Currents 067: Zak Stein on Ending Nihilistic Design

Jim talks with recurring guest Zak Stein about the Consilience Project’s article “Technology is Not Values Neutral: Ending the Reign of Nihilistic Design.” They discuss how technologies actualize & encode values, 2nd- & 3rd-order effects of technologies, the “invisible hand” approach to design, effects of cars on culture, landscapes, & sexuality, the work of historian of technology Lewis Mumford, how smartphones affect structures of communication & cognition, how the bathroom scale changed the meaning of health, clock time & capitalism, the deskilling tradeoff of technology, how Facebook became a case study in nihilistic design, the difficulty of predicting nth-order effects, monitoring & predicting psychosocial externalities, Jim’s role in early social-media design choices, axiological design, our accidental planetary computational stack, developing co-responsibility in tech, whether banning advertising could change everything, 5 propositions towards axiological design, thinking about tech & its users in the whole context, and much more.

Zachary Stein is a writer, educator, and futurist working to bring a greater sense of sanity and justice to education. He studied philosophy and religion at Hampshire College, and then educational neuroscience, human development, and the philosophy of education at Harvard University. While a student at Harvard, he co-founded what would become Lectica, Inc., a non-profit dedicated to the research-based, justice-oriented reform of large-scale standardized testing in K-12, higher-education, and business.

He has published two books. Social Justice and Educational Measurement was based on his dissertation and traces the history of standardized testing and its ethical implications. His second book, Education in a Time Between Worlds, expands the philosophical work to include grappling with the relations between schooling and technology more broadly. He writes for peer-reviewed academic journals across a range of topics including the philosophy of learning, educational technology, and integral theory. He’s a scholar at the Ronin Institute, Co-President and Academic Director of the activist think-tank at the Center for Integral Wisdom, and scientific advisor to the board of the Neurohacker Collective, as well as a co-founder of The Consilience Project.

Currents 066: Matthew Pirkowski on Emergence in Possibility Space

Jim continues his discussion with Matthew Pirkowski on ideas of emergence and how they can be applied to today’s meta-crisis. They discuss the meaning of emergence, treating potential as ontologically real, exaptation & meta-adaptation, path dependency in the history of science, the naivety of closed systems, the apparent tension between energy efficiency & energy production, how GameA status signaling limits solution space, slack in metabolism & civilization, how greater energy inputs could synchronize with regenerative agriculture, carbon tax as a signal, the infosphere substrate of human self-organization, inertia vs conertia, artifactual membranes old & new, humanity’s giant exaptic leap into a new possibility space, destabilization & continuity of creative expression, the tradeoff between exploration & exploitation, unifying mathematics, thermodynamics, & free energy mathematics, systems as model-generating agents, the representation of values & the lack of telos in online interaction spaces, an invitation to collaborate, and much more.

Matthew Pirkowski works at the intersection of software, psychology, and complex systems. These interests first took root while studying Evolutionary Psychology and assisting with Behavioral Economic research at Yale’s Comparative Cognition Laboratory. From there Matthew began a career in software engineering, where he applied these interests to the development of software interfaces used by millions around the world, most notably as a member of Netflix’s Television UI team, where he worked on experimental initiatives conceptualizing and prototyping the future of entertainment software. Presently, Matthew consults on systems architecture, advises companies within the startup space, and writes about topics related to the evolution of human socioeconomic, technological, and representational systems–in particular the emergence and impact of cryptoeconomic protocols, as outlined in his Crypto Beyond Capitalism essay series. He spends most of his free time maintaining, restoring, and growing food on 6 recently acquired acres of Oregon woodlands.

EP 161 Greg Thomas on Untangling the Gordian Knot of Race

Jim talks with Greg Thomas about American democracy & the problems created by racial essentialism & racialization. They discuss the Jazz Leadership Project, jazz as metaphor, the connection between racism & the concept of race, the slave trade’s role in producing racial essentialism, Bacon’s Rebellion & subsequent divide-and-conquer legislation, justifications for exploitation, the horrors of chattel slavery, a mutual love of Stanley Crouch & Fifties jazz, transcending race & including culture, Albert Murray’s “omni-American identity,” 3 foundational American archetypes, the developmental challenge of overcoming tribalism, legacy media’s structural bias toward conflict, why Ibram X. Kendi & Robin DiAngelo’s anti-racist books reify race, the blues as tragicomic & affirmative, varieties of racism, the impact of not thinking & acting in racial terms, appropriation as the way culture works, searching for something better than the past, and much more.
Greg Thomas is CEO of the Jazz Leadership Project. He curates and facilitates business workshops and humanities programs for a range of organizations, including JPMorgan Chase, Verizon, NYPD, TD Bank, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Google. He’s written on jazz and democratic life for AreoNew RepublicThe RootNew York Daily NewsThe Developmentalist, and his blog, Tune In To LeadershipGreg is a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Cultural Evolution and an Advisor to The Consilience Project. As an educator, he has presented on virtual platforms such as Rebel Wisdom and The Stoa, and served as a lead instructor for courses on Cultural Intelligence and “Stepping Up: Wrestling with America’s Past, Reimagining Its Future, Healing Together.” He’s also a co-producer of the annual “Shaping an Omni-American Future” event. Greg has lectured at institutions such as Columbia, Hamilton, Ben Gurion University, and Harvard.