Monday, November 3, 2014

La Petite Mort - A Philosophy of Orgasm?

Our assigned topic to close the 2014 PK year is "Thanatos." We are reducing the topic down to "La Petite Mort," the little death that is orgasm. Consider in what ways sex and physical pleasure lurk beneath the surface of intellectual inquiry. We are less likely to ponder the implications of physical pleasure than to seek it out. Intellectual inquiry being as far removed from the flesh as it is, how unsurprising that we are subject to an alienation between the sexual and the intellectual.

But our most basic pleasures, derived from emphatically private bodily functions of sex and excretion, are a central and critical part of our life experience. The pleasurable sensation of emptying our bowel and bladder invites rumination beyond the evolutionary functionality. Sexual pleasure culminating in orgasm can be convincingly transcendent of our own consciousness. Perhaps orgasm is as worthy a philosophical issue as any we have discussed.

At our December 3 Kitchen, we will briefly consider the evolutionary biology of orgasm, both because it is quite interesting in itself and because it will allow us to move efficiently past the deconstruction phase of our discussion. And this gives us one more opportunity to ponder “what it’s like...” Orgasm fully lived vs. the neuropysiological mechanics of orgasm. "What it's like to experience orgasm" seems clarifying compared to“what it’s like to experience the color red.”

Alain De Botton’s recent book, “How to Think More about Sex” is an inviting pathway toward what we hope will be a serious intellectual consideration of orgasm. We will read Chapter II, sections 1-2 and Chapter III, sections 5-6, now posted to PK DropBox. The complete book is available on Amazon. We will post a few additional materials to the DropBox over the next few weeks, and look forward to seeing you at Joe’s home the evening of December 3.

Terry and Charles

Monday, October 6, 2014

Philosophy is Dead

Gidday Mates:

Thanks to Andrew for a most stimulating Camus Kitchen on Thursday!  Few can articulate their philosophy of living, of being fully human, the way Andrew can -- grabbing life with passion, demanding its full experience, and referencing it so respectfully to the inspiring writers and philosophers who have come before him.   He teaches us how to live.
And thanks to Joe, our generous "base camp" host, who throws parties for us all the time without seeming to think about it, and never shrinks from a good argument.  Joe, do thank Mary for her always delicious salad, the settings, the ambiance, etc.  
The next Kitchen will take place at my house (2495 Temple Hills Dr. -- about ten houses up from Joe's) at 6:30 pm on Wednesday October 29th.  Please email me a reply if you cannot make it.
The topic is, provocatively, "Philosophy is dead".  See here for an introduction and the readings/listening.  
Cheers to all.


Saturday, September 13, 2014


Dear All,

Our next meeting will be at Fergi’s house on Thursday, October 2ndnot on Wednesday.

We’ll read significant sections of Camus’ two short masterpieces of philosophical nonfiction—The Myth ofSisyphus and Other Essays and The Rebel—which are really of one piece (Camus planned them both in one shot, actually), and which will offer us a complete philosophical idea to discuss at our meeting. 
You can either buy the two books (we should all own them!), or Charles has generously uploaded highly-readable PDFs of them to Dropbox.
Camus wrote with precision and brevity; in total, our reading will amount to roughly the same number of pages, and the same density, as a novel by Coetzee.  But don’t wait until the last minute.  I recommend luxuriating in his beautiful thinking, starting now.

From The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, please read:
-All of “The Myth of Sisyphus” section except for the Appendix (about 123 pages in my copy)
-“Return to Tipasa”

From The Rebel, please read its introduction plus the following sections:
-I The Rebel
-II Metaphysical Rebellion
-V Thought at the Meridian

I’m really looking forward to seeing you and to this discussion!

My best to you all,


Friday, September 5, 2014


Roger addresses the ridiculous and growing gap between the top of the economic spectrum and the rest of the population, what that means, where it is going and what we might hope to do about it. Read this and see Inequality For All.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Contemporary Culture in the USA


The topic of this discussion will be ethos, defined (I believe, appropriately) by the Etymology Dictionary as "...moral character, nature, disposition, habit, custom..."
For the sake of this month's kitchen, let's contextualize ethos to the general mores of contemporary culture in the USA, its collective disposition, and its general way thinking and living.
Those of you who have started Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman know he has a thing or two say about contemporary culture in the US. In his work as a consultant, he had nearly four decades at observing American culture, uniquely, from the perspective as a licensed family therapist, a business consultant, a government consultant, and consultant to the US military, and a pulpit rabbi. 
So...let's do this. 
For those of you who have read according to my last email, we'll have plenty to talk about!
For those of you who haven't gotten that far (hopefully many of you), let us focus on chapters one and two, specifically pages 1-61. (If you would like, you can continue to read the remainder of chapter two.)


Monday, May 19, 2014

How Ought We to Live

The materials for the next Kitchen are attached. As I'm sure you recall, the original session label was the Philosophy of Kindness, but I've come to prefer the theme Andrew introduced at the retreat - "How Ought We to Live".

Let me briefly explain the attachments.
This brief PDF document contains the following sections:
  • An opening that contains potential session discussion topics with a few relevant thoughts on kindness
  • A few short readings that consider kindness from a few points of view, including how it is treated in philosophy and possible physiological reasons for the abuse of power - or the opposite of kindness.
  • A collection of short thoughts of kindness
There are also two videos attached. The  first is a discussion of a topic which we reviewed at the retreat - is kindness universal. The second link leads to a series of wonderfully heartwarming videos showing random acts ofkindness that Terry "kindly" sent to me.

Looking forward to seeing everyone next week.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Toward a Science of Consciousness 2014

Why does it feel like anything to be you? Is it like anything to be your cat, your dinner or your smartphone? What if someone built a robot that looked and behaved so exactly like you that nobody could tell you apart? Would that robot be conscious? Is subjectivity an emergent neurobiological effect or is it something metaphysical, like an immortal soul? These are the most important of all possible questions, right? A significant part of human history has been devoted to pondering these questions and acting out the answers that different philosophical, religious and political communities have come up with over the ages. The fact is that motivated people will eventually answer every question they consider, whether there is any genuine information on which to base their answers or not. In the case of consciousness there is no objective information available at all, other than the raw fact that it feels like something to be you, so all these answers have been cooked up in a vacuum and sustained for centuries without any feedback. This accounts for the mind-boggling array of contradictory opinions about what consciousness is and what that says about our identity and fate.

Until very recently consciousness appeared to be the same as intelligence, which led to what philosophers call The Mind/Body Problem. But in the same way molecular biology and genetics finally explained life as a chemical process, neuroscience and the cognitive sciences are now explaining intelligence and mind in ordinary physical terms, although not subjectivity itself. Philosophers call this The Hard Problem and no real scientific progress has yet been made on it. Don't believe any of the opinions you hear about what it means to be conscious; they are all wrong or hopelessly simplistic. This means that you are not necessarily just a machine hurtling toward death, which is as good as it gets. It may not be clear at first why this is good news, but it is. Trust me.

This month in Tucson marks the 20th anniversary of Toward a Science of Consciousness, which is a multi-disciplinary academic conference devoted to a scientific understanding of subjectivity. When the conference was formed in 1994 there was a great deal of optimism and an assumption within the conference community that a scientific understanding of consciousness was possible and would be forthcoming in the following decades. Twenty years later absolutely no positive progress has been made and no promising hypotheses have been offered, although enormous progress has been made in neurobiology and the cognitive sciences. Although the mystics and the kooks were visible at the TSC conferences from the beginning, their prominence has been increasing as the scientific side of the investigation more and more clearly falters. Deepak Chopra will be one of the main attractions at the conference again this year, as he was for the first time at the Tucson conference in 2012. This year all of the distinguished scientists that have worked on the problem of consciousness over the last two decades will return to Tucson to reflect and share their perspectives, which I will attempt to summarize at our next Kitchen on 4/30 at my house. Going forward I am sure the kooks will take over the conference completely and I do not expect to follow this thread any further.

In preparation for our Consciousness Kitchen on 4/30, please read David Chalmers' classic paper Facing Up To The Hard Problem Of Consciousness, which frames the scientific problem of subjectivity in the clearest possible terms. The essential point of The Hard Problem is to distinguish the problem of consciousness from the "easy" problems of intelligence, thinking and mind. For those of you who are interested in a broad perspective on the various theories of consciousness that have been fielded over the years, I have included a summary from the Standard Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

I have created a separate blog for the TSC 2014 conference in case you want to follow my thoughts about the conference and its contents as it unfolds. I look forward to talking through all of this fascinating material at our Kitchen on 4/30!