In the three days before the regular Summer Seminar, I attended the small graduate-seminar-style Advanced Seminar. On the second day (6/27), I presented my paper “Excuses Excuses: Undermining Moral Growth in the Concealment of Wrongdoing.” My 15 minute presentation at the opening went fine, and the discussion was good as well. We mostly focused on self-deception, particularly on the validity of the psychological literature indicating that self-deception is an integral part of high self-esteem. On the whole, the other participants seemed pleased with my paper, both in argumentation and scholarship. My only regret about the session is that it was not recorded, as I find my memory of it (despite my notes) far too fuzzy to be of any use in editing my paper. If only I had thought to bring my tape recorder! (I wonder how well it would have picked up sound in the room.)
I very much enjoyed the other five sessions of the Advanced Seminar. The quality of the papers has improved every year, which has in turn improved the quality discussion. I was particularly excited to see good papers from some of the younger Objectivists: Jason Raibley, Jason Walker, and Christopher Robinson. (Those papers should be made available through the TOC web site sometime soon.) The increasing success of the Advanced Seminar makes me hopeful that the TOC can effectively cultivate and support young scholars.
So now onto the regular six-day Summer Seminar! Since I’m an egoist, I’ll once again start with a report on my own lectures. :-)
I gave seven lectures in the six days of the seminar. Starting on Sunday (6/30) and ending on Friday (7/5), I gave a one-hour lecture every morning at 8:30 AM for my “Objectivism 101” course. On Thursday (7/4), I also gave my one-and-a-quarter-hour lecture “White Lies, Black Lies.” It was, without a doubt, a grueling week. Merely gearing myself up to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning was difficult enough. But the stress and difficulty was compounded by the fact that I was finishing up these lectures throughout the week. As a result, I was almost unbearably sleep-deprived over the course of almost two weeks.
But despite these difficulties, my lectures went very well. I was personally very pleased with the results, both in terms of content and presentation. Those attending my lectures seem to have been pleased too, as I got an almost overwhelming amount of praise for my work. I certainly didn’t expect or even dream of such an enthusiastic response! (Of course, I’ll find out what people really thought in reading the comment cards…)
I have to attribute much of the success of the lectures to my seven months in Toastmasters. Cultivating my skills of public speaking at Titan Toastmasters every week has provided me with some obvious benefits: weaning me from my lecture notes, reducing (but not yet eliminating) ums and ahs, cultivating my skills of speechwriting, improving eye contact and purposeful gestures, and so on. All of these improvements were a critical part of the quality of my lectures this year. But the deep-down benefit of Toastmasters was that these skills have become so habitual that I could speak confidently and easily despite the intense stress and inadequate speech practice. (I only practiced each of my speeches once or twice, if that, instead of the normal six times.) My speaking this year was really a mind-bogglingly dramatic change from the previous two years. I still have much work to do in Toastmasters, but to so concretely see my progress was absolutely delightful!
As for the overall experience, I would say that the seminar was something like giving birth, in that the memory of the pain was washed away in a huge rush of endorphins afterwards. So on the one hand, the seminar was definitely extraordinarily difficult, both mentally and physically. Wednesday night, the night before my “White Lies, Black Lies” talk, was particularly horrendous. I was trying to finish up my lecture notes, but I was simply too nauseated to think, thanks to the previous week of sleep deprivation. I remember thinking something along the lines of “a body can’t feel much worse than this and still function…” (And that means something from someone who regularly suffers migraines!) But in the aftermath of my lectures came a huge endorphin rush, thanks to my own and others’ pleasure in my performance. That rush dulled and faded all those horrible memories of the pain, such that what stands out in my mind is now just the pleasure of the accomplishment.
As far as other Summer Seminar lectures, here’s a few (in random order) that I would particularly recommend buying on tape when they become available through TOC Live:
- The Psychology of Belief: Reason, Faith, and the Human Mind” by Ken Livingston. A remarkable explanation for why religious beliefs are so prevalent and why people claim those beliefs to be based upon reason and experience rather than faith.
- “Virtue Ethics” by Shawn Klein. A clear overview of virtue ethics, including its strengths and shortcomings with respect to the Objectivist ethics.
- “The Cardinal Values of Reason, Purpose, and Self” by Will Thomas. A great theoretical and practical explication of one of the great mysteries of the Objectivist ethics: the three cardinal values.
- “An Objectivist Account of the Nature of Numbers” by David Ross. An insightful and clear look at the way in which concepts of numbers are formed — and thus why mathematical truths seem more certain than other sorts of truths.
- “Why Political Beliefs are Irrational” by Mike Huemer. An investigation into the economics and psychology that entrenches people in irrational political beliefs.
I heard many good things about other lectures, but I can’t comment or recommend since I didn’t hear them personally.
In sum: I’m very pleased with the work I did for and at the seminar. And I am very much looking forward to next year, when I only have to do some minor editing and tweaking to the “Objectivism 101″ lectures. Perhaps then I’ll have some time for hanging out with friends in the common room! Oh, and for luxuriously long nights of sleep too…
Update: Due to serious philosophic and moral objections, I am no longer associated with The Objectivist Center in any way, shape, or form. My reasons why can be found on my web page on The Many False Friends of Objectivism.