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And . . . our featured 2015 seminar speaker is . . . Thomas HOBBES!!!!!

Just in case you’ve forgotten where this all came from:

This came in the departmental email awhile ago:

The Brown Institute for Media Innovation, Alliance (Columbia University, École Polytechnique, Sciences Po, and Panthéon-Sorbonne University), The Center for Science and Society, and The Faculty of Arts and Sciences are proud to present
You are invited to apply for a seminar led by Professor Bruno Latour on Tuesday, September 23, 12-3pm. Twenty-five graduate students from throughout the university will be selected to participate in this single seminar given by Prof. Latour. Students will organize themselves into a reading group to meet once or twice in early September for discussion of Prof. Latour’s work. They will then meet to continue this discussion with a small group of faculty on September 15, 12-2pm. Students and a few faculty will meet with Prof. Latour on September 23. A reading list will be distributed in advance.
If you are interested in this 3-4 session seminar (attendance at all 3-4 sessions is mandatory), please send
Your School:
Your Department:
Year you began your terminal degree at Columbia:
Thesis or Dissertation title or topic:
Name of main advisor:
In one short, concise paragraph tell us what major themes/keywords from Latour’s work are most relevant to your own work, and why you would benefit from this seminar. Please submit this information via the site
The due date for applications is August 11 and successful applicants will be notified in mid-August.

This is the first time I’ve heard of a speaker who’s so important that you have to apply to attend his seminar! And, don’t forget, “attendance at all 3-4 sessions is mandatory.”

At this point you’re probably wondering what exactly is it that Bruno Latour does. Don’t worry—I googled him for you. Here’s the description of his most recent book, “An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence”:

The result of a twenty five years inquiry, it offers a positive version to the question raised, only negatively, with the publication, in 1991, of ”We have never been modern”: if ”we” have never been modern, then what have ”we” been? From what sort of values should ”we” inherit? In order to answer this question, a research protocol has been developed that is very different from the actor-network theory. The question is no longer only to define ”associations” and to follow networks in order to redefine the notion of ”society” and ”social” (as in ”Reassembling the Social”) but to follow the different types of connectors that provide those networks with their specific tonalities. Those modes of extension, or modes of existence, account for the many differences between law, science, politics, and so on. This systematic effort for building a new philosophical anthropology offers a completely different view of what the ”Moderns” have been and thus a very different basis for opening a comparative anthropology with the other collectives – at the time when they all have to cope with ecological crisis. Thanks to a European research council grant (2011-2014) the printed book will be associated with a very original purpose built digital platform allowing for the inquiry summed up in the book to be pursued and modified by interested readers who will act as co-inquirers and co-authors of the final results. With this major book, readers will finally understand what has led to so many apparently disconnected topics and see how the symmetric anthropology begun forty years ago can come to fruition.

Huh? I wonder if this is what they mean by “one short, concise paragraph” . . .

Update: We just got an announcement in the mail. The due date has been extended a second time, this time to Aug 18. This seems like a good sign, if fewer Columbia grad students than expected wanted to jump through the hoops to participate in this seminar.

The ultimate bracket

So . . . I had the idea that we could do better, and I gathered 64 potential speakers, eight current or historical figures from each of the following eight categories:
– Philosophers
– Religious Leaders
– Authors
– Artists
– Founders of Religions
– Cult Figures
– Comedians
– Modern French Intellectuals.

And Paul Davidson put them in a bracket, which, as of a few days ago, looked like this:

Bracket v1

And yesterday we had the final round, which was won by Hobbes based on this positive argument from X:

from “Hobbes’s State of Nature : A Modern Bayesian Game-Theoretic Analysis” by Hun Chung:

I personally think that applying game theory to political theory is misguided only when one tries to apply the wrong model; and, not all game-theoretic models are wrong. This is why I believe conserving the details of Hobbes’s logic is important. I believe that the model provided in this paper is the correct game-theoretic model that represents Hobbes’s state of nature in a way that Hobbes had originally intended it to be.

We need to know what Hobbes thinks of Chung’s Bayesian analysis!

And this negative argument from an anonymous commenter:

I think Dick is bowing out of the competition with this quote:

Probability, Joe said to himself. A science in itself. Bernoulli’s theorem, the Bayes-Laplace theorem, the Poisson Distribution, Negative Binomial Distribution…coins and cards and birthdays, and at last random variables. And, hanging over it all, the brooding specter of Rudolf Carnap and Hans Reichenbach, the Vienna Circle of philosophy and the rise of symbolic logic. A muddy world, in which he did not quite care to involve himself.

If Dick does not care to involve himself with probability, I don’t care to involve myself with him!

Best of all, was this comment from Jonathan:

[Hobbes] got off this scatalogical sally directed at the Wallis and arguing the superiority of graphics to equations. (Note: Pappus was a 4th century geometer who proved things with pictures)

“When did you see any man but yourselves publish his Demonstrations by signs not generally received, except it were not with intent to demonstrate, but to teach the use of Signes? Had Pappus no Analytiques? Or wanted he the wit to shorten his reckoning by Signes? Or has he not proceeded Analytically in a hundred Problems (particularly in his seventh Book), and never used Symboles? Symboles are poor unhandsome (though necessary) scaffolds of Demonstration; and ought no more appear in publique, than the most deformed necessary business which you do in your Chambers.

Poop jokes and an argument that graphs are better than tables. Plus he’s a political scientist. Thomas Hobbes is my man.

What a great way to end our tournament, demonstrating that the earlier rounds were all worth it to lead up to this point.

Thank you all for participating!


  1. A consolation prize that is the next best thing to having PKD as a live seminar speaker – a recorded interview with him from 1977:

    Be sure to check out the reading from A Scanner Darkly at the start of Part 2 – dark and hilarious. (NB: the link to the excerpt appears to be broken now, but I was eventually able to download the .rm file with Part 2 of the interview. Other interviews apparently also available on the same website.)

    He would have been a wonderful seminar speaker, enlightening and entertaining.

  2. Luke says:

    Reading that incomprehensible Bruno Latour paragraph reminds me of an even more incomprehensible seminar I once attended about the translation of Hegel’s thought into Italian and then later from Italian back into German and the meaning created therein. The entire hour long seminar consisted almost entirely of four words–being, becoming, thought, and thinking–which were combined into increasingly byzantine combinations. This was, naturally, at a French university; I never could read continental philosophy again.

  3. Jonathan (another one) says:

    On behalf of Hobbes, I thank you. Just send me the registration materials and I’ll do my best to forward them to him.

  4. jrc says:

    You are gonna go full Bill and Ted here for us, right? And at least dress someone up in a Hobbes costume, put them on a stage, have them step out of a telephone booth and give a 50 minute talk in funny accent, right? Because otherwise I’m gonna subscribe to the RSS feed just so I can un-subscribe in protest.

  5. zbicyclist says:

    My goal now is to (re)read material from all semi-finalists (Cervantes, Hobbes, Dick, Carlin). Not sure I’ll start with Leviathan, though.

  6. Xi'an says:

    I am so glad it is over. Can we wait a few centuries before the next round? Please?

  7. Calum says:

    We’re going to have a play-off for third place, right?

  8. Phillip M. says:

    Where is the mystery ‘write-in’ or a Wolfe Blitzer-like CGI avatar to pop in at the 11th hour in a CNN’esque showdown deathmatch? This is truly dissapointing.

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