As many readers know, Dr. Leonard Peikoff gave a special Q&A session for attendees of OCON 2008 on July 2, 2008. I’ve chosen to summarize a few selected questions, not necessarily in the order that they were asked. These are paraphrases from my notes and not verbatim quotes, so any errors or inadvertent inaccuracies are purely my own, not his. He took a mixture of nearly 40 written and spoken questions. The session lasted 90 minutes, with a 5 minute intermission halfway through.
He and the ARI established a few ground rules ahead of time. In particular, he stated that he wouldn’t comment on the 2008 Presidential election. He also gave an update on the status of his forthcoming book on the DIM hypothesis as well as his podcasting activities. Overall, he was in an cheerful benevolent mood, and there were many touches of humor that I can’t easily capture in this blog post. His mind was razor sharp, and it was good to see him at his best.
I don’t know if an audio recording of this session will be subsequently released as a CD from the Ayn Rand Bookstore or on his podcast. If I learn more, I’ll post an update.
My own comments will be in square brackets (““).
Book update: The book is going both “badly” and well. It is going “badly” in the sense that he has completed a preliminary draft of the entire book, but now has to do a lot of heavy editing of the earlier chapters.
It is going well in the sense that he is now fully convinced of the correctness of his DIM hypothesis, based on the research he has done. And he is enjoying the writing process and is happy with the quality of the work. The book should be completed by Christmas 2010 at the very latest.
Podcast update: He enjoys doing the podcast tremendously. He is pleased with the quality of the questions and believes that the questions submitted are of better quality than in the past. He is also happy with the improved audio quality. He hopes that his answers are spurring his listeners to pursue some of these ideas in greater depth by looking for more information in the rest of the Objectivist literature. Also, he finds the podcasting to be a nice break from his book writing.
The podcasts will now be available on iTunes, which any users can subscribe to for free!
[I think this is terrific news, since this will make it easier to transfer files back and forth from my iPod, rather than having to do the downloads through the Peikoff.com website.]
Q) What philosophical or cultural trend is the most dangerous?
Q) Will the rise of environmentalism and the subsequent loss of freedoms bring us to a society like that portrayed in Anthem?
A) Yes and no. Environmentalism does pose a danger to our freedoms. But the society depicted in Anthem is a fictional one which projects the idea of collectivism in its purest form. In our case, he believes that a different bad outcome would be more likely — one in which we are ruled by a Pope rather than a “Council of Scholars”.
Q) Who are the “low hanging fruit” most likely to be receptive to Objectivist ideas, i.e., the best targets to reach?
A) In his experience, young people between ages 17-29. Before age 17, they are generally too young and not ready to digest these ideas. After age 30, they are more likely to stop thinking as they will have finished deciding their basic values. With respect to specific professions, he’s noticed that engineers, computer people, and doctors seem to be disproportionately represented in Objectivist circles.
Q) What are your favorite artworks in the following specific categories — novel, play, painting, sculpture, and song?
A) His favorites are:
Novel – Atlas Shrugged
Play – Cyrano de Bergerac
Painting – The Creation of Adam (Michelangelo)
Sculpture – The Dying Slave (Michelangelo)
Song – He doesn’t know which is his favorite, but it’s not “God Save the King” (the first song title that popped into his head when he heard the question).
Q) As a gay Objectivist, there seem to be a disproportionate number of other gays in the Objectivist community relative to the population at large. Is there an explanation for this?
A) “Is that a problem?” [Lots of laughter, and the questioner said, no that wasn't a problem at all for him.] Basically, it’s hard to know if there actually is over-representation or under-representation given the small numbers. Perhaps if there were 20 million Objectivists we could ask the question and attempt an answer. But the numbers are currently too small to attempt to answer this question or even to know if the premise is true.
Q) Is there a proper role for government in environmental issues where there are collective action questions — for instance, issue of pollution where no single source causes a provable harm, but the aggregate of millions of polluters is a source of harm?
A) If a single polluter can be shown to be the cause of a provable harm to another, then this should be addressed through the courts — i.e., the polluter can be sued for damages.
On the other hand, in the cases where an industrial society inherently generates in aggregate a level of pollution that may cause harm, but no single individual’s pollution is a provable source of harm, then there is no role for government intervention. A person can’t take the benefits of living in an industrial society (such as advanced medical technology that lets people to live to age 75 rather than dying at age 25), then also complain that the government should stop the Los Angeles smog that causes his eyes to water.
If you don’t want to live in LA, then the proper response is to move away, not ask the government to impose environmental regulations.
[Obviously this opens up a number of interesting secondary issues, but he did not pursue this further.]
Q) Is the word “Shrugged” in “Atlas Shrugged” a verb or an adjective?
A) It’s a verb. “I can’t imagine a sentence in which ‘shrugged’ would be used an adjective.”
Q) Is it legitimate for a person to make a career of theoretical science, without regard to practical application? Or must there be some attempt at application for this to be a legitimate activity?
A) As an individual scientist, this can be a totally legitimate activity. This can be part of a division of labor where someone pursues advances in theory without necessarily concerning himself with how it can be applied, whereas others use their minds to develop applications.
In a free society, someone concerned purely with theory might find it difficult to obtain funding, since most businesses would want to pay for research with some eventual practical applications. But if he had his own source of private funding or if that was how the division of labor was made, then this is fine.
From the perspective of man as such, it is not a legitimate endeavour to pursue pure theory without regard for any practical application that would benefit man’s life in some way. But from the perspective of the individual scientist, a division of labor into theoreticians vs. applied scientists can be entirely legitimate.
Q) What is your favorite episode of The Twilight Zone?
A) The episode “A Nice Place to Visit“, because of the deep philosophical content presented in an engaging way accessible to all viewers. He also likes the Twilight Zone series as a whole due to the good dialogue and characterizations, as well as brilliant plot twists.
[Larry Salzman notes that the full 30-minute episode can be found here on the CBS website. Thanks, Larry!]
Q) Do you have any advice on how to achieve cultural change for the better?
A) Nothing more than Ayn Rand has already said in her essay, “What Can One Do?”. Namely, to write, speak out and advocate good ideas in the appropriate contexts.