Our fifth seminar -- a study of speeches by Abraham Lincoln, Francis Bacon's Novum Organum, and Xenophon's Anabasis of Cyrus -- was a consideration of the nature, limits, and transformation of unconventional ambition. It took place in September 2019.
Engineering and science have brought spectacular benefits to humanity, but they have also opened up challenges such as for species-wide genetic manipulation, climate effects, and the “existential threat” of artificial intelligence. The very freedoms that engineering and science have provided could thus transform themselves into the greatest threat to freedom. The intuitive approach might still be to address these problems using the same engineering and science that created them. After all, engineers and scientists are problem-solvers. But can such problems be reasonably addressed within the horizon of engineering and science?
This seminar, which took place at MIT in January 2020, was an exploration, with engineering and science undergraduates, of these questions in a way that broadened and deepened their understanding. Emphasis was on foundational readings, primarily from Bacon and Descartes, the founders of the modern scientific project, who have thought carefully about its ramifications. Special attention was paid to the relation between one's picture of the world and one's self-understanding.
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