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!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Texting and Voice Dilemma

I've attended the last two meetings as someone who was only able to text. Like the Judaic- Christian and Greek traditions, I'm not sure text and voice can be reconciled in a way which will allow us to meet and discuss productively.

The people at the meetings have been trying earnestly to combine both but it just seems as if the two mediums refuse to jell. This has led me to wonder if, maybe, we couldn't have meetings set up just for text and ones for voice?

Those of us who are currently restricted to text could still attend the voice meetings with the obvious limitation of not being able to participate. But we could submit questions beforehand to those who are voice enabled if we would like. By limiting some meetings only to voice they could be more wide ranging and free flowing. As Karl would say, things could "whoosh up." This seems to be what Dreyfus would definately prefer.

I think text only meetings would need to be limited to specific topics. We could possibly meet to discuss the latest podcasts only. If anyone would like to pursue another topic, they could post here on the blog and see if anyone would be interested in meeting. Though not ideal, some sort of protocol will need to be developed that would help those of us using text to keep on track. It is hard to follow (for me at least) more than one topic at a time while using text.

I'm tossing these ideas out here so they can either be refined or lead to a discussion that will allow us to discover the optimal way to proceed. The meetings have such great potential, we just need to find a way to get all of this technical stuff into the background.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Discussion: The Kiss in The Grand Inquisitor

This dicussion whooshed up in an email from Victoria, a Venezualan going to school in France. She wrote a question about Brothers Karamazov, while following the 2006 series of the Phil 7 - Existentialism class we are now following again this semester. So if you haven't read The Grand Inquisitor section of that novel yet, you may want to wait and come back to this very interesting discussion item!

Here's the start she wrote, more in comments:
"I haven't heard the whole podcast yet and I don't even know when the podcast was recorded, so I'm probably not saying something new, but, doesn't the kiss that Jesus gives to the Grand Inquisitor is somehow a reference to the Kiss that Judas gave to Jesus in the Gospels before turning him in? I know it's silly, but I thought that might be a clue and I thought it was weird that no one suggested during the lecture."

Second Life Informal Meet & Greet

Although the virtual discussion section last Saturday night went far better than the first, we still had a number of communication issues that got in the way of the conversation. Some people came through loud and clear. Others were on the faint side. Still others couldn't join in at all, as they couldn't get their microphones to work. And trying to keep up with comments in the scroll box wasn't all that enlightening either. It seems that we need a little more time in the simulator figuring out how the interface works!

So why not have a virtual pot luck? This Wednesday night, same time (6pm Pacific), same place, and we can take the time we need to get more familiar with the tools available to us. And also teach each other how to communicate (by text and or voice) effectively within small groups, as well as to the group at large. We'll try to cover the basics, like enabling voice, instant messaging, passing note cards, and whatever else we can think of to facilitate the flow of ideas. Once we are comfortable with the tools and techniques in Second Life, we can then concentrate on discussing the podcasts.

I am bringing a brand spanking new headset/microphone, and ideas to share!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Second Second Life Virtual Discussion Section Observations

Things went much better than last week, in that there were at least 4 or 5 of us that could interact on a voice chat with a microphone. We were also struggling to follow what was being typed in by those who weren't able to join in via voice, although we had less success doing that then I had previously hoped. I think once I was drawn in by listening, I had a little trouble following what was being typed in by my mute colleagues. Maybe next time, those of us who can speak and be heard should identify ourselves, and then partner up with members of the group who can only type in their questions. That way, we could take some responsibility for bringing them into the conversation so they don't become a "victim of the scroll". When you teleport in, there is a kiosk where you can join the EdTech Group. Once you are in a group, I think you can then set up IM chat within the group, which may help with the communication issues we are trying to address.

One of the interesting things we can do in Second Life as opposed to a conference call is that when we partner up, we will be able to distribute ourselves spatially within the conference room (say one voice person with 2 typing people, connected by IM chat), and group ourselves around the table. This would somewhat mimic the associations that develop in a physical discussion session. I also felt that I had a better understanding of the dynamics of the conversation by having a rough idea of how many people were around the table. I think these are a couple of reasons to try to figure out a way to make this thing work, and taking advantage of the opportunities afforded in the virtual realm.

The conversation was more of an after class discussion with professor Dreyfus, than a virtual discussion section amongst the podcast people, at least during the first hour. I think we can regard an appearance by Dreyfus as an occasional opportunity, but we need to focus on how to interact amongst ourselves and make sense out of the podcasts. My own recollection of university days some (gulp!) 25 years ago is that you can get overwhelmed pretty quickly with the material! How are we going to keep up and interact profitably?

I think using Karl's blog as a "hub" is a start. I wonder though, in terms of discussion points, can we do some of that ahead of time before the virtual discussion section? And would we do that by forever posting to karl's page? One possibility is for each podcaster to have his or her own "blog" or "group" where they can post their own ideas, and invite comments from others. Karl might put a list of these on this site, and then we could "make the rounds" and see where people are coming from, before hashing it out in Second Life. I created a group last week in google, www.PodClearing.Com, where I am going to try to illustrate this concept. I will invite your comments!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Second Life Meeting FAQ List

With the official kickoff of Second Life discussion group meetings coming up this Saturday January 26 at 6:00 PM Pacific Time, let's maintain a checklist of instructions, hints, warnings and frequently asked questions - FAQs. If you have questions, or want additions or changes to items, please comment on this post, or email. Thanks everyone.

How to download and install the Second Life program. Start by going to their main page at http//secondlife.com, and follow their instructions. The download and install process is pretty standard. It will warn you if your system is somehow incompatible.

How to register and get oriented. Again, follow the directions to register and create your own basic avatar. Just accept the defaults on choices they give you - the most basic (and free) account details should enable you to participate. Go through the recommended orientation course to learn how to move around.

How to enable voice. There are two main options for communication - chat typing and voice. You can do both. The chat is set up by default, but you need to enable the voice feature by clicking Edit > Preferences > Voice tab > run the Voice wizard and be sure to check your microphone level. You will need to set your computer up with appropriate speaker/earphones plus microphone. A combination headset is handy, but other setups are also possible - speakers and a hand mic, etc. Note: You do not have to have a microphone to listen, only to talk. You can always type questions, and listen to answers, but you will need to activate voice to hear them.

How to use voice in Second Life. Find the Voice control in the lower right corner. Press the Talk button, hold it down, and speak into your microphone slowly, clearly, loudly. The quality varies based on equipment, connection, server load, background noise, etc. If it is simply not working well, switch to chat, and try again later. We know that when everyone is set up and being quiet, we can all hear the group leader (Dreyfus or TA) talk. Note that when using voice, you can lock it to be continuously on by clicking one part of the Talk button, or you can set it to toggle on only when you click the Talk button. To cut down on background noise when discussing in the group - use the toggle on method if you can.

How to find the meeting place. From your starting point, you need to move to EdTech Island, where the first few meetings are being held. The easiest way to do this is to go to Search in the upper right corner > Places tab > enter "EdTech" and click Search > select the top item > find and click the Teleport button. You should end up at a location you can easily find the central garden spot with radiating paths, that has a calendar of events. The coordinates are Edtech:106,133,25. Here is a web shortcut: http://slurl.com/secondlife/EdTech/106/133/25/ This should link you to the meeting place if you are running Second Life.

How to recognize each other. The names you get in Second Life are not normally your real names, or your nick names from blogging. We will need to recognize each other "on the fly." The direct approach is to walk up to someone and ask. Here are a few names I know to look for: Dreyfus is Farnsworth Roux. He may have a TA there, first name Solomon. The names Hammerer and Bratislav are Whooshup participants that came for the trial run. My name is Dahr.

How to raise your hand. Type "/hey" into the chat box and hit Enter. This simple gesture may be the best way to help the discussion flow smoothly, just like in real classrooms.

How to ask a question. Raise your hand. When recognized, ask a question either by typing it in chat or asking by voice. When the group leader (i.e. Dreyfus or a TA) is finished with the spoken answer, he or she will indicate that by saying "and that's my answer," or something like that, to break back to open questions again. (Note: This is the preliminary idea to prevent confusion and talking over each other. We may adopt additional procedures for asking followup questions, establishing topics, etc. See foundrysmith/Hammerer notes in comments.)

How to look at chat history. There is a scrolling history of what has been typed by you and the avatars around you. Click the History button when in chat mode.

How to get out of chat mode. While typing, you can't do other things, like move around. Use the Esc {Escape} key to jump out of chat mode. This trick is useful in all sorts of situations when you just want to back out of what you are doing.

How to make it bright. The lighting dims to simulate nightfall after sundown in California. But you can override this effect and make it bright and sunny. On the top menu, go to World > Force Sun > Noon.

How to sit down. If you see anything that looks like a seating accomodation, you can try sitting. Hold your mouse over the object and right click (I'm not sure how Macs do it). You will see a circular menu with a "Sit here" option. If you click that, your avatar will sit. To stand up, either click the Stand Up button if you see one, or right click again on your chair underneath your avatar - there will be another menu item on the circle called "Stand up" - just click that.

How to recover from lag and crashes. In Second Life, sometimes the program, the connections, or the servers, get overloaded and affect the flow of the virtual simulation so that you really notice it. Lag means that everything slows down, avatar motion gets jerky, or pauses a few seconds then speeds up, as if catching up with itself. When this happens, the best response is to do nothing, and wait until the lag dies down. Sometimes, your program will crash - it is as if you are thrown out of the program, back to your computer. When this happens, wait a few moments, close and restart your Second Life program, and log in to your account again. You should be transported back where you were before the crash.

We will add more FAQs as we go this week. Please try to work out the basic technology beforehand and plan on attending. If you can't attend for whatever reason, please join us in building other online discussion groups.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Discussion: Dreyfus and Embodiment in Virtual Space

This relates to several previous posts and comments about some of the implications of this discussion for the embodiment problem - that is, how can computers be *like* humans without possessing a humanlike body, and at another level, how can people learn through computers, at a distance from their teachers, without being bodily present in a studio or classroom. Hubert Dreyfus has commented extensively on these issues, and the background to his critique can be noticed in some of these webcast lectures. The full arguments are found in his books "What Computers Still Can't Do" and "On the Internet."

Demographer and I got started on this, but I would like to invite anybody interested in this subject to join our conversation. I have collected the text, some of it repeated from other threads, some of it from emails, and put it all together as the starting comments to this post.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Discussion: The Seamy Side of Second Life

One member of the circle emailed me some of the problems he is facing getting around in Second Life, and one of those problems hit a sensitive nerve, and I wanted to share these thoughts with everyone, and invite further discussion.

I am particularly sorry about the "red light district" effect. I feel a responsibility and even guilt for not warning more clearly that ubiquitous pornography and acting out is a well-known and very distasteful problem for the unwary on Second Life. I should have posted more and clearer warnings about this aspect of the virtual world.

It boils down to (1) adults are basically free to do whatever they choose in SL, and (2) not everyone is more interested in philosophy than sex. This was such a worry for me, because I had previously encountered it, that I looked around for alternatives - alas, the main competitors, if anything, are less family friendly.

The fact is, notwithstanding these glaring problems, Second Life remains the most accessible, well-tested, free virtual reality forum available to us, and many sincere teachers around the world are trying to use it for educational purposes.

Not that this is a justification, but I felt that anyone deep enough into philosophy at the level Dreyfus teaches it would be able to "walk past the red lights to get to the academy" and understand how this bizarre voyeurism is our culture commenting on its own lack of direction. The trend to drop societal boundaries and elevate the individual "I will it" to an unquestioned right (which I think is part of why internet proponents are so adamant that no restrictions be placed on it) must have some root in Nietzsche, who is central to our entire existentialist study. Understanding the philosophical implications of establishing the proper limits of self-expression is a course in itself.

But if this follow-up question is posed: "if you accept existentialism, why not accept Nietzsche?" then I believe Dreyfus offers us an amazing suite of alternatives: commitment and disclosure and skillfulness and shared social experiences, and more. Interestingly, none of these explicitly denies the importance of a religious level of existential grappling, which, honestly, appeals greatly to me, having worked through all the alternatives myself.

Please accept my apologies, as well as the challenge to take this subject under discussion right along with all the other deep, culturally-embedded subjects this blog is meant to open a clearing for.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Report: Second Life Trial Discussion

We conducted a proof of concept discussion group meeting on Second Life tonight. A few others managed to get all the technology worked out and we met with Bert Dreyfus and had a chat. I encourage the others to give their comments on the meeting, and general impressions, under this post.

The good news is, it happened at all. There were so many technical glitches and hurdles and snafus that it is really amazing that we actually discussed philosophy with an incredibly intrepid professor. He really wants to enable the webcast audience to ask questions directly to him, or when he can't attend, to interact with one of his TA's, and is willing to push the limits to make it happen.

The bad news is, the technology is still so fragile it's frightening. First we had to meet, figure out who was who with the strange names, and get everybody so they could hear the voice communication. Talking and listening were both difficult, and it often seemed like talking on a cell phone just going out of range. The Second Life servers had a bad night - we all crashed one time and had to log back in, and there was a lot of "lag time," where everything gets slow or jerky.

In summary, every caution about the technical difficulties and distractions inherent to the Second Life approach - from a steep learning curve to figure out how to use it, to very unnatural and fragmented communication - was verified. What do we do?

We'll try again. We agreed to carry on with a "real" startup discussion group next week. I hope everybody can pick up the challenge and try to attend. There's an old saying - something about always getting back on the horse that throws you. If Professor Dreyfus can keep trying to make it work, I'll keep trying too.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Frappr Map of the "Outer Circle"

In an effort to facilitate getting to know one another, I've set up a Frappr map for the Whooshup community. My hope is that this map will serve the dual purpose of promoting the Second Life virtual discussion group, and at the same time, providing a means for students of Dreyfus to find and meet in embodied space with likeminded individuals.

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.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Second Life Discussions

Coming up soon will be a first attempt to convene a Virtual Reality Discussion Group on Dreyfus' upcoming Spring 2008 course. It will be held in the Second Life world, and I want to encourage everyone who checks this blog to attend. Basically, it's free to get started, and if you have a good internet connection and a little technological patience, that's all you would need to attend the meeting. If you would like some suggestions on how to get on and around in Second Life, I'd be glad to help, just email me.

Professor Dreyfus will attend at least some of these meetings so he can answer questions from the webcast listeners, as he does from students who are bodily present in his classroom.

It could turn into a profound experiment on self-organizing online learning, or it could just be a fun online gathering of interested and interesting folks. Either way, please plan to participate if you can!

...(C)an the bodily presence required for acquiring skills
in various domains and for acquiring mastery of one's
culture be delivered by means of the Internet?

The promise of telepresence holds out hope for
a positive answer to this question. If
telepresence could enable human beings
to be present at a distance in a way that captures
all that is essential about bodily presence, then
the dream of distance learning at all levels could,
in principle, be achieved.
But if telepresence cannot
deliver the classroom coaching and the lecture-hall
presence through which involvement is fostered by committed
teachers, as well as the presence to apprentices of
masters whose style is manifest on a day-to-day basis
so that it can be imitated, distance learning
will produce only competence, while expertise
and practical wisdom will remain completely out of reach.
Hyper-learning would then turn out to be mere hype. So
our question becomes: how much presence can
telepresence deliver?

-Hubert Dreyfus, On the Internet (italics mine)

The State of the Blog

Greetings everyone at one year's end and another's beginning!

In the last few weeks I have posted some discussion items that whooshed up. Any improvements or suggestions in the format or topics of the Whooshup blog are welcome. If you would like to contribute to this blog, please send me an email. We would need to get you set up on blogspot before you can post main articles. You are always encouraged to post Comments.

Corvid suggested a wiki on the subject areas covered, and to post resources for the webcast classes, such as printouts, assignments, etc. As far as definitions of Heidegger terms, I noticed there was a good start in Wikipedia. Public web pages for the Dreyfus classes can be found at the Berkeley site. I was able to run down the course web page for Phil 185 and could download handouts there. If there is a need and interest for a wiki please let me know and I'll see what I can do.

I hope those of you who are tracking with the three courses that have already been podcast, and may take the classes that are repeated or new that will be webcast in the next couple semesters, will find this blog a good place to leave your thoughts. I am also googling for other blogs that tag Dreyfus, and have listed those I've found on the right side panel.

A final note: In reading some of the criticisms Professor Dreyfus has aimed at the Internet, I was challenged to develop this blog as myself, opening up my somewhat simple and entirely mundane existence to the world, having come to grips with passages like this:

The test as to whether one had acquired an unconditional commitment would come only if one had the passion and courage to transfer what one had learned on the Net to the real world. Then one would confront what Kierkegaard calls 'the danger and life's stern judgment.' But precisely the attraction of the Net, like that of the press in Kierkegaard's time, is that it inhibits that final plunge. Indeed, anyone using the Net who is led to risk his or her real identity in the real world would have to act against the grain of what attracted him or her to the Net in first place.

This statement applies directly to me. I was very hesitant to be myself on the web where I have become used to anonymity, posting to blogs and wandering about as if I had no real existence but was nothing more than a heckler and a snoop. You may not feel obliged to attempt to disclose yourself, and you certainly won't be criticised here if you remain anonymous. But the issue runs deep:

So it looks like Kierkegaard may be right. The press and the Internet are the ultimate enemy of unconditional commitment, but only the unconditional commitment of what Kierkegaard calls the religious sphere of existence can save us from the new holistic leveling launched by the Enlightenment, promoted by the press and the public sphere, and perfected in the World Wide Web.

Hubert Dreyfus, On the Internet, 2001

Discussion: Heidegger, existentialism, a paradox

This discussion item is geared towards virtually all the Phil 185 - Heidegger: Being and Time Division I from Fall 2007.

The teaching seems to be that as human beings, or Daseins, we act most primitively and most authentically when we are coping, or dealing, in a totally absorbed way, with the interconnected, transparent, background elements of the world. Thus, when we hammer without thinking about the hammer, but rather as an non-conspicuous part of the task of building a house for Dasein to live in, then we are being in the world and the hammer is ready to hand and neither it nor our actions fall into the foreground of our attention. And that is somehow a right way to be, as opposed to the alternative possibility that would make the hammer, the house, and the human into an interaction of mental representations and goals, and physical substances with properties, the way we might script a computer to simulate the given situation. This phenomenon appears to be Heidegger's essential insight.

That description is totally inadequate to summarize Division I, but I suppose it will have to do. I just want to set up a paradox that has been bothering me. This paradox may apply to existentialism in general, or there may be a very simple answer to it. I'd really like to know.

The paradox is simply this: the teaching of existentialism appears to elevate the act of absorbed coping, or being, bodily, in the world; yet it does so in a framework that requires constant interpretation and excessive introspection, which must happen (or at least we must experience as happening) in the learner's "mind," whatever that means. Therefore, we use the most intensely individualist Cartesian mental faculties of analysis to unfold the most Heideggerian themes, such as a pleasant drinking party where everyone toasts the divinities of friendliness. This raises the question why we study Heidegger in a university classroom, by dicing text, rather than in a cafe, by getting sloshed.

Worse, we suspect, after listening to the class and reflecting just a bit, that the students who skipped the lecture and sat around drinking espresso, flirting, and throwing insults and accolades at each other, already had a better notion of the teaching than the studious ones who attended every lecture and parsed every sentence, simply because they were being in the flow, unconscious of it, rather than stepping out of the flow and attempting to systematize a better phenomenological understanding of it.

Dreyfus claims, and I completely agree, that Heidegger's anti-Cartesian perspective is revolutionary. It frees us to attend to our embodied existence in an endlessly connected world. But the philosophy remains trapped in a traditional Cartesian-dominated environment - the elite university classroom and its western analytical and interpretive protocol. The teaching makes me want to go outside and hammer something, unconsciously, with my "...body and its great reason: that does not say 'I' but does 'I'" (Nietzsche in Zarathustra). Is not any teaching like this an effort to say, not do?

Please give me refutations! I would love to get past this nagging paradox. I'm sure every student of existentialism goes through something like this. Have you had any startling "wait just a minute" moments too?