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Skeptics of Tucson Message Board › September 2008 Meeting

September 2008 Meeting

Don L.
AZAtheist
Group Organizer
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 94
18 people (wow) stormed Denny's. We didn't get the back room as requested--schedule conflict--but we made do with half of the open floor. I tried out a meeting agenda that appears to work with the Tucson Atheists group and I think it went over well. Lots of lively discussions. It was difficult staying with the chosen topic but I chalk that up to the energy and enthusiasm about skepticism.

This meeting was an introduction to skepticism. Some terms were laid out with the possibility that they will be covered in depth at future meetings. In particular, 20 logical fallacies were listed along with some common biases that seem to get in the way of critical thinking and meaningful discussions.

There quite a few new folks in the meeting. Welcome!

The next meeting will be on the first of October and the first Wednesday of the month because we can get the back room. It should go a little smoother since it won't be the first time at the venue.

Feel free to respond to this link by adding a reply. Feed back is great and will help me improve the meetings.
A former member
Post #: 38
Sorry I had to leave early. Turns out the meeting was very boring that I had to go to.
A former member
Post #: 3
I enjoyed your presentation greatly and want to thank you for preparing it. I have thought and read and studied Logical Fallacies in abstract and in use. I have also given a great amount of thought to Cognitive Biases. Your presentation highlighted, for me at least, the way cognitive bias leads to logical fallacies, which is something novel to me. How cognitive bias can give rise to a rhetoric filled with fallacies is an area ripe for exploration. My model for the muddled mind is a little more complicated now! I am thinking of it as Bias leading to fallacy leading to poor rhetoric. Rhetoric seems to me to be the third leg of the fire triangle of irrationality! When you have all three, bias, fallacy and poor rhetoric, the fires of irrationality burn bright!

I came away from last night thinking a few things. First, the criticism (or really, more of an observation). It seems that in a growing group there is a tension between maintaining a focus on a common topic and thus moving the group as a whole toward common action or common ground and the group splitting off into a more natural social groupings and "free-flowing" conversational interaction. And it's a problem without a solution, really... because it reflects a very natural underlying split. And I am aware that you are aware of this of course, and I think you do a good job of maintaining a balance. It's just frustrating to have to move from a natural social circle to a group mentality (I feel like I am shushing people in a way, which is something I don't want to have to do, because there are so many things I want to hear!) But, that's how these things go, I guess.

But this gave rise to a thought for me with regard to a meeting agenda. I think (and this is all off the tip of my brain) that if we started with a presentation concentrating on an overall topic, like BS detection on the Internet last night. Then, we could "break up" into smaller groups, like 4 groups of 5 people, whatever happens naturally. And within these groups, if someone has a prepared presentation, they can perhaps take it from group to group with their prepared thoughts and have a naturalistic, conversational interaction for a period. Then we could sort of reconvene as a mass and do some mass "exercises"... who knows what? Watch videos, debate, Q&A, brainstorm, lectures.

Opening
Presentation leading to "Theme"
"Discussion Groups"
break
Reconvene for large group activity
Summation
Closing

That sort of a thing. That way we can move toward an organizational Agenda, and still have the social support... I mean, not that that's not happening anyway! :)
Don L.
AZAtheist
Group Organizer
Tucson, AZ
Post #: 100
Ron,

Thanks for the observations. As you may have also observed, we're in a state of flux now. The group has essentially "rebooted" about 4 months ago and we're starting over. Last meeting was the first one with a published agenda and I decided to use the agenda that has been developed and enjoying some success in another group. As we grow, the group dynamic will necessarily change. Right now the group is heavily dependent on what I do.

For now, I'd like to keep the group together so that I can ensure everyone gets a chance to participate and we all get to know one another. I'm also trying to lay down a foundation of skepticism and there will necessarily be some storming as personalities mix. We had a lot of new members last night and it was our first time at the Denny's. Next time we'll have the back room to ourselves. Note that the meeting will be on the first Wednesday.

In the future, I'd like to see debates and possibly exercises that use the tools. I'm looking forward to working with you. You have great ideas that can only make the experience better.

Keep 'em coming!

Don
A former member
Post #: 13
Ron wrote:

I came away from last night thinking a few things. First, the criticism (or really, more of an observation). It seems that in a growing group there is a tension between maintaining a focus on a common topic and thus moving the group as a whole toward common action or common ground and the group splitting off into a more natural social groupings and "free-flowing" conversational interaction.

I agree that there was a tendency to split into smaller groups. But I think that partially the reason for that was the room we were in. The people at the end of the table could not hear what was being said at the other. I think when we move into the separate room that problem will be diminished.

We used to have BS sessions with up to 15 - 20 people, and the discussions did not break up in sub groups to a large extent.

But I agree that there is a tendency to break up for the following reasons.

1. The subject is of no interest to some people.
2. The discussion breaks down to an argument between two people with others not able to participate.
3. The subject is to complex or requires knowledge that some people do not have.

Example: Ken tends to bring up scientific experiments and theories that are too complex or others lack information. I know what the experiment that supposedly proved that there was no ether was about, but I do not remember what the experiment actually was and why did it prove that there was no ether.

4. The discussion gets out of control with a few people dominating the conversation, and the more timid do not get a chance to participate.

The meeting was great, and I look forward to the next one.

Saul

P.S. I am concerned that breaking up into smaller groups would have a negative effect on the group as a whole.
A former member
Post #: 6
The configuration of the seating was not conducive to a focused group effort, that's for sure. I think what happened there was a sort of organic development. People kept showing up, and by the time it became apparent that the seating arrangements were going to be problematic, they were entrenched. But who knew so many people would show up? It was good to see. That's a tough nut in running a meeting. If you plan for twenty and eight show up, it's embarrassing to have the space arranged for twenty. So in many ways the things I am bringing up are situations that can't be "won" anyway.

The meeting experience is a nest of intractable conflicts. Some people want just to listen. Some people have only one point they want to make. Some people want to dominate and cannot keep quiet (the people who speak for ten minutes and then interrupt a question by saying, "Can I get one word in here, please?" Ross Perot style!). Each group has to sort of organically move toward a concensus structure. But there are always conflicts. That's the cost of doing things in groups though. You can never make everyone happy, so your goal should be to make the most people the least unhappy.

As to point 4, I think that Don does an exceptionally good job of seeing to it that everyone gets a chance to participate. Better than at just about any meeting I've ever been at! But that being said, I think we are all on the same page as far as goals in meeting structure.
Jim L.
user 4873956
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 133
There's an interesting Wikipedia entry on the dynamics of small group communication:

http://en.wikipedia.o...­
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