor gradual abolition? Whatever the perspective, it seems to involve the intersection of several character issues.
8. If GW’s story was a novel, how would Thoreau portray GW’s visits to his western lands? How would Proust portray his relationship with Sally?
9. How did your view of GW change after reading Life?
10. Was GW a great president? A great politician? What was GW’s greatest weakness, as general and as president?
11. Does GW’s character/personality materially change when confronted with challenges to his authority or talents? How about despair?
Discussion Questions-Human, The Science Behind What Makes Us Human
1. Is narrative essential to the advancement of scientific thought? If scientific paradigm based on competing narratives? Is Human a good science narrative pertaining to how humans are unique from other animals and machines?
2. Can brains become minds without a body?
3. What is nature of the interpreter? Does the interpreter free our conscious mind to do what needs to get done?
4. How can singularity have potential to exist if its human creators cannot perceive but a fraction of the matter, energy, thoughts, desires, etc of the universe? How do human goals coincide with the goal of the machine? For extra credit, what did you dream? It's alright we told you what to dream".
5.What is intelligence? How does intelligence arise? What is art? What is literature? (Attached is short transcript of conversation between Mike Gazzaniga and Tom Wolfe)
6. Is love an illusion?
7. Should Barack be permitted to carry his Blackberry after inauguration?
8. Is the reason affluent social groups tend to have small family sizes compared to less affulent social groups based on status?
9. 36 year old Michael visits Brown Buns tanning salon and exposes himself to 16 year old Becky. Michael then heads to Blockbuster and exposes himself to 22 year old Anita while watching Minority Report. Michael then threatens Anita with physical harm if she refuses to provide oral sex. Anita complies. Michael is arrested, tried and convicted of sexual battery and served a five year sentence in state penitentiary. While incarcerated, the prison psychologist evaluate s Michael pursuant to a state program to evaluate the mental state of sex offenders prior to release. The psychologist files a report with Vincent Bugliosi, the state's attorney who prosecuted Michael. The report concludes the Michael suffers from "exhibitionism, " a "antisocial personality disorder" and is "impulsive". Based on the conclusions of the report, Vincent petitions the court to civilly commit Michael to the state's facility for violent sexual predictors indefinitely.
What does it mean to be impulsive? What does it mean to lack control?
What is an antisocial personality disorder? What standard determines disorder? What standard of what society is relevant?
Should the testimony of the psychologist be admissible in the civil commitment hearing as an expert? How about Dr. Phil or Dr. Laura?
Does this case involve punishment for a predicted crime?
Does it matter to analysis that the state knows of no therapy or treatment for Michael's disorders.
What if Michael dies in the facility and his autopsy reveals a tumor pinching his amygdala?
At his trial, Michael testifies that he did not intend to expose himself or threatened Anita, but he needed to expose himself and threatened Anita?
What might an evolutionary psychologist say about Michael's behaviors?
Discussion Outline for September 20, 2005 Book Club Discussion re
Gifts of Athena by Joel Mokyr:
1. Discuss the application of useful knowledge to development of
successful organization (e.g., law firm, university, bank)
2. There has never been a time when the transmission of, and access
to, useful knowledge has been cheaper. Why do countries with abundant
resources continue to fall behind the economic tiger counties?
3. Discuss the problem of acceptance of new technologies based on
concern of the unknown (e.g., development of agricultural hybrids
resistant to glyphosate herbicides, so-called frankenfood). Is this a
problem in which propositional knowledge lacks "tightness"?
4. What mechanisms of technological evolution did the Lunar Society
either use or contribute?
5. Discuss how pragmatists advanced useful knowledge (e.g.,
advancement of the acceptance of useful knowledge in a society).
6. Discuss how society will think about the evolution of recent
technology with social concern (e.g., genetic testing in selection of
offspring, retinal identification of people in public spaces,
genetically-based racial identity)
IN THE FIRST CIRCLE
December 22, 2009
- What is the better book- The First Circle (redacted for Soviet consumption) or In the First Circle (restored)? Who are the protagonists of each? Does book really make sense when the focus of the investigation is passing medical information versus passing nuclear technology?
- Does your view of Innokenty depend on his motivation (that is whether his motivation is protecting a colleague versus protecting a society from unstable politicians)? Is your view of the Major soften when he focuses on discovering the caller rather than killing all five men who could be the caller?
- What is Solzhenitsyn’s view on the development of Soviet technology? On the recruitment of personnel? What might Joel Mokyr say about Soviet diffusion of propositional knowledge? How about the development of a social network to diffuse such knowledge?
- Hypothetically, would Vic Abakumov rather send James Watson to a sharashka or ask him to join the government?
- What makes Marfino sharashka the first circle of hell? Let’s face it; doesn’t Innokenty really deserve to be in the second circle? Is hell loss of dignity? Perhaps it’s the “C” students guarding the “A” students?
- Is First Circle existential even though the story is collective?
- The term “Zek” derives from incarcerated canal man. According to a friend who grew up in Soviet Russia, Soviets built their canals the same way the Egyptian slaves built the pyramids. What makes the portrayal of Soviets so negative in First Circle, especially given the nuclear component of the plot? Wouldn’t the story of zeks building canals be a better indictment?
- Was Inny’s harsh treatment by his captors de rigor for nuclear treason, or did you get the idea Al forgot to restore the chapter having to do with Molly complaining to her old man about Inny banging Italian models during his assignment in Rome?
- Gleb comments that human history is “like an octopus, with neither back nor front.” What does such a comment imply we cannot really learn from history in any meaningful sense?
- Does Solzhenitsyn repudiate his background in mathematics when the naive optics guy looks forward to the day when men of science rule the world?
- Who has the power of free will? Uncle Avenir? Uncle Vanya? Gleb? Man Without Qualities? Svejk? Innokenty? Rubin? Alan Moore? Who justified his actions with “Soon there will be war. Millions will burn. Millions will perish in sickness and misery. Why does one death matter against so many?” Stalin? Beria? Rorschach?
- Does First Circle need a narrator to add some historical gloss or moral clarity?