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Philosophy Cafe - Cafe Philosophique Message Board › Meeting notes

Meeting notes

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 136
Salon: That's Entertainment! 7:15 pm, Tuesday, March 12, 2013

I arrived only 5 minutes early, so we didn't get underway until 7:20, with me seated on the end for a change. We had only seven this time, all regulars, with one occasional showing up later. The atmosphere was convivial, as most people knew one another.

We started with introductions, with people saying what they brought as a "focal point" for discussion. In the progress of the meeting, we used two of them outright, covered two of them incidentally, and two were unfortunately ignored. It's hard to be say I'm sorry about that, though, because we delved pretty deeply into what we did cover. Then again, mine was one of the ones covered:-) It did set a precedent that I will indeed ask–and no, there will no guarantee of covering all the focal points each time, anyway. I announced that we would have a 10-minute break halfway through, which I think prevents the break being seen as a comment on how we're doing.

I gave a brief spiel about the idea I had, reading my announcement again, of using a (theatrical) play as a metaphor for the meeting: the minimum elements are a setting, characters, and motives/objectives. This motivated the Top Ten list with which I wanted to "frame" the discussion: DIfferent Kinds of Gatherings. Unlike other Top Tens, I did lead a mini-discussion of whether each nomination was sufficiently like the example of seeing a play (and yet different as well), as well as whether each nomination was sufficiently distinct from the other items already accepted. On that account, I should probably come up with a new title for that exercise. We did nothing further with the list, but I dare say that it worked, because for the rest of the evening I never had the feeling (as I often do) of pulling hard to steer the conversation in (what I feel to be) a productive direction. Also, like last time, the list will be a valuable addition to the Last Word.

As I was still eating my dinner, I chose someone else's focal point to start us off: Is Boredom the Opposite of Entertainment? As usual, people seemed tentative at the beginning: now, I take this as a sign that they are actually thinking:-) Pretty soon, they had centered on the notion of "consuming entertainment." Once I finished consuming my hamburger, I suggested that it was time that was being consumed. This seemed to tip us into the most phenomenologically-centered discussion we've ever had, as it turned our attention away from the object of our attention (gosh, that sounds like Heidegger right there). As a "sorbet" between segments, we did a Cooperative Character Sketch of "Boredom." I don't think I started it off that great, but got into it pretty enthusiastically anyway, especially those who were less plugged into the main conversation: the mode switch is its key advantage. In the next segment, which again started with one thing but coalesced around another (catharsis), we did look at a variety of movies, but again in a very existential way. Like last time, considering a Character seemed to throw us into a subjective perspective, yielding a curious connection to the idea of Work, to which we returned later.

Commencing our break after about an hour, I suggested that during the 10 minutes we might work with a partner to develop some really good questions. By the time I got through with my own break to-do list (which included an unrealized intention to study the concept map), I could see some people were continuing the discussion, in small groups. Who was I to argue with that? So we kind of drifting back into "meeting" mode; I identified from their conversation an idea of an "entertainment scale." After this, I realized we had reached a stage which I'd been hoping for in the last few meetings, where some consensus had developed about "what we were after," and it was all I could do to keep taking notes and asking people to clarify themselves. I did speak, of course, as usual neglecting to record what I said in the concept map, but I certainly wasn't "driving." I only hope I got enough to be able to recreate the thread in the form of Last Word questions. This was one of those domains that doesn't afford much readymade vocabulary, yet there sure seemed to be a shared object of our consideration! (Just a little hard to write down, is all.) The intensity seemed most evident when we spontaneously went back to the initial focal point of Boredom, this time approaching it experientially rather than as a process, as in the first half. One person did exit early, and another was in and out, but it seemed the level of engagement was quite high.

Quite interesting to me was that, although none of the three previous themes I had identified in the announcement were invoked (now that I think of it, very few or none of the attendees were at those other meetings), we made a rather strong connection to last week's Study on Pain and Imagining. There was also a nice elucidation of a notion very much like the "creative prospect" I've written about, and which, in fact, the theme of Entertainment was chosen to put us into. We revived a key example from the Property meeting, and I made reference to a key idea from the Bergson on Laughter Study.

With 10 minutes left, it was time for Last Words, with a suggestion to say what it was that prompted us to say "That's Entertainment!" This turned into almost another segment, but it did give air time to those who'd spoken less. A couple people had hard stops at 9:30, so we disbanded promptly. I must admit I was a little tired out by the extreme focus, plus our relatively small group engaged us more, and the break had provided a social outlet. I felt like I'd just seen one of those movies that makes me work to appreciate it–for many philosopher types, that is, indeed, entertainment!
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 144
Salon: Money (Currency) 7:15 pm, Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Money was sort of a follow-up to Property, and I hoped to see if any lessons learned there would be profitably applied here, but I forgot to review the notes from that meeting. (That's called foreshadowing.)

I arrived 30 minutes to reserve space, but four people had preceded me and grabbed the big table. Despite suppressing the one-day reminder, we had only one no-show, plus several late adds: thirteen is a lot of people. About half regulars and three newbies made for a mix I usually prefer. This was not a theme that appealed greatly to women, though. (Some people are more realistic than others.)

I started us off on time with a brief joke, which was well-received. Then we introduced ourselves, saying what we hoped to get out of the meeting. The intro lengths were fine (people tend to match my example), but I wish I had modeled that we say more about ourselves than our names. About half the participants didn't have any objective for the meeting, as they were just getting started with philosophy or on thinking about money abstractly; the rest were split between an economic perspective on money's mechanics, and a sociopolitical perspective of whether money should be replaced by something else. (And it seemed that came down to opposite sides of one political fence.) Interpolated between answers I gave a sense of in what way I envisioned we would connect to those desired topics. Although I sensed that perhaps some people would be satisfied to hear a lecture on a topic another has studied, I warned that was incompatible with the meeting format–that I would prefer to read it on the web myself. (The revolution will not be televised.)

Leuky was introduced, anticipating explicitly that he would be used to terminate speeches. (Indeed, he was used for that fairly frequently.) I polled the group again, as I have resolved to do, for focal points. I didn't hear their content, but I chose to hear a story–and it turned out to be a good one, from the sociopolitical view. But it just wouldn't stick! Even after I clarified the question implicit in it, every respondent launched into their (seemingly prepared) spiel, usually with the all-purpose preface, "To answer that, we have to answer the question 'What is money?' first...," sometimes followed by "Let me tell you what money is...." One might say the "spirit of investigation" was lacking:-( I let this one go on for 10 minutes (to 7:45), so at least I could get in an idea that I had picked up from one of the readings suggested in comments posted before the meeting.

What should have happened next was a warmup exercise, but instead we went straight to the second segment, wherein someone gave a definition. This would have been a good place to try the Twenty-Five Words Or Less activity, but the definition was clear enough, if not compact. (Well, I made it compact.) This segment was on money's evolution, and we even raised the psychological issue of trust, but we could not arrive at a "shared reality" of what we were talking about, due to a competing idea of a moneyless society. ("You say yes, I say no. You say stop and I say go go go–Oh no!")

Then I led us into a new warmup, Give&Take, that is abstracted from Everybody Knows (but directly derived from a classic improv exercise). I made a classic mistake with it, however: I should always be the one to demonstrate, by making myself the second player, the reacting person. It was greeted with suspicion and resistance, which pretty well depicted the source of our problems–alas, without resolving them. Because its aim was to socialize us individually, I felt I had to insist that we all participate, but I was a bit brusque about it. We did another segment on exchange value, from which I didn't derive any notes, as we persisted in talking past one another.

Coming up on our half-time break, two who had come prepared to lecture–but had kindly refrained from doing so–wanted to split off, which was fine because of the large size of the group. We lost a couple of newbies during the break, which saddened me a little because this was such an unusual meeting. When we reconvened we were three (who talked mostly about the video posted in the comments) and eight. I started out unconventionally, asking the group what had caused the chaos of the first half, and I heard that too many people had come with their minds made up and just wanted to argue, which was right on the money (so to speak). Just realizing this seemed to calm us down.

I led us off with an observation about money as physical communication, which evoked a good example, but then a different focal point came up and we went with that. I didn't try to delineate the segments any longer. Though there was a continuing-though-intermittent thread of the possibility of parallel, non-interchangeable currencies, and it was more like our usual conversations, still we were pulling in many directions at once. One person, to whom Leuky had already reached out to in the first half, ignored the conversation for 20-30 minutes, then resumed reciting his same lecture: I felt justified in shutting him down. But generally, we were well-behaved, if not exactly "all ears." I didn't take as many notes here perhaps because I was feeling exhausted.

At 9:25, I still really wanted to do a closing Everybody Knows, which again was made less smooth than it could have been just because of the seating arrangement put newbies too early in the lineup: I should make it easy for anyone to pass, given that we're at the end of the meeting, anyway. Having it at the end presupposes that we are already "in synch," which we weren't, so probably it was pointless this time. Several of us stayed after the 9:30 dispersal until almost 10.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
On a purely tactical level, I could have enforced open spaces in the conversation for new people to contribute. Enduring silences would not have been so easy as it might sound, with others chomping at the bit to promote their views, but previously-still voices need some quiet time to think of what to say. It would have calmed everyone down. A suggestion similar to this that was made was to have explicit turns to speak, which assists those who are shy or have a quiet voice. I need to have some of these "alternate rules of order" at hand, and know what their triggers will be.

Somehow, I'd like to manifest our current topic, to make it more difficult to change the subject. It won't suffice only to judge each comment after it's been made. Rather, there should be a way for a speaker to demonstrate that they share our focus before they speak. For example, something like Give&Take could be applied: one would repeat the current focus, and only then give their embellishment. A nice side effect of this might be, contrary to Everybody Knows, people could more easily choose to ignore digressions and return to the topic on the table. As was suggested, we might use a "talking stick" to smooth the flow.
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 145
My first analysis of what befell this theme builds on the ideas that led me to choose the Money theme, as well as Property. These themes have selective prospects–in fact, they are part of a trilogy of gut-level examples, one from each frame. Money is very divisive: each coin belongs to someone and not to someone else. The same is true of property, yet we managed to see more sides of that theme. I'm not sure why, but it may have to do with the many types of property (especially, animate versus inanimate, even immaterial), which keep it objectified and outside of us, whereas money is at once abstract and yet so crucial to our lives, that it somehow permeates us. In a way, the very volatility of our discussion dramatized the idea I had wanted to explore (but in a conceptual, abstract way!): money is the most basic social reality, which we enact with our complete selves (hence the gut reactivity). If money is an ethereal, intrinsic part of us–and yet we can be so easily deprived of it–well, it's no wonder that it is the source of great anxiety. Money is an embodiment of our connection to Society (increasingly, it is the embodiment), while property acts more as a wall and an interchangeable facade that we present to "Thou." What this portends for the last of the trilogy, the gut-level selective enactment of our relation to the Universe, remain to be seen.

Always seems like it takes a couple days (maybe more) to gain perspective after an especially difficult (or easy) meeting. Yesterday's "morning after" essay seemed too strident by the time I reached its conclusion, and definitely not fit for publication by evening. For by that time, I had written out most of the Last Word questions, a process that involves reliving the discussion in slow motion, in order to articulate questions for further contemplation. Moving slowly, it seems, is a means of invoking the creative prospect: when the object of contemplation does not change, we do.

As noted, in the meeting itself we instead raced breathlessly from one topic to another. As noted, I purposely chose this as an archetype of selective prospect, applied to the Society-and-I frame. As noted, the theme of money inflames a gut-level fear which overrides the intellect. Basically, I asked for a polarized debate, and I got it.

I had been alarmed by the possibility that any Society-framed theme would be doomed to polemics, but looking back, the only discussion that went off the rails like this one did was Progress. Apocalypse, Sanctity, Modern Family, and Identity, however, did not. So one project is to predict in advance the potential for "politicization" of the theme. It may be as simple as avoiding whatever hot buttons the media or politicians are chasing these days.

Still, I would like to tackle these dangerous themes someday. Plus, we can never know for sure whether a theme will become electrified–by late-breaking news, by a participant's deep personal interest, or simply by how a discussion unfolds. One lesson learned with Money is that it doesn't work to try to circumscribe the discussion using the event announcement, carefully ignoring the political aspects. Property, in contrast, seemed to benefit a lot from doing a Top Ten list at the very beginning: even though we didn't address its individual items, the fact that a variety of perspectives were "on the table" made it easier not to react immediately to every statement, as though threatened. And, as we did explore the "human" side of property with good results, I now see that starting from the human side of money would have, too. At the very least, it would have vented political steam. Substituting a Top Ten List (which makes us adapt our thinking to a list title) for "what you want out of the meeting" would have taken us out of our own heads, as well.

I'm surprised Leuky didn't see (even) more action. By rights, I should have deployed him during the first segment, protesting the lack of courtesy in paying no attention to the Ellen Brown focal point. Yes, I was offended; even if no redress was forthcoming, at least an acknowledgment could have put it behind me. A similar usurpation occurred in the second segment. But it was the third, abortive segment in which one person really peeved me (and he didn't improve in the second half). Hopefully, it will become second nature someday, when one of you sees either the offense or the reaction of the offended, that you will break the spell using Leuky.

I guess the legacy of the Money meeting will be a simple new rule: if the atmosphere feels like we are abusing the topic or one another, I will administer stricter rules of order, meaning that I'll call upon people, making sure everyone speaks, no one speaks too long, that we don't leave a topic until it has had a chance and those who want to comment can. In fact, maybe we can have always have a short segment of this permission-to-speak mode, probably near the middle of the meeting. That's the time, in retrospect, it seems that it would have been most advantageous to have heard from the less-vocal participants.

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 147
Salon: Authenticity 7:15 pm, Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I arrived at 7:00, a bit later than desired. Two people had preceded me, and the cafe was crowded and noisy on this warm evening, but we managed to carve out a good-sized space, which was fortunate because we had big turnout (again). I ended up sitting at the end, which I might do on purpose next time, as I didn't have to do the rotating-fan thing. We had about two-thirds regulars and three newbies. The idea was floated to split the group in two, but I was in no mood for complications. Sleep-deprived and extremely hungry, I scarfed down my dinner by 7:20, so no time to chitchat.

Rather than the usual welcome speech, I began directly with the One Word warm-up: today the word was "authenticity" (or its cognates). After looking several people, one at a time in the eye, carefully pronouncing the word, I capitulated to their puzzled looks and told them to just repeat the word back to me the way I said it. Maybe it was just my scattered brain-state at the time that put me up to a last-minute idea, but I think it had a positive effect. For one thing, for the rest of the meeting we didn't seem to have much difficulty hearing one another (though I did have to ask people to speak up), even though the cafe was noisy at the beginning. For another, we were quite well-comported, which showed benefits throughout. Of course I have to speculate, but doesn't it seem appropriate to prime people to listen carefully–and to show that they are listening–by asking them to do exactly that, and no more? What ego could be touched off by saying a single word, out of context? Also, not going round-robin meant that I could let the exercise go as long as needed, rather than have some people merely "waiting it out."

I went straight into introductions, taking some care with my own to make it the right length and suitably varied, on the theory that people follow, not what I say, but what I do. That theory was not too well corroborated this time, as mine had (a) name, (b) relationship to the group, (c) interest in authenticity, and (d) a clue to my "present state" (i.e., sleep-deprived). Often I had to prompt for (b) and (c), and (d) fell by the wayside (the old rule of threes, I guess). Sometimes (c) was treated as a prompt to start a discussion, but we got through everybody. The result of all this was that we spent probably 20 minutes in this "warm-up" phase, which sounds like a long time, but with twelve people it has to take longer.

Perhaps as a consequence, active participation was exceptionally even. I hope it's not out of line to point out that regulars who usually confine themselves to observing or echoing were more apt to speak up, and those whose tendency is to dominate were more aware or more easily made aware. I suspect, though, most people would give the credit to our little friend Leuky, whom I introduced after my own introduction. I didn't want to articulate his usage pattern, but I ended up doing just that ("use Leuky as a signal, but you don't have to say or know of what"), then simplifying it to the practical advice to use him as a "talking stick." Gradually, we modified the usage: the speaker should not hold him (else how could we interrupt?); people passed him on to those who indicated they wanted to speak (no one could reach across two tables); we "animated" him more if the speaker persisted. I also used him to call attention, in passing, to (mostly good) things that transpired. So ultimately we did what I have been telling myself to do for some time: let the group decide how to use him by actually using him (how Wittgensteinian). The spontaneous "teamwork" of shuttling Leuky to the next speaker can't have been a bad thing, either. Clearly this signal-game will evolve, given positive comments and a fun suggestion that we all bring a sock puppet to mouth our words(!)–which anyone is welcome to do at their whim, and which, for some themes might be liberating or inspiring.

On the "homework" front, we didn't do so well. So I launched the discussion proper with an observation I made coming over of a man who struck me a "lacking authenticity." I didn't let us alter the "scene" that I painted until I knew that everyone "saw" it. This seemed to work! By restricting ourselves to noting our impressions, we were able to delay judgment and consider more points of view. I strongly encouraged everyone to take part in the first segment, and most did.

What "should" happen between segments is a ""break" activity, which will be more feasible once we are able to execute the shorter exercises speedily. The second segment we dove into definition-land. Cue ominous music heard by regulars. No, it was fine because the prompter (a newbie, too) gave us a pair of senses (or was he clued into to giving a definition by a regular, because I do remember an explicit request for a definition earlier?). We did have some trouble keeping the two senses to sit still, because we couldn't agree on their names (and, after all, both being senses of "authenticity," they were easily confused). On the way home, I harbored a strong suspicion that these senses will map to the concept of frames­, which, besides making it easier to categorize the competing meanings, would greatly clarify the language-games (and I did manage to repel a sortie into chicken-and-egg territory the language-game idea). But this isn't the place to expound on that notion–keep an eye out on the Last Word. This IS the place to note how civilly we navigated this treacherous terrain–yet another tribute to how well we were working together. I wouldn't say that the definition debate was completely put to rest, as it did revive now and then, but it didn't prevent us from moving forward, which too often is its result.

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 148
...We took the promised 10-minute break at 8:30. I didn't get a lot of private thinking time in, but the meeting was already flowing so I didn't feel like it was resting on my tired shoulders. I squeezed in another exercise (just curious, I guess), which was the Give&Take that was such a flop in Money. It was much easier this time: having become accustomed to saying one word with gusto, after repeating it back to me, they only had to turn to another person and issue the word a second time to a new person, but in a different way (of course the first time they went down the line echoing the same articulation). It sounds involved, but it took only 5 minutes. There are innumerable variations on this to keep it from getting mechanical.

Our third prompt involved a scientific study, which I love because they are easily visualized, plus I was able to add a first-person account to bolster it. We got a lot of mileage out of this, at times connecting back to the topics (and unresolved disagreements) of the first half. (I'm looking forward to the language-game analysis!) I used my prop, the Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, for the fourth prompt, which brought us closer to a usable, practical perspective on authenticity, but also closer to the end of our time. (A couple people exited during the second half, and one had arrived during the break, easing the seating crunch.) A couple more prompts were floated (so now you're warmed up;-). Come to think of it, these last-minute focal points were more personal, so it might have been the conflicting desires of privacy and openness that produced their timing; the relation of what is "personal" to what is "ordinary" seems worth exploring. As a 5-minute closer, we did a round of Everybody Knows (in two parts).

A bunch of us stayed, our number dwindling gradually until calling it quits after 40 minutes, much of which was an extension of the discussion. Perhaps it was a sign of our unified mindset, though having missed the small talk at the top of the meeting, I was kind of looking forward to catching up. We talked about the need to dissipate arguments quickly, which reinforces the tack I'm pursuing, of fostering a cooperative mindset to prevents them in the first place.

People noted connections to previous themes of Identity and Hypocrisy. I like cross-fertilization of themes, which is big part of the reason of recording so much of it in the Discussions. Personally, I was thrilled to do a theme that relates so well to "The Modern and the Postmodern" course I'm taking on, which has cramped my output here somewhat (could you tell:-?)
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 154
Salon: Wisdom 7:15 pm, May 7, 2013

Note: I usually write these notes first thing after I get home, but I had a paper to write. Although this is a day delayed, I will endeavor to "stick to the facts" at least as I recall experiencing them at the time.

I arrived at 6:55, and was soon joined by others. Our favorite table was occupied by the same group as last month, so we again arranged three tables under the foliage; I chose the end seat again. It wasn't too busy, but there were loud groups in the restaurant. Very staggered arrival times, and my eating dinner resulted in our starting 15 minutes late, but there was a lively conversation on Money to fill the gap. Ten people total was a nice size, three-quarters regulars, but none of the newbie RSVPs showed: all men, the culmination of a disturbing trend.

The key background facts for this meeting were that I was completely distracted by the paper I had to finish, and that there was a person in attendance, X, whom I had discouraged from attending.

In no mood to be clever, I started us off with introductions, partly to do a sound check. Only a couple people suggested prompts; as a result, we mostly used the few I had gathered. People's attention seemed scattered, as they were unsure of the theme or what an introduction consists of.

I decided to read my longest prompt, which was Ruth Gendler's prose portrait of Wisdom, personified. Judging from the number of notes I took, it was good choice, as it contained multiple interesting points providing enough reinforcement to pierce our consciousness. At least it got us to try to distinguish wisdom from knowledge (well, most of us). Not too long into this first segment, I belatedly introduced Leuky. Everyone knew, or quickly figured out, what to do with him, except X.

We had encountered a couple ideas that deserved further exploration, but I wanted something that would have a different angle. I suppose a "break" activity would have been appropriate, but I just wasn't feeling it. Anyway, my Emerson quote on the temporal aspects of wisdom was ignored and we landed on Socrates, which was fine. Again we generated ideas, though they trended closer to old, familiar "knowledge." I believe it was in this segment that I once had to bop X on the head with Leuky, commanding him to "Stop!" talking. What I found remarkable, though, was how nonchalantly we viewed this behavior: antisocial behavior I feared would be very uncomfortable turned out to be mildly amusing. I wonder if I led the way, with a gentle Reaganesque "there he goes again" deprecation.

We took a 10-minute break, after which we did a round of Everybody Knows, starting with, of course, the know-it-all (it's actually easier to go first). Not bad, though I need to clarify that the "overlooked detail" we are fond of mentioning needs to actually be part of the previous. speaker's scenario.

I used an idea from a Principle Card I made some months ago, Consider Aesthetics. We centered on the King Solomon's adjudicating the case of the disputed baby (which oddly dovetailed with Everybody Knows), and I figured, while the women were away, the men should have their way. (How modern culture could revise the interpretation of a Biblical story was fascinating, I must say.) But the transition to moral wisdom set off a long Kantian argument between X and one other participant, mainly, and well, frankly, I lost interest. People didn't seem perturbed, though, and Leuky was invoked frequently, yet the argument would resume after every interlude, X's fists balled while he waited to get the soapbox back. It just didn't seem worth terminating the debate, though. Maybe people just liked to watch.

I pulled us back together in time to get some Last Words from the less-effusive, though everybody had been able to contribute. People hung around for a little while, and I had the chance to talk with X, but wasn't clear on what I wanted to say (that would be heard, anyway). I did make sure to catch the 10 pm bus.
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 159
Salon: Memory 7:15 pm, May 21, 2013

I arrived at 7 p.m. and prepared what has become our usual spot. It was rather quiet in the cafe, probably because school is pretty much over. As I could see people weren't going to be one time, I ordered dinner. We had an usual balance of newbies, occasionals, and regulars, who all were rather cordial; again, we had a near-complete gender imbalance. By 7:30 I had eaten and almost everyone who attended had arrived.

I forgot to introduce Leuky! We didn't need him for orderliness, but one wonders if he has beneficial side effects. Our round of introductions began with me being strangely tongue-tied about myself, but then I elicited more from the others. Then I launched three rounds of Everybody Knows, the first of which misfired, the second was normal, and the third was embellished by a requirement to remember and repeat all that had gone before. We were pretty good at that, given our small number and the short sentence completions we chose.

The purpose of this warm-up variation was to set up our first segment, memory techniques. As I had written up topic questions the night before (I did ask if anyone had more to add, but nothing was volunteered), I read these off for this first segment. We seemed very comfortable with discussing the cognitive psychology aspect, so much so that I despaired of moving on to a philosophical or social perspective, though I did touch upon Bergson's concept of memory. Perhaps I was tired, or perhaps, having started with something so easy to talk about, it was difficult for any of us to entertain a thought like "memory is the point of contact between consciousness and matter." I may also have been distracted by the essay I've been knee-deep for a week–this points to the necessity of at least one person with a "theoretical agenda" to move a discussion into an abstract direction (which in turn would explain why the direction we often take is one that has been written about extensively). The ideal situation would be multiple competing theories, advanced in an open, cooperative fashion. Which reminds me that we never asked "What is memory?" As much as I dislike definitions, at least it does beg for abstraction. Or we could have asked for some theories of memory that people have read about. Hmm, maybe that's a variation of Everybody Knows.

At 8:30 we took our 10-minute break; conversations were lively during this period; in fact, one side conversation persisted for 30 minutes after we reconvened. We did a last Everybody Knows, in which we were to "help" one another with the remembering, but since two people didn't participate, the list didn't get long enough to need much help. So much for my attempt to translate the theme of memory to the social sphere: I think if we repeated the exercise enough it would constitute an interactive experiment in learning, but also rather time-consuming. Then again, probably a Top Ten List would have done more to broaden the conversation.

Our second segment dealt with forgetting. Again, we remained lodged in the technical aspects, even when discussing fiction; again, I failed to find a clear formulation that would provoke us to step outside the comfort zone. I did squeeze in the tattoo topic at the end, which generated a reference to "tagging" (as in graffiti) that connected me (later) to our discussion of tagging items that we want to remember later.

Everybody had ample opportunity to speak, and all did volunteer something at some point. It kind of felt like a small dinner party (and most did eat). I was a little distracted by rechecking my iPod for the topic questions.

We adjourned by 9:35, and the last of us left within 20 minutes. I did get a confirmation that banning last time's difficult personality was the right course of action: as I suspected, "X" had been amusing, but in a way that would soon become tiring. There are plenty of those types online, anyway. Strangely, I had neglected to put forth the "concept map" I was making as an exhibit of a memory technique? (Does it count as social?)
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 161
Salon: Place 7:15 pm, June 11, 2013

I arrived at 6:45 p.m., preceded by one regular, and an unrelated group sitting at "our" table, and others in the "grotto." We made a place in the front, which I liked because the lights were off until it got dark outside, which I feel lends itself to a relaxed ambience. People straggled in from 7:15, and we didn't get underway until 7:30. The official count of nine was cumulative: one person had to leave early, and two arrived for the second half, but it didn't disturb the flow. So we were in the optimal six to eight range at all times–all regulars, save two newbies, meant it was easy to pass the time as we gathered.

Introductions went quickly so I introduced the three props: a map, a flag, and a dolphin-shaped plastic waterproof container in which keys or money can be carried around one's neck while swimming (let's call it a "locket," for brevity). I talked a bit about the map as a way of structuring space: a sort of catalogue of places, with instructions how to access them; I left the other two open to interpretation. I did not succeed in getting people to actually handle the objects, which were not warm and inviting like furry Leuky. I forgot to do any Top Ten Lists, and it occurs to me that they could have been integrated with the props: Top Ten Places Not Found on a Map, Top Ten Countries with No Flag, and Top Ten Things I Carry With Me That Don't Fit in a Locket, would have helped to emphasize that the props were meant to be symbolic. Yet I found them quite useful, in that I was able to convey more complex thoughts, that relied on different senses of "place," by touching the props as I spoke. It seemed much more natural than making up words or naming new senses (though of course in writing we would need to do so). Everyone got the sense of the flag as standing for belonging, and it was the most referred-to sense (I had expected the map to dominate). The locket was the mysterious object, even after I gave a roundabout description of it as encompassing change, but it proved a boon (to me, anyway) in that it was physically on the table, announcing its availability: for example, when we got stuck trying to frame a question, I would try to utilize the locket sense to crack the nut, so to speak. I don't know if it really helped others, but it seemed pretty clear it didn't bother anyone, unless it was that it brought more attention to a sense that they didn't prefer, but rounding out the discussion was the point. I'm tempted to further claim it had the benefit of heading off fruitless arguments frequently caused by conflation of different senses, based on the general obscurity of the theme and the lack of contentiousness. Anyway, the patterns of usage of new objects (or terms, for that matter) have to be learned by doing, and it made perfect sense that I would be doing most of the doing, this first time.

We traversed a range of topics, with the real task (as I saw it) being to figure out which senses of place were involved. Real-life examples came easily, with vacation travel being central. (I had beforehand generated a large untapped supply, mostly from a book called The Power of Place.) Perhaps because we focused more on framing or interpreting the scenes we came up with, and less on posing yes-or-no questions, we did not encounter that sense of helplessness that can come with having to throw our hands up after each topic. As often happens with the inscrutable themes, the give-and-take emerged gradually, between just two of us initially, then expanding. After our half-time break, participation was pretty even. Everyone seemed engaged in the discussion, even when note-taking or checking messages. Even abrupt topic changes didn't faze us, probably because they just presented new framing problems: we didn't have to negotiate the material parameters of the situations themselves. A congenial mood persisted throughout our 2 hours.

The concept map was used rather minimally, as I was immersed in trying to make the three senses of place real for us. For me, though, the meetings of the mind that occurred were writ fairly large, not necessitating notes. In the language of place, I might say that the conversation felt less like traveling from topic to topic, than it felt like having a stream of visitors: one keeps a journal of travels, but it is others' job to sign the guest book. The Last Word questions will probably turn out to be something like a study guide.

Unusually, I let us run 10 minutes over before giving people a polite exit. But most of us stayed, continuing the discussion while gradually letting the theme go. We dwindled finally to three when I ran for my bus at 11.
Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 163
Salon: Opportunities 7:15 pm, July 2, 2013

I arrived at 7:00 p.m., choosing a table in the front because it was warmer (the weather has cooled suddenly) and because I like the darker ambiance (but there was a complaint about the coffee grinder, so maybe only when necessary will we sit in front.) All five who RSVPed showed up, plus two extras (that's a 140% turnout:-) Mostly regulars. We had extended introductions–that is, I invited everyone to give a short introductory speech on what they were interested in about the theme–that lasted from 7:20 to maybe 7:40 (by which time I'd finished eating–and we needed the table space). I made it clear that the agenda was looser this time, that I hadn't much in the way of an agenda, besides the props I brought; I predicted that we might end the discussion early and shift to general topics, but this did not come to pass. There were plenty of productive ideas, from various areas of life and science, advanced in the intros, but as I was eating I didn't record them.

Happily, I wasn't the only one who brought a prop. But first we started with the rubber duck, and a Top Ten Ways a Rubber Duck Could Save Your Life. We had fun, and the main purpose was to loosen us up, but I must admit the ideas stimulated in this way had little to do with Opportunity. In fact, I forgot why I had chosen the duck until after I had made my entry. We did actually pass the duck around (yea!) but I think the prompt should have led us closer to the bath-time "play" scenario for which I chose it–I could have specified the scenario, then asked for ten things to elaborate it...perhaps we would have enacted it by storytelling. Despite this head fake, we latched onto the idea of brainstorming easily, and had 20+ minutes of discussion. For whatever reason, we seemed especially limber in our thinking, identifying aspects and turning problems upside down to make them stranger rather than seeking the familiar.

Then we had a guest prop, a blank canvas: how does one begin when there is nothing but opportunity? I couldn't resist piggybacking my frequent theme of improvisation on this. This was a good segue from the duck/play motif, too.

Coming up on break time, before which I'd planned to introduce the die, someone put forth "SWOT" analysis (O for Opportunity, T for Threat), which explicitly brought forth the idea of gaming, involving materialized probabilities. I introduced the die using the Monty Hall problem, knowing that it obsesses people, but they could do that during the break. Well, a couple people did take advantage of the hubbub to get food or whatever, but mostly we haggled over the problem. I was happy that we avoided getting caught up in mathematics (as happened in the online discussion in my Thinking With Models course). So this was the part I'd done some prior work on, and though I never expected the idea to be crystal clear, it did seem to at least to connect to how some people were thinking about Opportunity. For me, and hopefully others, the die now suggests the peculiar way in which possibilities that are represented already exist (and thus are realities, versus blank canvases). And it was the links between these metaphors, especially the suggestion that we focus on risk, that led to an unexpected insight, which is really all that I ever hope to derive from any meeting. (It involves competition, the weather, context, emotions, and maybe free will.)

When we were all reassembled, I introduced the last prop, the American flag, which segued naturally because the idea of social construction had already become a running motif. I had been taking a lot more notes during this discussion than last time, which meant I was not talking as much. Even better, the ideas at this point linked so well to the previous motifs, that I was adding to those rather than the flag. It's a fairly dense (highly-connected) graph. Our previous "best" graphs have a duality about them–objective-subjective, we might call it–but this time we had three or four distinct entry points. We were largely focused on something, something that was not just one aspect of the problem: we'd managed to be diffuse and concentrated at the same time. That is what I've been after, but only time will tell if it "pays off."

This was only the second time we'd attempted more intensive use of the props. I really like how a prop frees us from having to negotiate a label for a concept, though there is more to learn about how to bring out, or find, the "motif" embedded in each one. It would be too much to expect people to use them as "stage props" in making their points, but it did help me organize my thoughts, as it did last time. At least once I explicitly combined two of them. The die vs. the canvas seems like a potent opposition, capturing a point I've been trying to make for some time. Again, no one seemed uncomfortable with them (as they would be if we coined a new word or imported some abstruse theory). I'm encouraged by people bringing props, that they will reflect in advance how to call attention to motifs that will combine more productively than words do. Besides the canvas, we had an additional "exhibit" that more along the lines of show-and-tell:-)

In the last few minutes, we tried a last-minute variation on Everybody Knows involving the flag, which was not so well constructed, but nobody freaked out. (I suspect that the very themes we are tackling may provide hints on the engagement of props.) I should have explicitly invited Last Words, though, especially for the new people. We finished on time, with some lingering until 10 p.m.

Jeff G
Oakland, CA
Post #: 170
Salon: Names 7:15 pm, July 30, 2013

I arrived about 6:50 but somehow didn't get my meal until 7:15, by which time I had procured the big table. Still, we started at 7:20, not in the habit of waiting for newbies, who eventually constituted a quarter of us, with over half of us veterans. I had a grab bag of props, including a couple I'd picked up just before the meeting; nobody else brought one. We began with introductions, which spontaneously began to address the origin of one's own name. We also had a personal decision having to do with names and a fair number of personal stories. With all this sharing, Leuky was never introduced (though he could be useful for other things than promoting agreeableness). As usual I disavowed any agenda, and in fact I had less of one than usual, probably stemming from not having figured out what the third prop was (though I had recently-acquired candidates). Or perhaps I was just tired.

Once I finished wolfing down my dinner, we fabricated a Top Ten List title, "Interesting Names (and Why)", which became sort of a taxonomy of what makes a name stand out. In retrospect, this may have led us to focus on the choice of names (almost always made by adults) rather than their usage. "Reasons to Call Someone by Name", for example, would have switched the perspective from the named to the name user. Anyway, it served as a nice warmup for the main discussion, as each name prompted a brief discussion.

I introduced the first prop, a set of blank adhesive labels. Though they were intended to represent the "temporariness" of names that other people "stick on us" (and a point made by a participant provided a very smooth segue), we didn't seem to make a big distinction between who was assigning the names. So another prop to make the contrast in name longevity didn't buy us anything. Well, it would be surprising if the right selection could be predicted every time! A campaign button and business cards didn't catch on. An advertised advantage of props was fulfilled, though: at least they did no harm.

About 30 minutes in we were fully immersed in discussion, but up until the 8:30 break, we didn't escape the "sticky label" idea. We didn't into names as titles, either: I think I should have pushed more for this. There must multiple metaphors in play for new associations to emerge. (I think I actually forgot what the office placard represented, because I had been looking for an old name plate–but my own given name is not a title: I needed something that announced an office, like "President".)

Over the break, during which lively exchanges ensued, I picked out a couple topics I wanted to get in: anonymity (which was the original theme request), and children's learning their names (the developmental perspective). We heard a recital of a T.S.Eliot's poem "The Naming of Cats," which seemed to confirm the three senses I had envisioned, except that, like me, he found the third sense inscrutable. Anonymity was a productive topic because it evoked a new objective–to avoid being named (or called) rather than choosing a name. We saw a connection to societal membership, at which point I had an insight which I pursued by a series of questions. While I was quite happy to have formulated a new idea, it perhaps was too sharp a turn for the others. In general, we resist any encroachment on our vision of personal freedom. The right prop might have helped, but I had no such thing.

Probably I should terminate the meeting at exactly 2 hours from when we start, as the Last Words segment was somewhat restless. I had pretty good notes from parts of the discussion, but at the beginning I either forgot or felt compelled to give full attention to getting us started. My takeaway was that the more arcane themes may necessitate more complete preparation on my part, rather than hoping others will bring the missing pieces. Yet everybody made contributions, theoretical and/or experiential, and we got along very well.
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