[ by Charles Cameron — Universities hither and yon, illustrating Matthew 25:29 and it clearly still is news ]
Celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and acclaimed astronomer Professor Andrea Ghez were among the recipients of honorary degrees at Encaenia..
News below from my alma mater, the University of Oxford
It’s worth noting that the gift to the humanities (top panel, above), though smaller than that to the sciences (lower panel), is to the University of Oxford itself, whereas the gift to the sciences, though larger, is to the city of Oxford.
But Oxford — city with university, town and gown — benefits in both cases.
Contrast that with the University of Alaska:
My hope here would be for the university to prioritize the full continuation of its unique services – the indigenous language and arctic climate change programs — all else is covered elsewhere..
A Biblical explanation:
For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.
Bryan, lately of Vermont and now at Georgetown, is our keenest observer of the higher educational future. He coined the term peak higher education in 2013 — like peak oil, but for education, right? — and has been tracking it since then. At some point, he added the notion of queen sacrifice — “A queen sacrifice is when a college or university cuts faculty, especially full-time professors, usually as part of shrinking or ending certain academic programs” — and has made at least sixty posts in which queens are sacrificed, and one on a knight or rook sacrifice? (sports). Bryan‘s latest post is Casualties of the future. In it, he writes:
That academic phase hasn’t been clearly replaced yet. The new phase’s nature isn’t fully evident. Perhaps its outlines will become apparent after several years of change. I’ve speculated on what that next higher education phase might look like here and elsewhere. But for now, let’s consider the present as a moment in between those two phases. That’s our time, right in the midst of a switching period, a liminal space, marked by uncertainty and instability. We’re in a boundary zone.
Okay: a gentleman scholar as wise as he is bearded — and that’s a considerable double-barreled compliment — sees fit to emphasize the liminal in his latest broadside on higher education and its current obsession with cutting arts and humanities programs and various faculty members — ahem, bringing new and far broader meaning, in fact, to the concept of cutting classes. And why?
Why provide a graphic of brick wall(s) unless, somehow, the idea of breaks, gaps, thresholds, borders, leaps, in short the liminal, is of intrinsic importance?
Is citizenship a kind of subscription service, to be suspended and resumed as our needs change? Are countries competing service providers, their terms and conditions subject to the ebbs and flows of consumer preference? Edmund Burke long ago articulated an ambitious vision of society as a “partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Does any of that still resonate? Or is it a bygone idea of a vanished age, dissolved in a globalized world?
We can consider the cases of women from the US, UK and elsewhere who volunteered for ISIS and now wish to return home.
Here’s a paragraph to transition us smoothly:
How easy should it be to give up your citizenship? In the era of Oswald, it could be difficult—like joining an especially selective monastic order that turns away aspirants until they kneel in the snow for a few days outside the monastery or consulate’s doors. Now a U.S. citizen can stop being American with a single visit to a consulate. (Most renounce not for ideological reasons but to avoid the complications of living as an American expatriate, subject to dual taxation and bureaucratic requirements far more onerous than for expatriates of almost any other country.)
That’s a liminalissue, questions of citizenship and borders are liminal. And Bryan is talking liminality when he talks education.
Here’s a quick liminal zing from Abigail Tracy, in the title and subtitle of here Atlantic piece:
I’d have been happy to include this in my chyrons and headers collection, but between the lines is too nicely liminal to miss.
A limen is a <threshold: it ‘s neither one thing nor the other, it’s in-between. And in-between is a time or state of transition, often tricky — think of the interregnum between the election of a President and his or her Inauguration — and often deeply human — we’re stuck with human nature, every one of us, which as Solzhenitsyn noted has a fault line in it more significant perhaps than even the fissure that separates our left and right cerebral hemispheres. Stunning us, he wrote:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
There’s liminality for you.
Here’s how Bryan ends his post:
There is a greater darkness than the one we fight. It is the darkness of the soul that has lost its way. The war we fight is not against powers and principalities, it is against chaos and despair. Greater than the death of flesh is the death of hope, the death of dreams. Against this peril we can never surrender. The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation. No one knows the shape of that future, or where it will take us. We know only that it is always born in pain.
The war we fight is not against powers and principalities — see my earlier post today on spiritual warfare. And The future is all around us, waiting in moments of transition, to be born in moments of revelation — the horror, the blessing of liminality.
SEAL training is the great equalizer: If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart — and that deep sense of being equalized by sand. tide, and fatigue, brings with it fine-grained humility and profound bonding with ones’ fellows.
Victor Turner was the anthropologist who made liminality the corner-stone of his great work, The Ritual Process — see how closely his ideas correspond with McRaven‘s SEAL training. Back in my early post on the topic here on ZP, I wrote:
Basing his own work on van Gennep‘s account of rites of passage, Turner sees such rites as involving three phases: before, liminal, and after.
Before, you’re a civilian, after, you’re a Marine — but during, there’s an extraordinary moment when you’ve lost your civilian privileges, not yet earned your Marine status, and are less than nothing — as the drill sergeant constantly reminds you — and yet feel an intense solidarity with your fellows.
Before, you’re a novice, not yet “professed”, after, you’re a monk — but during, you lie prostrate on the paving stones of the abbey nave as you transition into lifelong vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
There are two things to note here. One is that liminality is a *humility* device, the other is that is creates a strong sense of bonding which Turner calls *communitas*: in one case, the Marine’s esprit de corps, in the other quite literally a monastic community. Part of what is so fascinating here is the (otherwise not necessarily obvious) insight that humility and community are closely related.
earlier Zenpundit posts on liminality and borders, among them:
I’m hoping to engage some of my friends and net acquaintances — Peter Rothman, John Robb, August Cole, Jamais Cascio, Monica Anderson, Chris Bateman, JM Berger, Tim Burke, Bryan Alexander, Howard Rheingold, Jon Lebkowsky and no doubt others — in a conversation on this topic, here at Zenpundit.
Starting as of now: with encouragement to come — send posts to firstname.lastname@example.org, any length, fire at will!.
On the face of it, AIs that are seeded with different databases will come to different conclusions, and thus the politics of the company of AIs, democratically assessed — ie one AI one vote — would be stacked in favor of the majority of kindred DBs from which the set was seeded. But is that all we can say? Imaginatively speaking, our topic is meant to arouse questions around both democracy and intelligence, artificial and oitherwise. and politics, we should remember, extends into warfare..
Two announcements I saw today triggered my wish to stir the AI pot: both had to do with AI and religion.
Can a robot love? Should beings with artificial intelligence be granted rights? The rise of AI poses huge ethical and theological questions. Last month we welcomed John Wyatt and Beth Singler from the Faraday Institute to discuss these issues.
Advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and robotics have been making the headlines for some time now. Articles in mainstream media and features in prime-time television keep pouring in. There is clearly a growing interest in humanoid robots and the varied issues raised by their interactions with humans.
The popularity of films such as Ex Machina, Chappie, I-Robot and more recently Her reveal an awareness of the challenges hyper-intelligent machines are already beginning to pose to complex issues such as human identity, the meaning of empathy, love and care.
How will more advanced, integrated technology shape the way we see our families, our societies – even ourselves?
and one event next year:
AI and Apocalypse
Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM)
April 5 – 6, 2018. Inside the Big Top at the Panacea Charitable Trust gardens, Bedford, United Kingdom
CenSAMM Symposia Series 2018 / www.censamm.org
We invite papers from those working across disciplines to contribute to a two-day symposium on the subject of AI and Apocalypse.
Abstracts are due by December 31, 2017.
Recently ‘AlphaGo’, a Google/Deepmind programme, defeated the two most elite players at the Chinese game ‘Go’. These victories were, by current understandings of AI, a vast leap forward towards a future that could contain human-like technological entities, technology-like humans, and embodied machines. As corporations like Google invest heavily in technological and theoretical developments leading towards further, effective advances – a new ‘AI Summer’ – we can also see that hopes, and fears, about what AI and robotics will bring humanity are gaining pace, leading to new speculations and expectations, even amidst those who would position themselves as non-religious.
Speculations include Transhumanist and Singularitarian teleological and eschatological schemes, assumptions about the theistic inclinations of thinking machines, the impact of the non-human on our conception of the uniqueness of human life and consciousness, representations in popular culture and science fiction, and the moral boundary work of secular technologists in relation to their construct, ‘religion’. Novel religious impulses in the face of advancing technology have been largely ignored by the institutions founded to consider the philosophical, ethical and societal meanings of AI and robotics.
This symposium seeks to explore the realities and possibilities of this unprecedented apocalypse in human history.
You’ll note that thse two events address religious and ethical issues surrounding AI, which in turn revolve, I imagine, around the still disputed matter of the so-called hard problem in consciousness. I’d specifically welcome responses that explore any overlap between my title question and that hard problem.
Geoffrey Pyke, an inventor, war reporter, escaped prisoner, campaigner, father, educator–and all-around misunderstood genius. In his day, he was described as one of the world’s great minds, to rank alongside Einstein, yet he remains virtually unknown today. Pyke was an unlikely hero of both world wars and, among many other things, is seen today as the father of the U.S. Special Forces. He changed the landscape of British pre-school education, earned a fortune on the stock market, wrote a bestseller and in 1942 convinced Winston Churchill to build an aircraft carrier out of reinforced ice. He escaped from a German WWI prison camp, devised an ingenious plan to help the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, and launched a private attempt to avert the outbreak of the Second World War by sending into Nazi Germany a group of pollsters disguised as golfers.
To truly nurture creativity, you have to cherish your contrarians and give them opportunities to run free. Leaders in the analytic community must avoid trying to make everyone meet a preconceived notion of the intelligence community’s equivalent of the “man in the gray flannel suit.”
And the service can ill-afford to lose creative personnel with a high tolerance for risk.
It’s a sad fact that the folks who are in government, especially in the “elite” services of the CIA and the State Department, aren’t what they used to be. They are, to be blunt, less interesting. There are vastly fewer “characters” -— the unconventional, often infuriating, types who give institutions color and competence.
Okay, here’s Geoffrey Pyke in his own capital letters:
EVERYTHING IS IRRELEVANT TILL CORRELATED WITH SOMETHING ELSE
And why does that interest me?
Well first, today it corroborates my comment just now on David Barno and Nora Bensahel and the importance of their suggestion that “The Army should also reinstate the requirement for every career officer to develop skills in two specialties.”
And then second, because I have been saying for a while that:
Zenpundit is a blog dedicated to exploring the intersections of foreign policy, history, military theory, national security,strategic thinking, futurism, cognition and a number of other esoteric pursuits.