On Being Blog
Mormons are excoriated in popular culture (see: “The Simpsons”) for the way their church was created by someone who was kind of a con man. And the translation of the Book of Mormon was accomplished with a hat. And the Golden Tablets have been lost. Hmmm. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were misplaced, too. And a burning bush talking? Really? It comes down to faith, as it should. Not some sort of ignorant bigotry.
Many of the academics consider themselves liberal, socially responsible, and broad-minded individuals, the repository of the best in America. They’re proud of themselves for voting for Barack Obama (a bit too smug maybe?). They would splutter and bluster and be generally outraged to be considered prejudiced. None would consider saying anything similar about African-Americans, Muslims, Jews, Native Americans … well, you get the idea. But anti-Mormonism is part of the same continuum that contains discrimination against any group. Why, then, is it allowable publicly express bias against Mormons?
—Thomas C. Terry, from his insightful commentary on anti-Mormon bigotry within academia for Inside Higher Ed
Photo of LDS Temple in Rexburg, Idaho during a a lightning story by Doug Garding via Flickr’s Creative Commons license.
Photo by José Manuel Ríos Valiente via Flick’s Creative Commons license
Our production team will be traveling to Istanbul this Saturday, and we’re looking to speak with some big thinkers for our public radio program. We want to better understand how Turkey carries forward its historical roots in the Ottoman Empire and before, and how its making the transition from a strict, secular democracy to one that allows for a more expression of religious identity and government rule. Who might be able to tease out the nuances of this tension and growth in Turkey as the country becomes a positive model for other burgeoning democracies in the region?
This person who could walk the line between being an expert who lives out these ideas in his or her daily life. Preferably we’d like to speak to someone who is a practicing Muslim and who grew up with a belief in the virtues and values of Ataturk’s secular approach to democracy. Or maybe this person never felt like those two identities fit in Turkey… But now is hopeful that the two can coexist. How does the larger context play out in individual lives of the speaker and other Turks?
And, since we’re a public radio program aired in the U.S., we’ll need them to be able to carry an hour-long conversation in fairly good English.
Offer your suggestions in the comments section here, or even email me at email@example.com. And, if you know others who might have some ideas, please pass our request along. We’d be much indebted to you.
Photo at top (l-r): Jonathan Gottschall, Joyce Carol Oates, Jeffrey Eugenides, Keith Oatley and Paul Bloom discuss the art and science of storytelling.
Scientists studying the origin of humans use the clues of ancient artifacts to help shed light on many facets of our evolution, including the development of culture in our species. In the World Science Festival panel “Why We Prevailed: Evolution and the Battle for Dominance,” anthropologist Alison S. Brooks showed a photo of six snail-like shells thought to be 100,000 years old that had synchronized piercings with smooth edges and coloration, suggesting they were strung like a necklace and worn on a body-painted “person.” What was the purpose of this Neanderthal art? A primitive marriage symbol? A tribal identifier? A designation of leadership? And what story did the wearer tell about it?
That question lingered in my mind at a subsequent panel “Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative.” While storytelling itself may have been a component of our prototype years, the science of storytelling is a very young field. Jonathan Gottschall, a writer at this intersection, noted its infancy — there’s only about 15 years of active scientific research in hand. Why? He said neither scientists nor humanities scholars feel it’s their jurisdiction. He advocates for bringing experts in these disciplines closer together to more rigorously advance our understanding of this uniquely human gift.
The panel was an intriguing and entertaining example of how writers and scientists can jointly explore the wide spectrum of theories and questions in this arena. Authors Joyce Carol Oates and Jeffrey Eugenides, psychologist Paul Bloom, novelist and psychologist Keith Oatley, and Gottschall discussed everything from the neurological functions in the brain of a reader to storytelling’s role in cognitive development in children, from the differences in the art of storytelling itself to its sociological implications in our individual and communal lives, from the nature of its psychological depths to the value of its aesthetic heights. What is the effect of “constantly marinating ourselves in fiction” like we do? Why do children’s stories often center around some type of trouble, when we would expect them to want to avoid fearful or sad narratives? What’s the future of storytelling? Will video games evolve beyond action genres to include virtual engagement in a Henry James or Jane Austen story?
In closing, moderator Jay Allison brought me back around to evolution. As one of the creative forces behind the popular public radio program The Moth, he noted the remarkable appeal of the show’s utterly simple and primitive form — individuals telling true personal stories, without editing or sculpting or elaborate production.
What’s the power of storytelling in your life? What do you think is important to advancing this field of inquiry?
(Click on the panel title links above to replay the live stream of both these events.)
In “Alive Enough?,” the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle, cautions that technology is not alienating in and of itself, but that we must mature as our ever-expanding relationship with technology grows. And, she says, we can and must lead examined lives with our digital objects — actively shaping technology to human purposes.
Well, at this year’s World Science Festival, some of the pioneers (including Vint Cerf) of these disruptive technologies examine “the Internet’s brief but explosive history and reveal nascent projects that will shortly reinvent how we interact with technology — and each other.” And they give us a view of what technologies and interactions are in our future.
The live webcast starts at 1pm Eastern. Our producer is there and will be live-tweeting this panel of dynamic thinkers from NYU’s Skirball Center. Watch the live video stream with us and let us know if there’s anybody you’d like us to interview for On Being.
Perhaps you’ve asked yourself this question while speaking to Siri on your iPhone. It surfaced at yesterday’s World Science Festival event “The Creator: Alan Turing and the Future of Thinking Machines” where a panel of scientists and filmmakers discussed the nature and future of artificial intelligence.
The conversation was framed through the premiere of the film “The Creator” by artists Al+Al — a surreal, mythical journey of computers into the dreams and memories of Alan Turing as he contemplates suicide in his final hours of life. Wired UK recently interviewed Al+Al about the film.
It was a wide-ranging dialogue that touched on both the scientific and the ethical aspects of artificial intelligence work to create machines that will capture not just what we do, but the reasons we do what we do. I appreciated the historical perspective of NYU computer scientist Yann LeCun who noted that until recently computer science was about being exact, and artificial intelligence has forced computer science to deal with the unsolvable, or the “approximately solvable” - how we deal with uncertainty. This echoes Janna Levin’s perspective on the coexistence of mathematics and mystery that she so eloquently discusses in this week’s repeat broadcast. Is this a “Golden Age” in mathematics history?
In the photo above (l-r): Janna Levin, Josh Tenenbaum, and Yann LeCun discuss the nature and future of artificial intelligence at the World Science Festival.