Category Archives: politics

Last chance to book VN Alexander for a free talk through Humanities NY

My term as Public Scholar for Humanities NY comes to an end in March.  This month will be your last opportunity to get me to come speak to your New York based non-profit group — for FREE!   I offer three different talks — on Propaganda, Artificial Intelligence or Insect Mimicry. All three talks have in common the theme that science and art need to be integrated to develop real critical and creative thinking skills. Great for all ages. To book, apply here.

Propaganda & Art: How we think when we aren’t using logic

We have been hearing a lot about “fake news” and “propaganda” lately, and it is as important as ever to use our critical thinking skills. But we also need to understand how propaganda works and why it is so difficult to counteract with logic. Propaganda takes advantage of the way our brains function when we are not paying attention. When we are paying attention our analytical skills are engaged.  When we are not, our brains go on processing information in a non-analytical way, using what might be called a poetic logic, based mainly upon similarities, coincidental patterns, associations, repetition, and emotion. There are sound biological reasons for this mindless type of processing, which actually helps us learn faster, retain memories longer, and make appropriate decisions without really thinking.

In this presentation, we will explore how and why art and poetry may actually be more helpful in developing critical thinking skills.  Art also works with the poetic logic of subconscious processing, but does so in a way that is not manipulative, deceptive or dishonest.

What Can Art Teach Us About Artificial Intelligence?

Every time we use Google, purchase an item on Amazon, write an email with Gmail, or post something on Facebook, we interact with computer algorithms that adapt to our Internet activity. Apps can translate spoken English sentences into spoken Chinese. “Deep learning” programs find patterns and can help doctors diagnose cancer or help singles find mates. In the court system, judges can use software to analyze patterns in criminal behavior before passing sentences. We call our phones and our weapons “smart,” and all of these advances in technology are said to use artificial “intelligence.”

We may wonder, What is intelligence? What’s the difference, if any, between an organism and a machine that can seek an object, read signs, or identify a pattern? Both can obtain goals, set either by evolution or design. Do organisms and machines use similar methods for learning, classifying, remembering and interpreting? Are animals and people really just organic machines? If so, could science eventually make machines that can learn to make up their own minds as robots do in science fiction? In this presentation, we will talk about some of the differences between the present-day artificial intelligence and biological intelligence. Specifically, we will learn about biologists studying cell signaling who say that even the simplest unit of life can make interpretations in ways that smart machines do not. Animals can take advantage of chance associations, which machines are usually designed to ignore, and machine learning programs are not designed to invent new knowledge–not yet anyway.

Examining smart technologies can inspire us to learn about our own learning processes and help us decide whether or not it’s a good idea to rely on machines to make judgements.

Nabokov’s Unorthodox Theory of Insect Mimicry: why science needs more artists

It’s a commonplace to say that good science requires imagination, yet scientist aren’t really encouraged to read poetry or to take up painting. Maybe they should. This talk will present the example of Vladimir Nabokov, renown Russian-American novelist and butterfly scientist who used his artistic knowledge to understand how evolution can work. He went against the prevailing theories of his day and was attacked for being unscientific, but recently some of his work has been vindicated by DNA analysis, showing that his artistic guesses were amazingly accurate and precise.

Nabokov didn’t think natural selection, a mere proofreader with no real creative powers, could make a butterfly look exactly like a dead leaf, complete with faux fungus spots. He didn’t think natural selection had gradually made the tasty Viceroy species butterfly look like the bitter tasting Monarch, allowing it to survive better. Although he believed that natural selection had shaped many of nature’s forms, he thought the one thing natural selection could not create was mimicry, which could be better explained by other natural mechanisms. This heresy infuriated scientists who thought insect mimics were the best illustration of the gradual powers of selection. More than fifty years later, Nabokov’s genius is finally being recognized. What was it about Nabokov’s way of thinking that allowed him to see what others could not? And how did his understanding of nature inspire his fiction?

This presentation will look at “artistic” versus “scientific” ways of understanding nature. Art and science lovers in the audience will be encouraged to share their experiences in different styles of analysis. We will try to break down the false barrier between the “two cultures” and examine how critical thinking, keen powers of observation, wit, logic, and imagination are necessary for both art and science.

V. N. Alexander, PhD is Public Scholar with Humanities New York. She is a noted researcher in the field of biosemiotics, facilitating interactions between art and science, and a novelist whose most recent work is Locus Amoenus, a political satire set in upstate New York.

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Terrordise is in the running for best screenplay at the Ojo Cojo International Film Festival

The First International Film Festival of Madrid to promoting intercultural dialogue.

Terrordise, a dark political comedy

screenplay by V. N. Alexander

Spanish translation by Xiomara Nonya

In the year 2028, close circuit cameras are everywhere and smiling citizens submit to intrusive body searches and bag checks by TSA agents, who now handle security at malls, stadiums, bus and train stations, as well as airports. President Clinton-Bush is winning the war on terror, according to billboards, and the surveillance state makes citizens feel safe. Continue reading

VN Alexander at the Claverack Library June 24

meatshieldPropaganda & Art: How we think when we aren’t using logic

We have been hearing a lot about “fake news” and “propaganda” lately, and it is as important as ever to use our critical thinking skills. But we also need to understand how propaganda works and why it is so difficult to counteract with logic. Propaganda takes advantage of the way our brains function when we are not paying attention. When we are paying attention our analytical skills are engaged.  When we are not, our brains go on processing information in a non-analytical way, using what might be called a poetic logic, based mainly upon similarities, coincidental patterns, associations, repetition, and emotion. There are sound biological reasons for this mindless type of processing, which actually helps us learn faster, retain memories longer, and make appropriate decisions without really thinking.

In this presentation, we will explore how and why art and poetry may actually be more helpful in developing critical thinking skills.  Art also works with the poetic logic of subconscious processing, but does so in a way that is not manipulative, deceptive or dishonest.

V. N. Alexander, PhD is Public Scholar with Humanities New York. She is a noted researcher in the field of biosemiotics, facilitating interactions between art and science, and a novelist whose most recent work is Locus Amoenus, a political satire set in upstate New York.

Terrordise nominated for TheModCon London Film Festival

laurel-nominatedTerrordise, a dark comedy by V. N. Alexander has been nominated for Best Screenplay  in TheModCom London Film Festival.

Synopsis: The Schwartz-Johnson family can’t wait to get to their new home in Paradise, a high-security gated community in Dallas, Texas. They are willing to sacrifice privacy for the ultimate in safety against any kind of terror threat –until Mr. & Mrs. Schwartz-Johnson are accused of terrorism themselves.

TheModCon London Film Festival aims to “promote and recognize those that have walked the extra mile and shown commitment to the international community to inspire others to take action in solving some of the many conflicts we face today.”

V.N. Alexander is a fan of Wes Anderson and Monty Python, and counts Napoleon Dynamite by Jared Hess and Canadian Bacon by Micheal Moore among her favorite comedy films.

Find out more about “Terrodise” here.

“All right then, I’ll go to hell.” -Huck Finn

Jim_and_ghost_huck_finnNext month, I will be talking to a group of anti-war activists about the role of literary fiction in undermining the bad narratives that prevent critical thinking. I look to my favorite political satirist, Mark Twain, as an example.

When Huck Finn ponders whether or not he should turn in his friend Jim, a runaway slave, he is deeply conflicted. Good Christian society of the day has taught him that slavery is sanctioned by God. Huck truly believes that to help Jim escape would be immoral. But he decides, “All right then, I’ll go to hell.”

It’s moments like this in literature that serve humankind best in its often-halting progress toward tolerance and peace. Throughout history, good, decent people routinely condone revenge, segregation, greed, fascism and war, simply because they follow those they admire most. Every era has its own peculiar blindness, and going against complacency and conformity of neighbors can be more difficult than directly confronting a tyrant. It is often a disenfranchised voice, such as Huck’s, that awakens the literature of a nation, makes it more self-critical. Sometimes the voice needs an author—a humorist, a poet, or a good story-teller—to help him speak in a way that he can’t be ignored or further ostracized. Continue reading

Video of Dunn Brothers Reading in Dallas

dunnbrosActivist/archivist Johny Genlock recorded my talk at Dunn Brothers Coffee in Dallas area on Nov 29  for his YouTube Channel.

A Fictional account combining elements of our post 9/11 culture of conflicting realities and the plot of Shakespeare’s Hamlet; set in a small town environs of New York State. Locus Amoenus, a “safe place”, turns out to be anything but! Victoria Alexander gives us samples of the book while explaining the elements that went into the creative project.

Outreach Group Reviews Locus Amoenus

truthoutreach
Locus Amoenus, a New Novel
9/11 as a Shakespearian Tragedy
Wayne Coste

The new novel by Victoria N. Alexander, Locus Amoenus, is a delight to read. It weaves an important modern-day tale while following the outline of William Shakespeare’s enduring tragedy, Hamlet. The Bard’s tale of Hamlet is a personal and community tragedy placed in a historical period in which the fight over the control of Hamlet’s native country ultimately leads to its subjugation to a foreign country. The characters woven into the Locus Amoenus story are no less tragic than Shakespeare’s, and the reader is left wondering just how the world of Alexander’s characters could have avoided being seduced into a current-day form of subjugation when the curtain comes down. Throughout her witty narrative, the author’s wry humor adds levity to her tale of today’s Hamlet. Continue reading