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Readings: 10 Jun 2016

Visiting Indiana this week, with a brief side-trip to the Champaign-Urbana area in Illinois.

Vacation reading:

  • Blindsight by Peter Watts. File under “terrifying mega-conceptual first contact thriller”. Among many other fun ideas, Watts introduces vampires as a predatory homo sapiens offshoot who, due to a neurological defect, experience seizures at the sight of right angles. That is, unless they are taking their anti-Euclideans.
  • Site Reliability Engineering, by various Googlers. Essays on how Google operates its software.
  • In Over Our Heads, by Robert Kegan. I picked this up after listening to part two of the Buddhist Geeks discussion on Buddhist ethics between David Chapman and Vincent Horn. Kegan discusses the ways that modern life challenges us to reason about meaning and values, how we can fail to meet those demands, and where we have cultural gaps in wrestling with modernity.

Will Buckingham, on unfamiliar social rituals at his first conference in China:

Our own rituals can often feel like just the way things are done (“but of course there is a coffee break…"), to the extent that they don’t even appear to be rituals at all. On the other hand, other people’s rituals can seem both exotic and strange. Part of the business of finding our feet in new worlds is learning the proper forms of ritual until they become so smooth that they are once again a part of our own sense of just the way things are done. And part of the business of welcoming others is smoothing the way for them to learn these rituals, by invitation rather than by coercion, whilst also allowing our own rituals to be flexible enough to be changed, even if ever-so-slightly, by the arrival of our guests (our rituals are never as inflexible as we might think or pretend).

Harry Brighouse defends philosophy as a practical pursuit at Crooked Timber:

The interesting problems, the difficult problems, the problems we really have to solve if we want to make progress, are those for which we don’t know the algorithm, and the solving of which requires that we see the conceptual space clearly, together with others who see things differently from us.

In other words, the state’s workforce needs people who can think well, with others, without an algorithm. That is why we need philosophers, and that is what you have been learning to do. We are proud of the contributions you are going to make to society, in many ways, including as good citizens, as caring friends and family members, but also including through your ability to meet the workforce needs of this State and others.