Ethics, Law, and Society – September 4, 2018 – Mark Stapp

Ethics, Law, and Society – September 4, 2018 – Mark Stapp


[ Music ]>>Okay, so I think we’re
going to get started. So today is our first lecture with a live person
in front of us. And so we’re really
excited about that. We have Mark Stapp who’s
going to talk to us about Soren Kierkegaard,
who you may or may not know who that is, but
he’ll explain it. And Silicon Valley, which
you definitely do know, and the interesting
juxtaposition of these two ways of thinking, ways of being. Next week, we will have Chris
Stauber from Kyndi to talk to us about natural language
processing and how we communicate with
machines and the social and legal implications of that. So these two talks I think
will go quite well together. So without further ado, I would
like to introduce Mark Stapp, who works here on campus
in our development office, and also has a philosophy degree
and continues to work and write and present on Soren
Kierkegaard. So let’s welcome
Mark to the stage.>>Thank you very much. [ Applause ]>>As John mentioned, I work
in the Advancement Office. And have any of you or
your parents gotten letters in the mail that’s
asked for donations to Sonoma State University? Well, if you haven’t–>>You will.>>Yeah, you will be
getting more of those. Those come out of my office. We do, we do fundraising
and PR for the university. And then as John mentioned,
you know, I sort of moonlight as a philosopher
still once in a while. I’ve been at Sonoma State for
three years, but prior to that, spent most of my career in
the tech industry for a couple of firms; one based
out in Boston, and then one in San Francisco. And when I was out in Boston,
my firm gave me the chance to go move back to Chicago
so I could take classes at the University of
Chicago while still working for the firm. Graduate school classes, I
should say, in philosophy. So I spent my days working with
software engineers, you know, designing and rolling
out software. And then I read Kierkegaard. So it was an odd and time-consuming
and expensive hobby. But then after that,
my wife and I lived in San Francisco for 10 years. Now, I was working at a
different software firm, and our friends were
working at Apple and Facebook and Google or start-ups. And, you know, if you’re
living in San Francisco, you’re part of the Silicon
Valley culture there. And as some of you
probably are aware, it’s a fascinating culture. And so that was another
trigger for this topic. You know, what would Kierkegaard
have thought about it? You can see that he would have
loved the certain aspects of it. Kierkegaard would have
loved the Tesla driving and [inaudible] shake drinking
and Apple gold watch wearing. There’s a lot of stuff
he could have been into. But some of the stuff would have
caused him to raise an eyebrow. And so we’ll talk a little
bit about this today. How many of you have
actually read Kierkegaard? That can’t be true. Is that, is that what
we’re looking at here?>>It looks like it.>>How many of you know who
wrote the books at the top of the philosophy page website? How many of you can
hazard a guess? So Kierkegaard is at the top
of the philosophy website. There once was a world class
Kierkegaard scholar here by the name of Ed Mooney. He left about a decade ago. But it was actually
how I first heard of Sonoma State is I was
reading his writings. And it’s a legacy. It’s one of his legacies
that Kierkegaard still– at least on the website,
if not in the curriculum. And so I’m glad we got– [ Inaudible ] It’s important that we get him
back into the discussion here on campus given his
historical legacy. And the [inaudible] lecture
is the perfect place to do it because there are not many
thinkers that have thought as much about law, ethics
or society as Kierkegaard. So it’s a good chance
to talk about him today. We’ll do just a basic
overview of his thought, especially since not many
people in the room are familiar. And then we’ll talk a little– then we’ll get more
into the subject of what Kierkegaard would think
about Silicon Valley by talking about the ways that Kierkegaard’s own
intellectual climate and times were similar to what
we have today, particularly in our geographic
area, being so close, being so close to the valley. And then we’ll look
at a couple of issues that Silicon Valley
is spending a lot of time and money working on. And they happen to be issues that Kierkegaard also spent
a lot of time thinking about. And we’ll hypothesize about
what Kierkegaard might have to say about those issues. You could do worse
for an introduction to Kierkegaard’s thought than
to follow the Twitter feed of Kim Kierkekardashian. Please tell me that a few of
you have at least gotten here. All right, well, Kim Kierkekardashian leads
a busy life, all right? She’s always jetting off
to photo shoots in Ibiza, she’s got gym appointments
to make, spa appointments, she’s heading off
to Paris, right? She’s got a busy daily life. But Kim Kierkekardashian
also has– she spends a lot of time
thinking about the higher things in life, right, you know,
what does it all mean, what’s the purpose of my
life, am I a good friend? She’s got more eternal
concerns that are on her mind. And she’s constantly having
to balance the two, right? She’s tired from the gym, she’s
got to make her plane to Paris, but she also wants to think, you
know, about what it all means. And so better Twitter feed goes
into the eternal conundrum. And again, Kierkegaard
focuses a lot on these issues, so if you don’t want to read
Kierkegaard, you could go to Kim Kierkekardashian. If we get a little
deeper into his thought, let’s talk a little bit about
some Kierkegaard party trivia. And I emphasize party trivia,
because while you may be able to get away now with the parties
you’re going to at Sonoma State, by name-dropping Kant and
Aristotle and John Rawls, once you graduate, you’re
not going to be able to go to parties and name
drop those folks. No one cares. There are very few thinkers
that you can walk into a party after graduation and
talk about and seem cool. And Kierkegaard is
one of those, right? It makes you seem literate,
makes you seem interesting. So here’s a few– even if you
never pick up Kierkegaard, here’s a few party facts to
bring with you into the future. He’s considered to be the
father of existentialism. You’re probably familiar with
names like Niche [phonetic] and Camu [phonetic] and
Sartre and Heidegger. You probably read
a few of those, at least in your other classes. Well, Kierkegaard is the, is
the person that is considered to be the guy who started
that all off, all right? And existentialists, they’re
a loosely affiliated group. There isn’t really a school of
existentialism in the same way that there’s like
a platonic school. It’s a group of thinkers
that are bundled together that are all very different,
but they tended to think about what it was, you know,
what it is to go through life as a finite human
being, all right? To think about issues from
an existential perspective. So as a limited,
nervous creature, how do I face these
issues in my life? And Kierkegaard was
one of the first to really start approaching
philosophy in this way. And he inspired others
after him. The second party
fact is his name. If you want to sound knowledge
at parties in the future, drop the D at the
end of his name. So it’s Kierkegaar, all right? That’s how the, that’s
how the Danes do it. And if you’re at the party
and people start, you know, start talking about Kierkegaard
with the hard D, just, you know, sort of roll your eyes,
know that you know better. And if you’re at a really
literate party in the future and you drop Kierkegaard’s name,
you’ll have people say, “ah, yes, the leap of faith,” because
this is the phrase that’s most often associated with him. You’ve heard this phrase
before, leap of faith? It stems from Kierkegaard,
because he talks a lot about faith, and he has a
lot of leaping metaphors, but he doesn’t actually use
that phrase in his writings. So if at a party someone, you
know, drops that line with you, you can just turn around and
walk away and feel superior. A few biographical highlights. He lived in the early part of the 19th century
during what was known as Denmark’s golden
age, all right? So this is a time– so
Denmark at this point, I mean, Denmark is a small
country today. In fact, then it
was even smaller. And Kierkegaard was
living in Copenhagen, which was the intellectual
center of Denmark. The total population was
probably 100,000 people. It was like Santa
Rosa, all right? But within that, within that
small area, it was turning up figures like Kierkegaard
himself, Hans Christian Andersen,
HC Oersted, the father of electromagnetism. There were a ton– in
every intellectual area, there was a thinker that
was really making a mark, both in Denmark and in
Europe more broadly. So it was an exciting time to
be in Denmark and in Copenhagen. And Kierkegaard was one of the wealthiest
families in Copenhagen. So not only with he right at the
center of the intellectual venue and what was gong on there. But he was very– his
family was very prominent. Second wealthiest, second wealthiest family
in Denmark we think. He wrote prodigiously. In about 10 years, he
turned out 30 plus books, plus a lot of unpublished
materials. You saw a picture of
his books earlier. If you go to the library
and you look at his works, his published books are like,
like yea, I mean, they’re big. Then he’s got an unpublished
stack that’s, you know, almost equally as large,
and he turned it all out in 10 years or so. He was writing all the time. And his writings all
focus on what it is for– what it’s like for individuals
to pursue truth and fulfillment in their individual lives, as
existing beings, all right? Those existential questions. And you can see a
little bit of this in one of Kierkegaard’s
critiques in his era. And he had a lot of
critiques in his era. He looked around at
Copenhagen society and European society more
generally and thought, you know, I’m not, I’m not so sure I
like the way this is going. And interestingly enough for our
topic today, it was precisely because of the fact that there
was this explosion of knowledge and technological
progress during his day that he thought was causing
people to become distracted from other equally,
if not more important, aspects of their lives. You see that in his quote,
you know, it’s because of the, it’s because of the
copiousness of knowledge. Because of how much
knowledge there is, people in our day have forgotten
what it is to exist, right? What it is to go through
life as an existing being. And Kierkegaard wanted
to highlight that dilemma and make people think a
little bit more carefully. Kierkegaard was one
of the first to call out the Slacktivist
tendencies of his day. I’m including the
quote from Hegel here. Is Hegel a name that
you’re familiar with? Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel? All right, a towering figure
in 19th century philosophy, still very influential today. And he was the philosopher
that Kierkegaard spent most of his time writing
against for various reasons. But I ran across this quote from
Hegel, and it was apt enough that I wanted to
include it here. You can see what Hegel,
writing in 1799, 1801, I forget, right at the turn
of the 19th century, you can see what he thought of
the political life of his day. You know, it’s devoid
of principle, of action, of confidence, moral
abuse, individual opinion and conviction without objective
truth of attained authority, and perceived of private
rights and [inaudible] as the order of the day. Thank heavens we’ve advanced
so far beyond that, right? No longer applicable
to our own time. But Kierkegaard certainly
agreed with that, with that assessment
of the political age. And here was what
Kierkegaard thought of his ages of the responses of
his contemporaries to that political
climate, right? People were sensible,
they reflected, they were momentarily
enthusiastic, you know, they went on Facebook and
liked whatever the political engagement of the day was. And then they relaxed, right? He was, he was not at
all confident that people of his time were paying
attention to what was going on around them, and
thinking clearly and taking action
as appropriate. A few more similarities
between the early 19th and the 21st centuries. I mentioned earlier
that this was a time of rapid scientific
progress in both times. I mean, we know what’s going
on in our own age, right? We’re all sitting outside
before the lecture staring at our iPhones, you know,
we’re all wondering what to order from Uber Eats. We know the progress
that we’re making. Well, in Kierkegaard’s time,
you’re talking about things, and you’re coming
on on the heels of the scientific
revolution and the environment and the enlightenment, rather. You’ve got the invention of
the battery, the steam engine, the steam locomotive, medical,
you know, huge medical advances. There were– there was just a
ton going on in the scientific and technological front that
was really coloring the opinions of the people of the day, right? There was a lot of confidence
in human reason to solve every– to solve, to solve any issue. And you saw this, you saw
this confidence in reason, and this confidence in
progress in other areas as well. So without going too much
into the history of the time, you can think about the
transition from feudalism to more market economy. You’ve got people
moving en masse from the rural areas
into the cities. You’ve got huge political
changes. I mean, we think we live in
interesting political times now. Well, in 1848, what, seven or eight European countries
went Democratic, you know, monocracies disappeared. This is right in the middle of
Kierkegaard’s writing career. Denmark was one of
those countries that suddenly had a revolution. So there was a lot going on. And the general sense was
that this was all progress for the good, and it was going
to continue indefinitely. There was this sense that
this progress was built in, and as long as we
keep thinking harder and thinking more clearly, we’re
on to new and better things. To the extent– so great
was this confidence that there was this weird
almost quasi-religious tendency of the time that, again, is
mirrored in our own time, that we were on the
cusp of evolving into something like
a new species. This sounds crazy,
but check it out. Have any of you ever heard the
phrases either the Hegelian dialectic or the
Hegelian system? All right, we should, we
should change that as well. Believe it or not, in the late
19– or the late 18th century and early 19th century,
philosophy was dominated by the gentleman I
mentioned called Hegel, Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel. He created a giant system,
and I’ve got the full system on my wall in my office. And this system collected all
human knowledge, all that was to be known at that time,
organized it in such a way that it looked inevitable
that– it looked, first of all, complete, and it looked as though we understood
exactly how these areas of knowledge flowed
from one to the other. So everything from elementary
particles and primitive forms of human life, all the way
up to art, religion and– or art, religion and philosophy. We understood how
it all fit together. And we could see the world, we
could see the entire cosmos, the entire development of
the universe essentially as God sees it, right? We knew all that
there was to be known. Maybe there were a few gaps
here and there to be filled in, but conceptually, we got it. History was over. And with this understanding,
we would become something like a new species, a
new quasi-divine species. I know, crazy, right? But then think about
what’s going on in Silicon Valley right now with the latest quasi-religious
trend of the singularity. Is this, is this a
term that’s familiar to a few folks in this room? All right, well, now is our
chance to think about it. The idea behind the singularity,
and this is much almost, again, a quasi-religion, is
that our technology and our understanding
are advancing so quickly, and we’re on the cusp of developing artificial
intelligence that is, that is robust enough to
sort of, I don’t know, to qualify as a– well,
how do I want to put this? Our, our understanding
of intelligence, and our development of
artificial intelligence, is developing so quickly
that we’re on the cusp of inventing something that might possibly be
called the new life form, like a new consciousness, right? And there’s debates about how
quickly is it going to happen. Is it going to happen five years
from now, twenty years from now? But there’s a lot of– but
there is, in certain sectors, there’s a rumor that’s it
going to happen inevitably, how this is inevitable, and then
once we’ve got this robust AI, the intelligence is going
to improve itself so quickly that a new superhuman
species is going to develop. And we’re not even going to be
able to relate to it anymore. So powerful with this
artificial intelligence made. It’s different in details
from what Hegel was talking about with the Hegelian
system, but it’s similar in concept and in kind. Again, through the
result of human ingenuity, we’re on the cusp of creating a
new species, some kind of new, new way of living, right? And you can see the language
that both, that both Hegel and the guy who coined
the term– well, I guess he didn’t actually
coin the term singularity, but he certainly
popularized it, Ray Kurzweil, who’s now a Google executive, and he wrote a famous book
called “The Singularity is Now.” Look at the language that
was used 200 years ago and is used today, you know? The great confidence that we’re
transitioning into a new era, and yet somehow we’re
instilling the universe, the matter in the universe
with a new kind of intelligence and a new kind of spirit. Without going into– we don’t
have to explore the details, but the confidence
of each age is clear, and this is the confidence
that Kierkegaard felt palpably and wanted to respond to. So to Hegel, and
to the Hegelians, they were so confident that we
were on the cusp of a new era as a result of our
intelligence and our technology, Kierkegaard asked, has being
human now become something so different from what
it was in the old days? Sure, people know more now. But is this knowledge
potentially not– or potentially not just
introducing confusion into the mix, right? Kierkegaard is asking, great,
we’ve got a ton more knowledge, we’ve got a lot more technology,
there is undoubtedly progress in certain areas, but are we
wiser than the ancient Greeks? Are we more virtuous? Are we more courageous? There are these existential
issues that are equally
important to us, if not more so than
our technology and our understanding. Have we really made
progress in those areas, or are we confusing progress
and technology with progress in these other, in these
other equally important areas? To Hegel specifically,
Kierkegaard had the famous, the famous, what’s the word? Put down, I guess. He could have made fun
of Hegel a little bit. He said, “Hegel forgot that
he was an existing being.” He said, “Hegel would go down in
history as the greatest thinker who ever lived if he had
just talked about his system as though it were a thought
experiment and said, oh, I’ve got this idea,
isn’t it cool?” But Hegel forgot that he
was a finite human creature, and so believed that he
could actually see the cosmos from an eternal or
divine perspective, and this made him something
of a humorous figure. And Kierkegaard likened
him to an architect who built a magnificent
castle, but then had to live beside it in a doghouse. Because Hegel could put
together a system and say, “here’s how it all flows, and
here’s how it’s all organized,” but he could never, never actually live
in that way, right? He had to go through
life in a moment by moment finite uncertain
way that we all do. And for Kierkegaard, keeping that in mind is the
most important thing. Well, this, this kind
of sentiment is echoed in Silicon Valley itself. Jaron Lanier, he’s the, he’s
the father of virtual reality. He’s been working on– he was working on VR for
the past 30 plus years. A really interesting writer. Well worth reading. He’s at Microsoft research now. In fact, I think he’s the guy
who coined virtual reality. He’s the guy who made it famous. And he– I’ve never seen him, I’ve never heard him
quote Kierkegaard. But this is certainly a
Kierkegaardian statement. The thing about technology
is that it’s made the world of information ever
more dominant, and there’s so much
loss in that. It’s like surrendering
to a dwarf world. And this is a very
Kierkegaardian point of information is great,
it has its purpose, but it’s not everything,
and it isn’t applicable in every human, in
every human issue. So we’re going to look in
detail to two of those issues that Kierkegaard
was obsessed with, and also Silicon
Valley, love and death. So a few– I suspect that
a few of you are familiar with these names, eHarmony and
Match, and God help us, Tinder. I didn’t even want to put the,
like the logo on the screen. But here is an example of the– I mean, these are examples
of the billions of dollars that Silicon Valley is
putting into firms that propose that we can improve the way
that we date, fall in love, use whatever terms you wish. And the Venn diagram that
eHarmony uses is just– I just love this
image, all right? So on the left, it’s a little
too small for some of you to read, I think, but on the
left in the science circle, you’ve got sciencey
words, right? You’ve got big data and
algorithms and machine learning. And on the right in the love
circle, you’ve got sort of more, you know, nebulous love words
like, you know, attraction and emotions and meaning. And then interestingly
enough, chemistry and energy. I’m not sure why those are love
words rather than science words. But in the middle, you’ve
got eHarmony bringing it all together, right? Sort of applying its machine
learning and its algorithms to the big data and then, you
know, creating love made smart. And it would be hard– I
would be hard-pressed to think of a phrase that would
irritate Kierkegaard more than love made smart, right? This would immediately stop him
in his tracks, and he would say, “all right, what, what
are we actually talking about here,” right? If we want to talk about
love in any traditional sense of the term, we’re talking
about an individual, one person, looking at– examining
themselves to say, what are my needs, what are
my wants, what are my fears, what are my weaknesses, what
do I need, and then connecting with another unique individual
and getting to learn them and their unique needs and
wants and fears and anxiety, and out of that, something that we might term
love emerging, right? It’s a one-on-one process. Kierkegaard would say,
“what does the data from 10 million other
people have to do with that one-on-one process?” He’s not denying the effort. I mean, and I should have
stated this at the beginning, Kierkegaard was no love guy. Kierkegaard actually thought about being a biologist
for a little bit. He was up on all the
scientific advances of the day. He was, he was a
smart attentive guy. But he was very concerned
about category confusion. And he would say, you know, this
is great, you’ve got the data from 10 million people, you’ve
got your fancy algorithms, you’ve got your machine
learning. Does that actually apply
to the one-on-one nature of what we’re used to
thinking of as love, or is this a distraction? Are you as– are we as individuals outsourcing our
responsibilities to ourselves and to that person that
I am supposed to love to a corporation to
do that work for me? And is that even possible? And Kierkegaard might
step back and ask me, ask me related question,
okay, you know, we’ve got, we’ve got our mobile app now,
you know, got Match on mobile, we’ve got this tool, this tool,
are we better now at loving, or at finding love, than
our grandparents were? Are we better at dating? And I think he would
have asked that question in an objective way, right? Maybe we are. But how would you measure that? And if ways aren’t
immediately jumping to mind, Kierkegaard would say maybe
we have an issue here. The economists just a few weeks
ago– I was glad to see this. This was helpful
in my preparation. They actually ran– the economists ran
as the cover story of their magazine an article on how the internet
has impacted dating. And you can see from this
subtitle that they want to talk about how better
algorithms, business models and data could have even
more people finding partners. And it was intriguing to
see the economists run through the potential
metrics that might be used. They gave it, they gave it a
shot, in terms of matches made and how long do those
matches last. It’s not that it can’t be
done, but it wasn’t conclusive. And it’s interesting for a
multi-billion dollar business that we don’t have a
firm or handle on whether or not this technology actually
can impact the issue at stake. And Kierkegaard would be all
over this kind of discussion. Now, I should note that Kierkegaard also
had very personal reasons for being interested in this. If you don’t want
to read Kierkegaard for the philosophy, that’s fine. Read him for the love story. There aren’t that many great
philosophical love stories out there. I can think of maybe,
maybe two others. So Kierkegaard had one of the
few, and it was a good one. In all of Kierkegaard’s
books, he’s writing indirectly about his former fiance, Regine. When Kierkegaard was a very
prominent Copenhagen citizen and he got engaged to another
very prominent Copenhagen citizen by the name of
Regine, they were engaged for nine months, then Kierkegaard
called it off suddenly without explanation to Regine. He said, “Regine, we’re done.” And this was was a scandal. It was a scandal
of both families. It was a scandal that was
played out in the public papers. And then Kierkegaard
doubled down. I’m way off on a tangent now. This doesn’t really
have anything to do with Silicon Valley. This is just because
it’s a cool story. So Kierkegaard doubles
down by, in his first book that he publishes, having a
long chapter in there called “The Seducer’s Diary,” in which
he tells this false salacious story [inaudible] of his
relationship with Regine. I kind you not. So he broke up with her,
then he published a long book about the things that supposedly
happened when he was with Regine that painted neither him
nor Regine in a good light. Of course, all of Copenhagen
is scandalized, right, and both of them waltz off
in their separate directions. Kierkegaard never stops writing
about Regine in bad terms. Regine never stops
thinking about Kierkegaard. She goes off to St. Thomas. They never get back together. It’s this unrequited love story. But that’s another reason
to read Kierkegaard. That was my point in telling
this story, all right? Where were we? We’re heading back to death. We’re leaving love behind. When we’re heading
back to the other issue that Silicon Valley
spends a lot of time and money thinking about. Silicon Valley’s obsession with death probably hit public
consciousness back in 2013 when Time Magazine
published this cover, Can Google Solve Death. In truth, there are a lot
of firms in Silicon Valley that are looking seriously at
ways that through biohacking, biotechnology, artificial
intelligence, including the singularity that I
mentioned before, are there ways that we can extend our lives, that we can eliminate
death in some kind of way? Lots of, lots of time and money
being spent on this issue. And if we had Larry Page and
Sergey Brin from Google here, I don’t want to paint,
I don’t want to pair with too unfair a brush here, if
we had them come down and say, what are you guys up to
down at Google with death, they would give the answers
that you would expect. They would say, “well,
we’re investing in all kinds of research to see if we
can eliminate, you know, cell degeneration, if we
can eliminate disease, we want to see if we can
extend human life, you know, maybe there are things
that we can do.” And Kierkegaard would
be all in favor of that. There’s no one who’s
opposing this kind of, this kind of research
into extending human life. I mean, I don’t think any
of us in here would be. What Kierkegaard would
want to know, though, or what Kierkegaard would
suggest, is that like love, this isn’t purely a
technological problem. We’re not just machines
that need to be fixed, that human issues like death
play a much broader role in our lives. And so if we had Larry
Page and Sergey Brin here, Kierkegaard would look at them
and say, “hey, this is great, you’ve got this research
project going on, but let’s, let’s talk a little
bit more about that.” Do you know what death
is, first of all? What do we know about death? And Kierkegaard would say, “I’ve
thought a lot about death,” and indeed he did, he
wrote a lot about it, doesn’t understand what
death is, but he has a, he has a really good
sense of the impact that death makes on human lives. So if you think about the other
existentialist philosophers, Heidegger in particular, they’re
all fixated on the issue, on the idea of what
and how the thought of death impacts our
lived lives, right? The fact that we know that
we’re finite creatures, that death is inevitable,
that it’s always approaching, that this changes the way
that we live our daily lives, that life becomes– that each
moment is potentially viewed with a bit more importance
and passion, right? You only have so many
times that you can love. You only have so many times
that you can be creative. You don’t know what’s
coming next. Each moment might be your last. And so this, you know, this
issue of death really enhances or changes certain
aspects of human life. And if we get rid of it,
what does that do to the way that we’re living our lives? And so Kierkegaard, we look
at the Google research team and say hey, this is great, but is this purely a
technology issue, or do you need to have some broader,
broader thinking here on your research board? And Kierkegaard might continue
by saying, even if you succeed in this goal, let’s
suppose we extend human life to 300 years long, or we extend
it indefinitely, all right, does it really change what you
need to do on a daily basis as an individual
existing human being? So, you know, back to Kim
Kierkekardashian, right? How many times does she
want to go to Ibiza? How many photo shoots does she
want to have in Paris, you know? Those might get old
after a while. But the most important
things in our lives now, or in Kim Kierkekardashian’s
life, like investigating the questions
of what does it all mean, what’s the purpose of
my life, how do I act with more integrity, how do I
become a better family member, those would never stop. Whether you were 300 years
old or you lived forever, you would always be
asking those questions. And Kierkegaard comes back to
that point again and again, that those, those central
existential questions don’t go away no matter how
long you live. And so this would be a point
that he would want us to think about and want the Google
research team to think about as they’re, as
they’re, you know, conducting their
research efforts. I love this wired article for
the picture and for the title. Silicon Valley would
rather cure death than make life worth living. At first glance, this looks
like the kind of thing that Kierkegaard
would sign up to. And I think Kierkegaard would
probably agree that, you know, that it’s easier in a
certain sense to cure death than to make life worth living. But the point that Kierkegaard
would ultimately want to make to wired magazine in the
Silicon Valley, or the question that Kierkegaard
would want to ask is, what can Silicon Valley do
to make life worth living? Is there anything
that it can do? So what iPhone iteration,
you know, what software technology
advancement, what scientific advancement
full-stop really is going to make my life more
worth living? It might make it more
convenient in certain ways. It might make it better. It’s certainly the case that
I’m glad for medical advances that take away disease
or that ease pain. I like my iPhone. I like my, you know,
I like a lot of the technological
advancements to come out, but I don’t know if it has
qualitatively improved my life in the sense that I am a
better, more fulfilled person as a result of this
particular tech gadget. And Kierkegaard would want to
make that point very clearly. In conclusion, I would
say that the two things that Kierkegaard would
want us to remember are that we shouldn’t mistake
superficial lifestyle improvements with qualitative
changes to our lives, and that we should be very
careful about confusing data and information and
objective knowledge like that with understanding and
with wisdom, right? The more subjective
kinds of thinking that we do about ourselves. This ultimately was
his point in response to the technology issue, the
technology advances of his time, and I think it would
be his response to Silicon Valley today. And with that, I’ll open
it up for questions.>>Do you believe that nobody’s
life has been made more worth living as a byproduct of
technological innovation like in Silicon Valley? [ Inaudible ]>>You know, he would argue,
and first of all, he was a fan of technology himself. He loved– the technology of his
day was better carriage rides, better apartments,
and better clothes. Those were the big ones. He would, he would
absolutely agree that technological
advancements lead to superficial improvements
in one’s life. It makes us more comfortable. But it doesn’t lead to
more profound happiness. Or it doesn’t lead
to improvements in ourselves as individuals. It doesn’t lead us to be
more virtuous or happier.>>I know he came from
like a rich background. Did he do any research
on like the amount of money you had affected
like your happiness? And with technology
[inaudible] get to?>>Did Kierkegaard
do any research?>>Yeah, or did he
think about that at all?>>Kierkegaard definitely
didn’t do any research. He thought a lot about it. It’s a really good question
because money, and discussions of money, are all over
Kierkegaard’s writings. He was very conscious of the
fact that he had a lot of money. He was very conscious of the
fact that towards the end of his life when he was
running out of money that he wanted more of it. He was very conscious of the
economic changes that were going on in his time, like the
huge income disparities in the Danish population. That was also a big issue
at that time as well. This, in the same
way that we talked about how what Kierkegaard might
have thought about technology, that’s the same way
that he tended to address monetary issues,
where in superficial ways, it’s better to have
more money than less, but it doesn’t really change
the most important things about the way you live
your life, all right? If you have a lot of
money, you’re not– I don’t know about if he
didn’t do any research as you suggested, you’re
not necessarily happier, you’re certainly
not necessarily– you’re certainly not braver, you’re not necessarily
more ethical, all right? And it was those
more substantial, more subjective kinds
of phenomena that he was interested in.>>I know that he like wrote
about love and everything, but did he ever write
about like have children or like write about children?>>That’s it. Now you’re hitting at a real
weak spot with Kierkegaard. No, he didn’t have any
children of his own. He had some, he had
some relatives, some younger relatives that he
really had close relationships to, and he had some
really, not in his books, but in his personal letters, he had some very
kind correspondence. But a lot of scholars
had thought that this was a blind
spot for Kierkegaard. The fact that he didn’t–
he wasn’t married, he didn’t have kids, he
was a very solitary person, and that comes through
in his writing often. So, you know, a few kids
around the house might have, would have, might have changed
his writing in interesting ways.>>So someone like Alan
Turing comes to mind. He really was the driving force
behind the first mechanical computing models. And his work during World
War II saved a lot of lives by breaking the Nazi code. Would you say that’s sort of
an example of where technology, you know, had a very profound
impact on the quality of life of maybe everybody by ending
that war two years early, and possibly changing
the outcome entirely?>>Oh, in an objective
sense, absolutely. Again, we have to distinguish
between sort of the objective, the objective quality of life
and the more subjective issues of how am I developing as a
person, or, you know, am I, am I happy, am I in a good
place as an individual. From an objective standpoint,
Kierkegaard would say yeah, all this technology, this
knowledge has been great. His life certainly benefited. Denmark as a whole
certainly benefited. I mean, no one could deny that. His claim was that with these,
with the external improvements, which were all to the good,
they were, they were– they didn’t necessarily
impact the way that we thought about ourselves, in the way
that we developed as individuals in healthy ways, and
to a certain extent, could become distractions,
weren’t necessarily guaranteed to become distractions,
but he wanted to be careful about that, all right? So all the time that
I spend, well, I won’t address the Turing
example, because, of course, you know, ending World
War II was great, but on a smaller level,
you know, all the time that I spend looking
at my iPhone, that’s time that I could be
spending doing other things that are potentially
more substantive. And I’m there on my iPhone,
you know, googling things, thinking like, oh,
I’m becoming smarter, look at all this
information that I’m looking up at this exact moment. But am I really thinking
more clearly? Am I thinking at a deeper level? Am I, am I broadening,
am I broadening myself in more important ways? That’s the kind of question
that Kierkegaard wanted to ask.>>Thank you.>>I think we should
also consider the fact that World War II, as
it existed, wouldn’t– couldn’t have existed
to the disastrous extent that it existed without
the technology in the first place, right?>>Oh, that’s an
interesting way to take it.>>So that’s a great
way of looking at how technology
creates a big problem and then solves a big
problem, but is it a hero in solving a problem that it
created in the first place?>>That’s an interesting
way to flip it around. Good question. Other questions?>>We should probably discuss
a little bit about what– because what I’m sensing from
the questions is a confusion about maybe what Kierkegaard
intends by the word happiness and what we typically associate
with the word happiness, so we might think of it
as a psychological state that we could get into. Maybe we could use
technology to get ourselves into a technological state,
I mean, a psychological state of happiness through
VR or through drugs or something like that. And Kierkegaard has a
much different, you know, understanding of
what happiness is. And linking it with virtue,
right, is maybe what is missing so far in this discussion.>>I think that’s a good point. It’s certainly easier to see
the difference with virtue. I mean, if we limited the
discussion to that to say, has all this tech, has all this
technology made us better people as individuals, made us kinder,
more courageous, more ethical? It’s maybe easier to see
the difference there. Even on the subject of
happiness by itself, I think I’d be willing
to push it. I think Kierkegaard would
be willing to push it in the direction of
technology can create happiness. That’s why all of
us are using it more than we ever have before. But is it really creating
qualitatively new kinds of happiness or making
us happier overall? Again, are we, are we
as individuals happier than the generations who came
before who didn’t have Xbox and iPhones and what have you? It’s not that there’s, it’s
not that there’s any problem with using technology
to, for enjoyment. This is why half
of it is designed. But to then, to then
make the leap that this is creating a
qualitatively new kind of happiness or improving
us in some way, that’s what Kierkegaard
wants to warn against. [ Inaudible ] People have certainly tried. There are lots of, there
are lots of surveys. It’s a really good question. And it’s a– or, is
there a follow-up? Sure. [ Inaudible ] That’s a good point too. I mean, we can only infer
based on how they reported. Actually, in that, in
that clarification, that very good clarification,
you’re getting at what are the crux of the
issues in that we can’t even, you know, we can do surveys
amongst our contemporaries about are you happy or
what makes you happy. We can try to get to
the bottom of that. And there are hundreds if not
thousands of marketing officials and sociological institutes
that attempt to do just that. Think about the news reports
that come out every year about the rankings of the
happiest countries, right? You know, Scandinavia is always
there up top, ironically enough, since they’re a depressed
alcoholic people. [ Inaudible ] But even, but even in, even in
talking to each other in a room, you know, face-to-face even,
how can we really tell what is, what is– whether
someone is happy or not? And this is, this is
really at the core of what Kierkegaard is trying to
get at, is that it’s hard enough for me to look in the mirror
at myself and say, am I happy? If so, why? Much less be able
to make predictions about whether somebody
else is happy, right? There’s a mystery in all
directions there at this point.>>And there also seems to be in
Kierkegaard a sense of the value of not being sort of like
deliriously happy, right? There’s, there’s more of a sense of the philosophical term
[foreign phrase] where you, you might not have– you might
not point to this person and say that person looks happy, but
they are more self-fulfilled, and therefore, and therefore, more happy from a
philosophical standpoint than– and that’s a hard thing to
like quantify or measure.>>It’s a good point as well.>>Do you think Kierkegaard
would respond to Peter Singer’s
version of utilitarianism, so as the greatest
good, greatest number?>>That’s a good question. Did you hear him,
did you hear him talk when he came here
a few years ago?>>I did, yeah.>>Okay, yeah, I remember
that, I remember that lecture. Kierkegaard was very suspicious
of crowds, if you saw in a few of the quotes that I
included in the presentation. So any of that kind
of utilitarianism, we’re measuring crowds
against an individual, Kierkegaard was skeptical
of that. He really, for a
variety of ways. But he wasn’t sure that
we were able to truly– I think Kierkegaard would
be suspicious of our ability to measure what was really
going on in a crowd and what, you know, and then
be able to compare it to what was happening
with an individual. It’s an interesting comparison.>>While we’re thinking
about it, you know, sociologists have metrics
that they use for happiness. And one way of getting
around the fact that we didn’t live 100
years ago or 1,000 years ago or 10,000 years ago is
to utilize the science of anthropology, because we can
find, we can find civilizations that are still existent
that live in ways that are similar to, you
know, older societies where they’re still
dealing with, you know, earlier versions of technology. So we can get some data,
right, on family life and how much time
people spend relaxing, how much time people have for
their own projects, right, and we can make a, we can make
kind of a diametric on happiness and see that, you know, in
a hunter/gatherer society with measurements
that we can take with actual hunter/gatherers
who are still living, we can see that they
spend, you know, nearly all of their day
hanging out with their family, whereas us in our culture
spend almost no time with our family, right? And so you can get a sense
of how happiness can– how, you know, we can ask this, we can ask a very
important ethical and philosophical question,
which is, is that good, right? Is it good that the
majority of the people on the planet don’t
spend a lot of time with their family anymore? Whereas humans, all humans up to this point spent
tremendous amounts of time with their family. And not just their
nuclear family, but their extended
family, right? So that would be
a way of getting at what Kierkegaard asked this
really important question, right, is this better? It is different, right? But is it better?>>Another interesting
way to frame it. And at the end of the day, what Kierkegaard really wants is
Kierkegaard wants individuals, you know, us as individuals
to look in the mirror and say, what’s going on with
my life, right? Even, you know, happiness
is not the be-all, end-all as Professor Sullins
mentioned, but even a question like am I happy, right,
and if you’re really asking that of yourself in a
profound and serious way, it’s a very difficult
question to answer. And then you move on to
other, really other questions, you know, am I a
virtuous person, am I– do I act with integrity? Does my life have meaning? Do I know what that meaning is? And am I working towards it
as hard as I should be, right? There are all those questions that an individual can only
truly ask of him or herself. And that’s what Kierkegaard was
constantly prodding his readers to do. He wasn’t necessarily
making an argument, saying, this is how I see the world, you
know, tell me what you think. He was, he was saying, I think
that there are a lot of people in the world who are not asking
themselves serious questions seriously enough, and I
hope that with my books, I’m able to prod them to do so. And he’s looking at,
you know, as we talked about during the presentation,
he sees a lot of things in the world, be it technology,
be it money, be it politics. He sees a lot of
these as being things that sometimes people think
help them move towards a deeper understanding of themselves,
or more profound understanding of how they should
live their lives. But, in fact, they’re
distractions. And that’s ultimately what
he’s cautioning against.>>Excellent. And that’s an excellent way to
end our discussion for today. We have a very short time to
talk about very deep subjects. [ Applause ] [ Music ]

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