That’s So Second Millennium
Ep 131 - Jordan Wales and the Moral Theology of AI

Ep 131 - Jordan Wales and the Moral Theology of AI

August 23, 2021
  1. Jordan Wales, PhD, who teaches theology at Hillsdale College in Michigan, spoke with Paul and Bill about his research at the intersection of robotics and religion.
  2. He discussed a compelling concern in the future relationship between human beings and technology. In particular, the concern, about which he spoke at the 2021 conference of the Society of Catholic Scientists, dealt with the interaction between individuals and the entities Wales calls “apparently personal artificial intelligence” (APAI).
  3. APAI products are already becoming commonplace in the world of commerce, as this BBC article discusses. People will be increasingly able to purchase, and interact with, virtual friends or babysitters or therapists, for example, Dr. Wales pointed out.
  4. This raises moral questions related to personhood, covering both the APAI product and the user of that product. The product will not have an inner life representative of what we think of as a person, although the definition of person has an interesting history influenced by scholars such as Saint Augustine. Human beings can express and influence their own understandings of personhood through their interactions with APAI. These understandings may lead to various types of interaction, ranging from pride and manipulation to excessive empathy, and one middle ground would consist of appreciation for the humanity that underlies the production and information/formation of the APAI product, Dr. Wales pointed out.
  5. As the use of APAI grows, there are also concerns about how the aggregated human “input” into the experience of APAI personalities may cause a flattening-out of human perspectives on the unique qualities of each person. One current example of the trajectory for these concerns comes from the use of the auto-correct feature by Google for writing. Long-term possibilities include such features of interactions not only affecting our choices of words and expressions, but also influencing what subjects we think about and how we think about them. This highlights the moral principle that ultimately we must retain our unique personal identities and wisely discern how to exercise our responsibility and restraint in allowing some possible applications of APAI to influence us, Dr. Wales said.
Episode 122 - Original Sin and Mental Unhealth

Episode 122 - Original Sin and Mental Unhealth

March 22, 2021

Paul and Bill discuss some of the ways in which human minds go wrong. Paul wonders aloud whether the state of spiritual disconnection called "original sin" is specifically manifested in the ways parents relate, or don't relate, to children and the problems that follow from that for the rest of our lives. We discuss Henri Nouwen (a little) and Eckhart Tolle (a little more) and his ideas on how enlightenment has cropped up here and there throughout history but gets suffocated by social conformism.

  1. Paul and Bill discussed a number of resources for pondering the nature of sin and how it affects our lives—as well as how people act based on their perceptions of sin in themselves and others. Without the Church’s wisdom and reliance on Christ’s grace, behaviors based on a misunderstanding or dismissal of sinfulness can distort our lives as individuals, in our minds and hearts, as well as our lives in society.
  2. The co-hosts concluded that we need to invest time throughout our lives to discern how sin—and a need for forgiveness and grace which is poorly grasped in secular society—in integrated in our mental and spiritual health. We cannot just set aside the matter of original sin and our ongoing inclination toward evil. We tapped into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, especially the paragraphs around #400 and beyond, for guidance to sort this out.
  3. Such guidance is important in countless cases, such as reflection on Jesus’ teaching on separating the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.
  4. We discussed The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker.
  5. Paul spoke of being pointed toward books by Henry Nouwen and commentary by Eckhart Tolle, a popular proponent of new-age syncretism with echoes of Christianity and Buddhism. He also spoke of exploring life-solutions propounded in EMDR therapy.
  6. He mentioned having found useful insights when exploring that therapy through Francine Shapiro’s Getting Past Your Past.
Episode 112 – A Happy Medium: By What Means?

Episode 112 – A Happy Medium: By What Means?

October 28, 2020
  1. Paul and Bill focused on the 2020 elections as a point of tragically little focus in discourse or reasoning—but a good starting point for wide-ranging conversation about humanity’s desperate search for balance, hope, and sustainability in our hearts and minds. The desire for a higher wisdom—a happy medium, a golden mean—has always been complicated by our focus on ourselves and our temptation to believe that we know best, the co-hosts pointed out. Bill pointed out that “fake news” was said to have made its first appearance in the Garden of Eden, courtesy of the serpent; that comment was made by Pope Francis in his 2018 reflections for World Communications Day.

  2. Society is operating in a state of radical uncertainty and unsustainable indebtedness among persons, but we forget the stabilizing recognition that we share an indebtedness to God—a responsibility to Him as our source and our only reliable resource. We have forgotten a lot about this, leaving us not only lost, but facing a steep price to pay as God’s children, Paul said. He referred to the story of King Josiah’ realization that he and his people had strayed from the laws of the Torah.

  3. People seeking personal goodness and the common good know we have made serious mistakes on our journeys and have perpetuated ignorance and poor judgment. Each successive generation has been left unprepared and unable to make difficult decisions that would point toward healing. Bill recalled G. K. Chesterton’s call for a nation’s responsibility to wisdom that whatever wisdom was being handed down via what he called “the democracy of the dead.

  4. But such respect for tradition is not one of humanity’s strong points. Paul pointed out that our podcast’s name points to a second millennium whose second half was marked by major departures from tradition for the sake of greater human creativity. The co-hosts discussed how any attainment of a golden mean has been lost in the pursuit of collaborative innovation—even though we fail to hone our ideas as humble learners and listeners. Meanwhile, any instinct to hold fast to the tried and true only traps us in cocoons of misguided, comfortable assumptions. The artificial “communities” we belong to through our digital culture are places not of roots which allow us to grow, but of simplified labels which mimic understanding, Bill said. He was drawing upon concerns about internet trends voiced by Pope Francis in his 2019 message for World Communications Day.

  5. Our political system does not encourage any sustained, constructive dialogue between the old and the new or between fresh, authentic perspectives. Paul pointed out that we are not presented with real choices despite the fact that parties and partisans paint themselves as sharply different. And Bill pointed out that one are of common ground so many leaders share is the use of pessimism and fear. He recalled the presidential campaigns where candidate Biden spoke of a dark winter ahead and candidate Trump portrayed himself as the alternative to anarchy and economic despair.

  6. When an incomplete knowledge of history leads to despair about the past and present of a society, it can seem like the structures undergirding that society are held up more by mass psychology than real accomplishments or aspirations, the co-hosts said. Our culture likes to exalt creativity in principle, but have we made it easier to see connectivity and possibilities, Paul asks. Bill, proving his fascination with papal teachings for World Communications Day, would point out that the 2020 message of Pope Francis highlights our need to pass along hopeful stories from generation to generation that begin with our dynamic, hopeful relationships with God. Paul reflected on how our childhoods do not always prepare us for the kinds of pursuits entailed in the career pursuits and panoramic interests of adulthood. In a world of limited, utilitarian perspectives, it is hard to find happy wanderers with big ideas looking for life’s happy mediums.

Episode 109 - Psychology & Spirituality of Crisis

Episode 109 - Psychology & Spirituality of Crisis

September 14, 2020

A solo episode from Paul. These are the notes I used... the audio is balanced differently.

Insight by Bernard Lonergan and 20/20 hindsight.

What else (besides the coronavirus and similar epidemics) are we not preparing for? Can we? We can't know all the unknowns, and it is somewhere between difficult and impossible to quantify the risks even for the things we can anticipate. Yet quantification is reasonable and laudable because individual lives do matter... the 1,000,001st victim of a tragedy just as much as the first.

Problem areas:

Education and the bureaucratic / engineering mentality "we already know everything we need to make a decision" and "let's do something to make it look like we're doing something."

Finance and the herd mentality. Bullwhip chains of overreaction in the face of unknown risks. A reacts semi-rationally to the situation, B overreacts to A's reaction, C overreacts to B, etc. Federal forgiveness, however good in itself, has the side effect of blinding banks to their own internal information channels regarding default rates, etc. Banks are looking around at employment figures and other data, guessing what to do, overreacting, looking at their peers and emulating the most extreme.

There are a lot of really tired people working in logistics right now.

Job seekers giving up due to pessimism and the difficulty in thinking statistically. It's hard for me to go ahead and spend the effort to do something when I know its individual success rate is well under 50%. Now things are worse. All that means is that more repetitions will be needed to achieve success. However, it is easy to fall into the fallacy of "it was hard before but worth trying; now it's harder and therefore not worth trying," making an all-or-nothing qualitative proposition out of something that in its nature is gradational and quantitative.

Hope really is a virtue.

Audio editing by Morgan Burkart.

Episode 106 - Beyond Heisenberg, the Principal Uncertainty

Episode 106 - Beyond Heisenberg, the Principal Uncertainty

July 27, 2020

...or as Paul wanted to put it, "Lies, D--d lies, and p-values."

  1. This episode contains a conversation between Paul and Bill in which you’ll learn new things about their experience in particular fields—geology and journalism, respectively—and where their zeal to harvest and connect information bumps up against troublesome uncertainty. You’re accustomed to hearing us as podcast co-hosts, sharing our  opinions and our interviews with experts to explore insights at the intersection of science, everyday human experience, and the values of theology and philosophy. We welcome an audience that, like us, hungers to understand the details that well-informed research provides—in light of the wonder, mystery, and uncertainty that we complex human creatures provide. We embrace deeper and broader consideration and communication, and these values feed into our “day jobs,” which involve writing, teaching, consulting, and more.
  2. Paul’s efforts to dig more deeply into the methods of purposeful scientific learning recently prompted him to enroll in a data-science “boot camp”—an intense, 12-week course offered by an organization called Metis. He wants to extract every bit of value from the oceans of data generated in this world. Or at least he wants the value that will serve his own colleagues and clients as he tackles projects and secondarily adds content to “Dr. G’s Blog,” named for him—Dr. Giesting. One of his guiding maxims is mentioned here: “No Data Left Behind.”
  3. (Testifying to the diversity of the “That’s So Second Millennium” duo, Bill likes to focus on story-telling for clients to describe various accomplishments of science and values, sometimes faith and reason. And he’s writing in his  OnWord.net blog these days about crucial times in our world today that will require rich knowledge and deliberation alongside problem-solving strategies marked by prudent, civil, inclusive dialogues and inquiries. This is an example of the approach he’s formulating. But today’s podcast draws its energy mostly from the Paul’s recent ruminations.)
  4. Those thoughts include a look back at something called the p-value.” Their discussion of p-values in the world of scientific statistics led Paul and Bill into consideration of the co-existence of intellectual rigors necessary to the practice of research and unavoidable uncertainties inherent in the real-world application of data-driven knowledge. That co-existence of firm principles and subjective interpretation turns out to be a phenomenon that both co-hosts have experienced in their respective fields. They agreed that the pursuit of more and more data, nurtured by practicality and idealistic values, is a beautiful thing, but it’s not always possible. In many cases where a specific project is choosing and using a finite set of data, the consumers of scientific or journalistic information have reason to quote the skeptic’s famous aphorism that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
  5. Bill cited examples from the past reporting of political polls, which too easily can neglect important  nuances that should influence an audience’s interpretation. Both Bill and Paul noted that, during the Covid-19 crisis, the public is seeing science and its generation of statistics play out in real time, with massive policy implications, and the practice of “objective” science now seems to many people as iffy and subjective as theology-based interpretations of the world. That’s ironic since observers have said the availability of scientific certainty and experiential knowledge has driven them away from religion as a poor, mythological substitute for reality.
  6. Neither co-host called for a dismissal of the knowledge gained through religion, philosophy, or  statistics; after all, in many policy matters surrounded by uncertainty, statistics are a huge part of the guidance empowering human reason. But there is much going on behind the scenes at every point in a statistics-driven exercise, with some of that context warranting caution in our binary decisions about importance and implementation. Paul acknowledged that he encountered this in preparing his capstone report for the Metis data-science program. Scientists have grappled with ways to assess the validity of some data, the replicability of some experiments, and the dominance of some assumptions about statistical analysis. Indeed, the “p-value” suggests good examples of doubts that have arisen.
  7. This podcast discussion did not unearth any solutions for doubts about statistical findings, but it did prompt a meeting of the minds. Both the scientist and the journalist determined that all of us seeking to optimize understanding for reasonable policies and practices must continue our zealous pursuit and values-informed stewardship of data.

Image by Oberholster Venita from Pixabay

Episode 105 – Dick Garrett: The Kids Are Smart Enough

Episode 105 – Dick Garrett: The Kids Are Smart Enough

July 13, 2020
  1. Paul and Bill welcomed Dick Garrett to our podcast. Find an overview of his distinguished career in this story about Dick’s zeal for researching and promoting education reform. (The story was written for Purdue’s College of Engineering by Bill last year.)
  2. Dick’s book, The Kids Are Smart Enough, So What’s the Problem?, traces his growing concerns about problems in public elementary education. Those concerns led to extensive research from a business executive’s perspective, applying systems analysis skills from his background in engineering. Our interview probed not only the findings from that research, but even more current knowledge of education reform efforts which Dick continues to harvest and share. He has created an online gallery of videos for the general public, explicating what he has learned about educational-outcome statistics and various efforts to improve the outcomes. The videos are part of his “Elevate Teachers” website, which champions robust investments to help both teachers and students succeed.  .
  3. Observed as systems established to give students the knowledge and skills they need, elementary schools face a number of challenges, Dick said. They include segments of young people whose daily classroom behavior is a major burden, requiring teachers to pull away from educating in order to focus on discipline during sizable portions of the school day. He says the lack of self-discipline stems from parenting experiences and other factors tied to low-income community conditions.
  4. Students exhibit the combination of discipline problems and poor academic achievement not because of low intelligence—there is no doubt that they are smart enough to perform well—but because educational systems don’t appropriately respond to gaps in their non-cognitive abilities, according to Dick. He says schools must get better at forming general traits he summarizes as character and grit. His book presents examples of educational approaches that have aimed to enhance those traits, making classroom success more likely for all students and teachers.
  5. Where that success is lacking, schools fall behind in graduating students with key competitive metrics—especially a grasp of reading and math skills. This shows up in poor rankings for United States schools in statistics tallied by the Program for International Student Assessment, the US Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, and other oversight mechanisms.
  6. A 2004 Public Agenda survey found that 85 percent of teachers felt new teachers were particularly unprepared to deal with disciplinary problems in their classrooms.
  7. A recent study by the Kirwan Commission yielded a comprehensive report on problems and prospective solutions in elementary education, and this became the basis of a legislative action plan for Maryland schools. The state government acted in early 2020 to approve funding for preliminary implementation of a major initiative based on Kirwan Report recommendations. Dick said one part of the plan envisions hiring 15,000 teachers. A major thrust of the plan is improved education of low-income children, including a cadre of teachers for smaller class sizes.
  8. One of Dick’s aspirations is to help in spreading the word about the Kirwan recommendations so that educational and governmental leaders elsewhere, such as his home states of Wisconsin and Indiana, will consider and implement similar proposals.

Episode 107 of “That’s So Second Millennium” next month will include part two of the interview with Dick Garrett. If you find the audio quality for this episode a little lacking, don't blame Morgan... she's on vacation this week. It's all Paul's fault (as usual).

Episode 102 - Diverse Isolation Stories Could Bring Us Together

Episode 102 - Diverse Isolation Stories Could Bring Us Together

May 25, 2020

Paul and Bill discussed autism—a subject that arose in Paul’s discussion with Pat Flynn in his own podcast.

John Ratey, popular psychologist, talks about how our sensory apparatus affects how we function in everyday life.

Paul’s comments on the subject of autism connect candidly with recollections from his early life.

Hilaire Belloc, a legendary British author of the early 20th century who wrote on many topics, famously was a friend and Catholic “fellow traveler” with G.K. Chesterton.

“Never waste a good crisis.” Bill says crises in our polity and society are often weaponized rather than used as a learning, community-building experience. This maxim, worded in different ways, has been attributed to various persons, from Rahm Emmanuel to Winston Churchill to Saul Alinsky. 

Image by Sukinah Hussain from Pixabay

Episode 100 - Hemispheres Playing God

Episode 100 - Hemispheres Playing God

April 27, 2020
  1. In this episode we begin with an unscheduled excursion into the realm of the neurobiology of the two hemispheres of the brain and the psychology of reparenting (with nods to our past conversations with Darcia Narvaez, and about codependency and Twelve Step work).
  2. We discussed the questions related to whether psychology based on a right-brain/left-brain dichotomy provides meaningful tools to increase self-understanding. Paul described his experience with opposite-hand-writing for self-discovery. One interpretation of this kind of experience—a reference for which this writer can provide no validated recommendation or criticism—was found here as an example of the approach, thanks solely to Google.
  3. We discussed whether the correct half of our brains is really in charge. This is just one of the many online articles you could read to learn more about the left brain-right brain relationships explored in various mentoring programs.
  4. Bill managed to segue into a different kind of dichotomy—the existential anxiety of the modern secularist, trying to be both relativist and moralist, and assuming impossible responsibilities; we believe God is not there, and we try to do God's job.
  5. The discussion included mentions of a book called The Master and His Emissary and NPR podcasts respectively called “Hidden Brain” and “”
  6. The Society of Catholic Scientists 2018 conference generated the artwork that serves as the illustration for these show notes.
  7. Audio editing by Morgan Burkart, bumper music by Vin Marquardt.

 

Episode 095 - Bridges Built by Song, with musician Micki Miller

Episode 095 - Bridges Built by Song, with musician Micki Miller

February 24, 2020
  1. Where can the search for connections between faith and science (that is, between the deeper sense of meaning in life we all crave and the tangible experiences that our five senses tell us are “real”) take us? Our podcast series today receives inspirational guidance from community-builder and up-and-coming recording artist Micki Miller. She helped us explore one universe of answers where no TSSM episode has gone before. That’s the realm of music.
  2. Micki Miller, born to pastors in South Bend, Indiana, writes, sings, and produces R&B and soul music that touches people’s hearts. You might say her work, which you can find on Amazon, You Tube, and Bandcamp, is instrumental in the even bigger picture of her life, grounded in a natural passion to bring people together around the words and sounds of authentic love songs.
  3. Micki and Bill serve on the board of directors of The Music Village, a community musical arts center and school in South Bend. This growing non-profit organization, known for innovative outreach, celebrates music and cultural expressions rooted in the diverse local and global traditions found in the “Michiana” region—sections of Indiana and Michigan neighboring Chicagoland.
  4. In this episode, Bill interviews Micki about her experience of connecting faith to minds and hearts with a tool kit that has grown along with her dedication to the power of music. The tools include the talent of a singer-songwriter and keyboardist to share sounds of the past and present, the technological skills supporting her local recording studio at the service of her own band and others, and an embrace of synergies among a wide array of people and imaginations.
  5. Micki talked with TSSM about the ability of music to keep injecting wonder and fresh thinking that can transcend a silo approach to science, religion, and other topics. She discussed this in the context of a retreat-and-recording session series she attends under the direction of DJ Jazzy Jeff, a producer who collaborates with actor Will Smith. News stories have mentioned Questlove (of The Roots seen on “The Tonight Show”) as an enthusiastic fan of Micki. Micki performs internationally, but her ties to family and friends keep her grounded in her hometown and in her efforts as a South Bend region community-builder.
  6. Paul mentioned that Bill’s favorite among Micki’s You Tube videos is her original song, “You,” performed at the ChiBrations studio in Chicago. (Paul may possibly mix that name up with the name of a musical group in the introduction.)

Addendum: Paul pointed out the official podcast series of Purdue University’s College of Engineering, “Sounds Like the Future.” Bill says it has been one of the great privileges of his journalism and media-consulting career to collaborate with the College in launching the podcast, and he notes it could not have taken shape without the production skills, academic insights, valued friendship, and “great radio voice” contributed by Paul. New episodes will be posted monthly.

Audio production for this episode by Morgan Burkart.

Episode 084 - Gold Masses, Politics As Religion, Jordan Peterson

Episode 084 - Gold Masses, Politics As Religion, Jordan Peterson

November 4, 2019
  1. This week Bill prods Paul along as he recovers from a massive proposal hangover. This week's episode is the end of a much longer conversation that may or may not otherwise remain on the cutting room floor about Jordan Peterson and other topics as far afield as Homestar Runner.
  2. We run down the list of Gold Masses that have been publicly announced to take place this coming month--featuring such highlights as a Mass celebrated by the Bishop of Bismarck, ND and a talk at Benedictine University in Lisle, IL on "The Mystery of Faith: from the Gold Mass to Gravity Waves."
  3. From there, we segue to discussing how in the contemporary world people try to fill to gaping hole left by religion with politics even more than science, and we finish with Bill's comments on one of Jordan Peterson's messages in an interview with Patrick Coffin on the essential role that living our own lives well plays in changing the world.
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