Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
A Founding Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Friday, July 20, 2018

ALI 2018 Plenary Session Panel 2 (July 20th 10:45 am EDT)

10:45 am–12:30 pm: Plenary Session Panel 2 (Location: Meeting Room)
Chair: Peter A. Redpath (Adler-Aquinas Institute/Center for the Study of The Great Ideas)

Complete conference program (subject to change)

Update: Plenary Session video

Speaker: Jeffrey A. Martineau (Vice President, Center for the Study of Digital Life), “Life and Death in the Digital Paradigm”
The West is in a new culture war: humans versus the robots. Put in Gestalt terms, the ground has radically and irrevocably changed and history provides no life rafts. The world that our children, grandchildren, etc., will live in, is pervasive Digital (the dead) systems, designed to replace human thought and action through imitation of the natural powers of the soul in its various forms. This raises questions on a societal scale: Is the human soul itself a system? What is a proper distribution of souls between living creatures and moving machines, and by what causes can this be established? The current teaching is that humans can be understood through speculative mathematics/physics: we can understand the living by studying what is dead; that technology will lead to a cultural evolutionary process where what it means to be human will be radically different (Post-humanism); or that study of the Humanities (sans religion) will teach humans how to properly use, or live with, technology. Each of these fundamentally misunderstands human psychology, or that our perceptions are formed at a young age by the communication “tools” (the ground) we live with, and yet are unaware of – and within which formal education takes place. Each communication technology has “effects” on humans and creates “sensibilities” that have consequences. In the Digital Paradigm, the answers to societal questions have changed, thus our Digital “counter-culture.” What is the counter to viewing humans assystems that can be programmed? A new set of social sciences based upon Aristotle’s conception of the soul, as laid down in On the Soul and Memory and Recollection, as well as his Physics, Metaphysics, Ethics and Politics.
Speaker: Mark Stahlman (President, Center for the Study of Digital Life), “Alchemy and the Robots”
When MIT's Herbert Dreyfus wrote his 1965 "Artificial Intelligence and Alchemy" he was sure he could make fun of the field by suggesting a foolish lead-into-gold attitude for those making sweeping and implausible claims for early AI.  Today, the joke is on him.  Western civilization, along with the East, has long had its alchemists and, in fact, their goals weren't to transform "base metal" but rather to "perfect" humanity.  That "puritan" urge has grown dramatically over the past decades and what appears to many as chaos throughout society has only emboldened those who are committed to a post-human future. Their interest in AI is far more than mere commercial completion or intellectual curiosity.  Many of them intend to take charge of “evolution” -- both personal, biological and cultural -- and, when considering the dangers inherent in AI, their plans need to be honestly considered and comprehensively evaluated.
Speaker: Peter Berkman (Center for the Study of Digital Life), “Mediaeval Grammar & Digital Fantasy: Metamorphoses in Modes of Being, Understanding, and Signifying”
Over the past 20 years, human beings across the world have undergone a drastic perceptual transformation. Digital technology has performed this operation, and as the anesthetic wears off, we find ourselves with reorganized social responsibilities and a new sensory balance (exterior & interior). Marshall McLuhan's Thomist metaphysics is centered around the fact that the formal cause of any artwork whatever is a fictional audience. Any artist's business is to document cultural metamorphoses, which occur in all ages, due to the attention paid to their targets behaviors & attitudes. These transformative shifts, however, may also be made intelligible by 13th century scholastic grammar.
Speaker: Brian Kemple (Center for the Study of Digital Life), “Mediated Disclosures: Human Persons and Their Technological Environments”
What are the relationships between a technological environment and the faculties of the human psyche? How does each influence the other--and to what end? The cognitive psychologies of the 20th and 21st centuries—operating on modern sophistry's presuppositions about the person as reduced to a psychological subjectivity—cannot intelligently answer these questions. Without reasoned distinction of the human powers, distinguished according to a sense of the whole of the human person, the being of the person is subsumed entirely into a category of "who" to the exclusion of an intelligible "what". In contrast, by adopting a semiotically-enriched Thomist perspective which thoroughly explicates the nature of the human psyche, we hope to begin developing the necessary insight to understanding who the person is—and within that, what role is played by our technological environments.

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