102 episodes

The primary objective of The Helix Center for Interdisciplinary Investigation is not to obtain knowledge, per se, but to aspire to an unhurried search for wisdom, emphasizing the centrality of a sense of wonder in this endeavor.

Philosophically, we stand against the trivialization of thought and the balkanization within and between the sciences and the arts. Fundamental to our promotion of these views is our roundtable format of open, spontaneous discourse, one facilitating novel encounters of questioning and understanding among participants. Each program endeavors to expand the boundaries of inquiry by facilitating a creative encounter with uncertainty in the face of scientific and artistic advances. To further nurture opportunities for creative social and intellectual exchange, we also sponsor musical performances, poetry readings, film screenings, and other opportunities for imaginative experience.

Visit https://www.helixcenter.org for more!

The Helix Center The Helix Center

    • Science

The primary objective of The Helix Center for Interdisciplinary Investigation is not to obtain knowledge, per se, but to aspire to an unhurried search for wisdom, emphasizing the centrality of a sense of wonder in this endeavor.

Philosophically, we stand against the trivialization of thought and the balkanization within and between the sciences and the arts. Fundamental to our promotion of these views is our roundtable format of open, spontaneous discourse, one facilitating novel encounters of questioning and understanding among participants. Each program endeavors to expand the boundaries of inquiry by facilitating a creative encounter with uncertainty in the face of scientific and artistic advances. To further nurture opportunities for creative social and intellectual exchange, we also sponsor musical performances, poetry readings, film screenings, and other opportunities for imaginative experience.

Visit https://www.helixcenter.org for more!

    Stress

    Stress

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    A testament to its ubiquity, STRESS is woven into our very words, our thoughts and our emotions. We stress words to give them emphasis. We stress wood to make it stronger rather than splinter. And we feel distress, both when overwhelmed with dread, but also sometimes in joyous anticipation. 



    The chase creates stress. Loss and failure create stress. Even attaining the prize, whether chosen or befallen, can also deliver stress, and plenty, along with its winnings. 



    Change often means stress. Stress is the white noise of life, whether we perceive it or somehow manage to habituate to it. 



    Of late our culture has grown more attuned to the semiotics of stress, as it expresses itself in our brains and guts, our minds and bodies, our spirit and imagination. When it derives from a goal achieved, it may serve as fuel. But, with a pain inflicted, when choice is not possible, when we are the object rather the subject, stress corrosively imprints identity and erodes our resilience and potential for realization. 



    Current research reveals the severe effects of stress on the brain. It halts development, hinders plasticity, and entangles and ensnares the inner workings of our cells. Stress is tantamount to aging, and in excess it hastens the aging of our bodies and minds. At the level of society, persecution and bullying, neglect and injustice, scarcity and want, all inflict both individual and collective stress. 



    As a response to its presence, as individuals we move our bodies, amuse our minds, contain our impulses in meditation, create and enjoy music and art, arrange social engagements, and seek the sublime muse that Nature can be. We strive to redress sources of communal stress – through activism, a commitment to justice, and the lifting of noisome prejudices.



    We invite you to relieve yourself of weekend stress by joining inspiring researchers and seekers as they describe the problems and seek solutions to stress. 

    • 1 hr 43 min
    Panacea or Poison: Placebos and Nocebos in Modern Medicine

    Panacea or Poison: Placebos and Nocebos in Modern Medicine

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    Placebos “work” for quite a few medical problems. But how? And what is the work they do?



    What one thinks a medicine is capable of, one’s idea of that medicine, may affect us in the way “proper” medicines do. This implies that, in observing the work of a placebo we are watching an idea affect biology, the mind moving the body.



    Despite the dualist notions this description elicits, where mind and body are held as separate entities, most neuroscientists, generally of a monistic bent, welcome the challenge of the placebo effect. Most insist that placebos precisely demonstrate that the mind is one with the body. Yet, fabulous stories of placebo cures, both astounding and well-confirmed, produce the evidence but not yet a complete account linking belief to cure. By what mechanisms do our thoughts affect our health? Are placebos a special case of how ideas impact our physical selves; or rather, does this open a window into how all thinking works?



    The inverse of the placebo, the nocebo effect, produces rather than mitigates symptoms. Here an inert substance believed to be a “poison” can essentially poison us. More commonly, physicians worry about “suggestibility,” when, for example, a patient insists “if anyone will get that side-effect, it’ll be me.” At the same time, many patients refuse to consider that their “psychology” has anything to do with the symptoms they experience. But if we wish to move away from the notion that the nocebo effect is “all in one’s head,” what then is suggestibility? What accounts for the range of responses in the population to the placebo and nocebo effects?History chronicles the universal desire to stave off illness, to lesser or greater degrees a concern of all cultures. What we now refer to as the placebo effect evolved out of the mythical and magical practices of the shaman. But, with a modern belief system less conducive to shamanism, the “inert” placebo is often viewed as deceptive. Might we yet arrive at an ethical reliance on placebo treatment, both to determine and then harness their evident value in promoting emotional and physical health?

    • 1 hr 41 min
    Populism

    Populism

    ***Due to coronavirus, this roundtable will be hosted virtually.



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    “Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”



    – James Madison, Federalist Paper No. 10



    Populism refers to the political mobilization of “the people” against a perceived elite caste of professional politicians. And whereas a corps of elected representatives was Madison’s and Hamilton’s buffer against the tyranny of factions, from time to time the political class may come to be viewed as insufficiently attentive to the needs of their constituents and then become the target and nidus that creates a populist movement.



    What causes such mass movements and are they usually kept in check by the designs laid out in the Federalist Papers? What sorts of perceived failures on the part to the ruling class may provoke such movements, and when do these factors lead to right- versus left-wing populism? When do such movements form around notions of nationalism, classism, religion, xenophobia, or domestic oppression? Do anomie, alienation, or social humiliation play a role? What has been the effect of social media in catalyzing populist movements around the globe?

    • 1 hr 45 min
    The Many Minds of Memory

    The Many Minds of Memory

    ***Due to coronavirus, this roundtable will be hosted virtually.



    Memory is not a dusty cellar, open treasure chest, or sealed pandora’s box. It is a dynamic process, a stream of renditions and reflections. It conveys to us not what strictly happened, but embeds us in a retained internal moment, in an external encounter, or an imprint from another’s story. Memory re-enforces, revises, re-edits, and re-interprets as we grapple with the present and look forward to the imminent and not so immediate future. Memory is paradoxical: privately phenomenological and yet irreducibly entwined in family or group, subjective yet sculpted by others’ reflections; reflected in one’s mirror yet refracted through the lens of a culture, religion, and history. Our memory may resonate with the memories of others, individual and collective, and become thereby fortified, annexed, or diluted.



    Implicit memories are subliminal, subconscious, often dormant in the body of an organism until awakened by association, affordance, and circumstance. Explicit memories, on the other hand, form the quilt-like narratives of ourselves.



    The past may magnify or muffle the presence of our current selves. And it can do both. Throughout life, we form and reform particular memories from a protean sort of raw material, from the freshly perceived and from the recycled and reverberated. Memory can embitter and it can bring wisdom. It can soothe, entertain, or distress and re-traumatize. 



    Whether implicit or explicit, positive or negative, we fear the loss of memory, both the short and the long term, and experience it as a theft of personhood, a ghostly vanishing of the self amidst recognized others and familiar settings. Simple lapses of recall can be frightening for some, an omen of a coming loss of one’s being in the world. 



    The neuroscientist Gerald Edelman described consciousness as “the remembered present”, a dynamic, emergent, and ongoing narrative by which we continue the search to find ourselves both in the universe of generations, and our singular lived lives. 

    • 1 hr 35 min
    Ethics & AI

    Ethics & AI

    ***Due to coronavirus, this roundtable will be hosted virtually.



    Justice is blind, the saying goes, which means that a person’s particulars – their social status, race, gender, etc. – should have no bearing on fair judgement in any legal dispute. By this standard, we are all considered equal before the law. In A Theory of Justice, the philosopher John Rawls proposed the following thought experiment: what kind of society and government would you choose if you did not know beforehand the role you would play in that society? Imagining yourself an anonymous, “random” person — raceless, genderless, and classless — in other words “blinded” to your own particulars, what would you endorse as the fairest system for the distribution of assets, of opportunity and obligation for the citizenry? And now imagine Justice wearing Xray glasses! Artificial Intelligence has arrived, and by hoovering up personal data at an increasing rate, data we are often even unaware of “emitting” — the rhythm of daily movement and sleep, vocal patterns and word choice frequencies — we have begun to disclose information that in many instances exceeds what we know about ourselves. To the holders of this information we are the furthest thing from anonymous. Now consider how this utter loss of anonymity might ultimately impact how society distributes assets and opportunity, and how it dictates each individual’s obligation to the state. Machine learning and other AI algorithms are being used in a wide variety of contexts, including medical and legal decision-making, in addition to ad targeting, mortgage risk and sentencing recommendation systems, etc. The existing database already creates a cyber-profile for each of us at a level of resolution inconceivable just a decade ago. And then, of course, computers are inference engines, and these high-resolution profiles spit out predictions about our choices and behaviors that we have no role in vetting. Based on this “number crunching” we may be thrown into categories we did not even know existed, with important implications.



    And then there is the worry: will AI serve us in our best interest? The fictional HAL 9000 computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was designed to serve mankind but ran dramatically afoul of this credo. Should we begin now to consider the rules of engagement between ourselves and the super-intelligent machine agents we may reasonably anticipate? As the use of AI algorithms grows more and more prevalent, it is important that we think hard about the ethical, legal, and social implications of these technologies and their myriad current and potential future uses.

    • 2 hrs 3 min
    How Deep Do We Go? Behavior, Mind, and The 4-Billion-Year History of Life

    How Deep Do We Go? Behavior, Mind, and The 4-Billion-Year History of Life

    The starting point of this roundtable discussion is Joseph LeDoux’s book, The Deep History of Ourselves: The Four-Billion-Year Story of How We Got Conscious Brains. LeDoux’s research on how the brain detects and responds to danger helped jumpstart and define the modern science of emotion. After three decades, he came to the realization that the commonly received conception of human emotions as evolutionarily pre-formed states of mind is wrong. In The Deep History of Ourselves, he used the four-billion year story of life to explain why. His key insight was that single-cell microbes, the ancient ancestors of  modern day bacteria, had the same basic survival requirements we do—they had to detect danger, search for and incorporate nutrients, balance fluids and ions, and reproduce. When we do these things, we feel fear, hunger, thirst, and pleasure, and assume that these states underlie our behavior. But the purpose of these ancient processes has little direct relation to these psychological states, which came much later. Emotions, he concluded, result from our efforts to make sense of the significant moments in our lives. And to do this requires the precise kind of brain we have. Discussing these ideas with LeDoux will be experts from a range of scientific areas, including evolutionary biology (Niklas), the cognitive neuroscience of emotion (Lindquist), psychiatry (Hurowitz), and the philosophy of consciousness (Rosenthal).

    • 1 hr 58 min

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