As an astronomer, I am often asked how we can possibly understand such mysterious objects as black holes, distant in space, and the Big Bang, so very distant in time. The answer is simple: in the Universe, distant objects are often easier to understand than nearby ones.
By Piet Hut
In a very real way, you are much older than any of the rocks in any of the mountains you will ever encounter. Each living cell in your body is directly connected in an unbroken chain from LUCA, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, that lived about four billion years ago.
By Piet Hut
A few weeks ago I engaged in a fascinating conversation with Loch Kelly, a Buddhist meditation teacher, at the Rubin Museum in a program co-sponsored with YHouse. We were asked to shed some light on the topic of time, Loch from a Buddhist angle, and me from a physics angle. Interestingly, . . .
By Piet Hut
“Blessed are the forgetful: for they get the better even of their blunders”—Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his philosophical work, Beyond Good and Evil. Nietzsche gave an aphorism, but not the method by which you and I might be bestowed such blessings. How exactly, then, do we forget blunders, trauma, and stress? How do we forget the memories that wrest from us our sense of well-being and happiness; the memories which pool as an unfortunate wellspring of such mental conditions like Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Large enough to host a crowd up to 120 people, but intimate enough to feel like you should bring your grandfather for a scotch to discuss the state of the world, Caveat forms the perfect stage for a YHouse event. With its wood-panelled walls, easy leather armchairs in the corner, a Persian carpet on the stage, and a drink in your hand, you’re going on a comfortable night out whilst feeding yourself on new knowledge and insights.
Last Monday, I visited one of the recurring events on artificial life for the first time, called “Cylons and T2s and the Borg—Oh My!: The Dangers and Potential of Artificial Life.” Physicist Dr. Charles Adler and historian Dr. A Bowdoin van Riper were invited to tackle ideas from science fiction, world culture, science, and philosophy, as well as to pose answers to a variety of questions from the audience. The event was moderated by YHouse’s deputy creative director Sean Sakamoto.
Last week I wrote about my astrophysics activities in the virtual world of Second Life. This week I'm looking back on another initiative that I started there, called Play as Being -- an exploration of what you are, by learning to turn your gaze away from what you have.
By Piet Hut
Synopsis of our March 15, 2018 YHouse Luncheon talk by Kenji Doya
Presenter: Kenji Doya (Okinawa Institute of Science & Technology, Japan)
Title: How Does the Brain Wire up Itself on the Fly?
Abstract: “The standard paradigm in functional brain imaging is to ask subjects to perform tasks requiring a certain computation or not, to see which brain areas are more activated, and to conclude that those areas subserve the computation. However, we do not really know why and how those specific brain areas can be activated and connected when they are needed. As deep learning provides solutions to specific computations like image recognition and language processing, how to select and combine those networks as needed in different tasks and situations is a critical challenge in general and autonomous artificial intelligence. In this talk, we will explore possible anatomical and computational mechanisms that realize modularity and compositionality of the brain.”
Synopsis of YHouse Luncheon 3/8/18 Michael Solomon and Olaf Witkowski
Title: Ethics and A.I.
Abstract: “We are sharing this article in hopes of stimulating discussion at our Thursday March 8th meeting. The topic will be Ethics and A.I. Is it possible to program ethical values in the machines we use and have come to rely on? Can we even agree on fundamentals like “Do unto others...” or “Thou shalt not kill”? Is Diversity an obstacle to finding shared values? Can urban surveillance cameras with facial recognition be used to prevent crime and terrorism, without being used by authoritarian governments to weed out dissent? Can we have Transparency in decision making when no one can determine how neural networks reach conclusions? Ethics choices may not be between good and evil, but more often involve conflicting goods. Can we make better policies and choices with A.I. than we can without it? Please share this with others who may be interested in attending.”
It is hard to predict the future. Twelve years ago, Second Life (SL) began to make headlines. There were predictions that soon business cards would not only list email addresses, but also avatar names, uniquely pointing to the animated characters in SL that represented the owners of the cards . . .
By Piet Hut
Synopsis of the 3/1/18 YHouse Luncheon Talk at IAS by Catherine Prueitt and Piet Hut
Presenters: Catherine Prueitt (George Mason University) and Piet Hut (Institute for Advanced Study) Title: Beyond or Not Beyond Abstract: “Cat and Piet will continue an ongoing dialogue they started a few weeks ago at Columbia about the notion of exploring the notion of beyond in theory and experiment, in science and contemplation, as well as in daily life. Cat, a philosopher, and Piet, an astrophysicist, share a deep and burning interest in the question of how humans construct and experience the world they live in and themselves who live in it.”
The most important lesson that I learned from scientific research has little to do with any of the fascinating results that I witnessed and contributed to in astrophysics and other fields. Nor is it related to the amazing tools and techniques that have been developed in the last few hundred years. Rather, it has been the training in dropping stories.
By Piet Hut
In the history of science, philosophy has always seemed to be detached from the rest of natural science. Yet phenomenology offers a unique perspective of understanding our experience and life, and this workshop aimed to find ways to bridge the gap between the scientific attitude and the phenomenological attitude.
Synopsis of YHouse Luncheon 2/15/18
Presenter: Hayden Kee (Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy at Fordham University) Title: Phenomenological Naturalism and the Metaphysics of Consciousness Abstract: (At the Start Hayden said that he had made substantial changes to his presentation since submitting the abstract, so his focus will be different.) “To what extent do we require a phenomenological level of description to adequately grasp the behavior of non-human organisms? At one extreme, some versions of autopoietic enactivism endorse a strong phenomenological life-mind continuity thesis, maintaining that wherever we find life, we find also a mind exhibiting the same basic phenomenal interiority as human experience. In this talk, I will argue that this broad application of phenomenological concepts to all living beings, including ones believed to lack sentience, introduces a fateful equivocation into the phenomenological idiom, which is designed to describe sentient experience. But this terminological clarification serves to bring into focus an underlying ontological and methodological issue: autopoietic enactivism (along with other approaches to naturalized phenomenology) is radically incomplete in the absence of a foundational (meta)physics of consciousness.”
The revised question that Hayden chose to discuss is, “What does consciousness Do (make happen) in Nature?” He is trained in Phenomenology, and in Phenomenology you are told not to ask what consciousness does as a natural phenomenon. That is because that puts consciousness in the material world, a thing among other things. And that can restrict exploring it (the thing itself) as a natural phenomenon....
YHouse is growing fast and we need your help. We're currently recruiting volunteers for a variety of positions, including, but not limited to: graphic design, event staff, promotions, and blogging. If you're interested in lending a hand or would like more information, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator: Benjamin@Yhousenyc.org. Thanks!
Having a strong conviction can be very helpful in creating great clarity. But at some point, the initial conviction can get in the way, cramping our style, and closing the door to even greater clarity. In science, initial conviction is necessary . . .
By Piet Hut
YHouse was honored to host Robbert Dijkgraaf and Pia de Jong in Caveat, the new stage place for playful, intelligent nightlife, in our monthly series Chasing Consciousness. They shared with us their stories of the double career that each of them has followed, and they reflected on how those four stories run through their shared lives.
By Piet Hut
Five hundred years ago, we lived in a world where the stars were thought and felt to be "beyond" the world of us mortals. And two hundred years ago, at least in Europe, humans were considered to be "beyond" animals, a species separately created. These distinctions dropped away . . .
By Piet Hut
A video of our most recent Chasing Consciousness event is now available on our YouTube channel: Imagination in Science and Art
The event featured the following speakers, each of whom spoke of their experience with the topic at hand before engaging in a brief on-stage dialog, which was followed by an extensive conversation with the audience.
Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director and Leon Levy Professor of the Institute for Advanced Study since 2012, is a mathematical physicist who has made significant contributions to string theory and the advancement of science education. He is President of the InterAcademy Partnership, a past President of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a distinguished public policy adviser and advocate for science and the arts. For his contributions to science, he has received the Spinoza Prize, the highest scientific award in the Netherlands, and has been named a Knight of the Order of the Netherlands Lion. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He is also a trained artist, writer, and popular lecturer.
Pia de Jong is an award-winning Dutch writer who moved with her family to Princeton in 2012. Her most recent book is Saving Charlotte: A Mother and the Power of Intuition. "Simply a beautiful book, impossible to put down, clear as a jewel and flawless in its depths"—Richard Preston. Pia writes a weekly column in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad about her life in the USA. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post.
Last week I met Josh Tenenbaum again, a brilliant AI researcher at MIT. We've only met four times, but at each encounter there was a mutual recognition of a deep resonance in our outlook on world and mind. Josh straddles many fields . . .
By Piet Hut