Whooshup Reorganization

To reflect what this blog has become, the format has changed to emphasize the enormous number of useful links to resources we provide. To go to the whooshup blog and conversations about these resources, just scroll to the bottom of the lists of resources!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Discussion: On Discussions

Well, the response to invitations for discussion groups has been terrific so far. Thanks to all who cheerfully spoke up.

But what's this? The first real discussion has whooshed up on its own: the discussion about discussions. I take this to be the "primordial for-the-sake-of-which" this blog takes a stand on itself. The discussion on discussion should be a great testimonial and amusement for us all. So, in the immortal words of king Max from Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are: "Let the Wild Rumpus start!"

I will give as many of the starting positions as I can remember in the Comments to this Discussion item.


Karl Tyson said...

OK, this is just my preliminary discussion of discussions, and it has to do with me carrying through on my promise to let anybody else author main posts on Whooshup. As soon as kingraam requests it, I begin to fear the chaos any true democracy brings with it. To counteract this feeling I start making up rules in my mind to try to keep order, like "Rule 1: Only post articles that are either (a) administrative, or (b) specific to a webcast Dreyfus lecture or series of lectures." Then I realize that I will break my own rule immediately. Finally, I realize I am being infantile and just have to let go, as soon as I can make one rule stick: "Rule 1: If the post is meant to be a discussion, start the title with Discussion: blah blah blah so everyone will know to go comment on it.

Karl Tyson said...

OK, next is my summary of everybody else's initial position on discussions and how they should be conducted. I'm sorry that I have to summarize other people's notes, but I had quite a bit of email to handle and I'll try to represent that as well as what's been commented to the previous Second Life Discussions post.

Wayne thinks the discussion group will need guidance from an expert - exactly the role of Dreyfus' TA's in the real-world of UC Berkeley Philosophy sections.

James makes the case that discussions in Second Life (SL) would not be worth the extra effort. He favors a Skype session - essentially an internet phone conference.

Nathan asks why virtual reality - why not use mIRC - a chat program that enables multiple users to send text messages rapidly.

My response to Wayne is that although an expert guide might show up, she might not, and then we would have to proceed unguided, or drop the project.

My proposals for base technology have ranged from very simple (the blog itself) to very complicated and prone to breakdown and frustration (Second Life).

Almost everyone is concerned that the discussions should relate to their "stage" of familiarity with Dreyfus and his subject. Many want to be sure the discussion is on Heidegger, rather than general philosophy topics.

My response to the topicality issue is that, based on my imperfect handle on all this, Dreyfus gives a coherent picture throughout all these lectures of an existentialist world view that engages the principle dilemmas we find ourselves with, at this point in history. In other words, it's all relavent, just from different perspectives.

Karl Tyson said...

As several readers have sensed, and I have tried to make explicit in my response to James in comments in the previous post, the discussion forum in a virtual reality world, Second Life in this case, is predicated on a range of interesting phenomenological hypotheses about the interactions between people, the real background world they cope with, their bodies doing the coping, and their bodies projected (clumsily) into a 3D immersive pseudo-world.

In a nutshell, following out these hypotheses means trying out discussions in Second Life. We may end up there for good, but maybe not.

Webb, who at first laconically passed on the Second Life thing, wrote something about the assumption that our body in "real" space is distinguishable from our body in "virtual space" which he said I could transfer here, along with his emphatic enthusiasm for Dreyfus and his Heidegger lectures.

So here is Webb's argument:

Dreyfus' comment seemed to assume that there is a single bodily experience to refer to. Either telepresence gets it right, or it doesn't, but the bodily experience is taken for granted, a sort of "state of Nature".

The dichotomy between "virtual life" and "real life" is patently false. That is my main point. Virtual reality is just another iteration in the same process that brought us language, literacy, the telephone, the printing press, etc. Bodies communicating and building worlds through symbolic communication.

The bodily experience of learning is hugely socially constructed: lecture halls, disciplined corporality (Mauss and Foucault), climate control, audio-visual technology, electric lights, amplification, knowledge of protocol, let alone language, etc. I would argue that there is no natural reference point, and that second life is just one more iteration on a very complicated set of arrangements that mingle corporality and meaning and communication, and the lecture hall is merely a different iteration, as is the Agora, etc.

Culture can't escape the body, but the other direction is true as well.

And to privilege the lecture hall over second life is just as ridiculous as privileging orality over literacy, primitive tribes over civilized tribes, etc, etc.

We don't know yet the character of cyber communication, but it forms a corporally based thing with as much Heideggerian worldhood as any other context. Second life is just as "natural" as the Black Forest -- i.e. its naturalness is a non issue, and I think Dreyfus finds himself in a nostalgia for a natural state (that probably never existed, and that is a figment due to our Anxiety to pretend that we have an essential Being).

Technology has been becoming background since we shed our fur and put on skins (or the blind person picked up his cane). And we have been desperately ("anxiously") trying to ground ourselves in the natural body (among other things) since we said the words "I am ..."

Wayne said...

Question: How many people are possible participants and how many have you heard from?

Comment: I would be happy discussing Heidegger on your blog; we would have a record of what is said. Our statements might be formulated more completely if we are forced to write them down. We would have the luxury of time if the discussion was non-synchronous.

Discussion: We could have multiple discussions - perhaps unbounded, and related to Dreyfus courses -- Phil 185,Phil 189, Phil 6, Phil 7

Karl Tyson said...

Wayne - There are more than 20 people who have expressed some level of interest.

I have already tried to clearly frame discussion posts by prefacing the title with "Discussion:" and stating in the first paragraph the specific webcast class and lecture(s) which raised that particular issue. This format seems to me general, flexible, and easy to follow for both authors and commenters.

I am about to send invitations to every person who has contacted me to become authors - meaning they can post discussion start threads if they choose. As I said above, true democracy is chaos under a different name. Until we have a recognized "mentor" of the group, we will just have to be reasonable and keep the focus on the lectures and the material.

Demographer said...

I had thought that a blog for the last Heidegger course would have been totally cool and useful all by itself (without a virtual world, though that is a very worthwhile experiment). I would imagine that if we asked Prof Dreyfus and his TA's nicely, they would at least check such a blog occasionally, and they probably wouldn't be able to resist making comments :).

The blog might have a few authors with write permissions (TAs, Dreyfus, interested parties who seem polite), so that they can write full entries beyond the comment sections. I would also vote for Karl as the "benevolent dictator" who can impose discipline or exile if things get out of hand (those crazy would-be philosophers!)

(People in the Academe think it is very important to have an "apostolic succession" ...)

wlthaya said...

I agree with Wayne concerning the importance of taking time to formulate coherent responses. I am somewhat worried about standing around in Second Life trying to madly/badly type responses of one line or so.

Karl Tyson said...

Yes, but remember there are multiple levels of discussion. The blog tends to turn into a series of mini-papers, the author having had time to think through and formulate a coherent response to something in the lectures. Then, comments to that mini-paper tend to be either brief, off-the-cuff remarks, or mini-papers expressing an extension of, or argument against, the original.

However, the class discussion - which we as listeners can eaves drop on, and the discussion groups that happen between classes, are indeed spontaneous bursts of unrehearsed reaction, give and take. This rapid fire style has a long tradition since the Dialogues.

I think the true goal for the group must converge toward something that enables a fluid, tentative, respectful, but still risky interchange with which to sharpen our skillful coping with these near impenetrable ideas.

We can approach that goal in multiple remote formats. I am in favor of trying every one that seems plausible.

Beads Land said...

Having read through this discussion thus far, and believing that Karl's introduction was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, I can't help but wonder how Heidegger might have been encountered by the mere suggestion that a corporate entity, such as this collaborative authoriship enterprise colloquially known as a "blog", would be possessed of the capacity to take a stand on itself.

This gets into questions of Schrodinger-Chinese dissonance (the turbulance emergent of object/other discrimination where the line between folk physics and folk psychology is blurry, if not outright liminal), of course, and so is beyond the scope of this particular discussion, but I was so thrown by Karl's initial characterization that here we are.

Karl Tyson said...

Yes, Beads, that characterization was quite off mark. And it was meant to poke fun at Heidegger. I think we can still laugh at his terminology and typology - they are not sacred, and they often strike me as funny.