A Simulated Mission to Mars and the Human Need for Stories

A Simulated Mission to Mars and the Human Need for Stories

As is my custom, I recently devoured a new podcast from Gimlet Media called The Habitat during a long and un-airconditioned road trip to Florida.

The Habitat follows a simulated mission-to-Mars research project called HI-SEAS. As space travel to Mars becomes more likely, researchers are tasked with perfecting equipment like “the dome,” a semi-portable living structure about the size of a two-car garage that would house six astronauts. But HI-SEAS is designed to test “a far more critical piece of equipment: humans.”

For a year, six “human guinea pigs” agree to spend every waking and sleeping moment together in a dome on a Hawaiian volcano, a stand-in for the red planet. HI-SEAS seeks to determine what these conditions will do to their astronauts. Poring through 200 hours of the crew’s audio diaries, The Habitat host Lyn Levy shadows the experiment from day one. “It’s like the premise of a space age reality show,” she says.

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The Moral Obligation to Think

The Moral Obligation to Think

The news is an adventure these days: cyber insecurity, racially-motivated violence, sexual imposition, the redirection of public funds for personal gains – the list goes on and on. Confronted with these varied and frequent stories, can we help but wonder if we aren’t experiencing a serious collapse in our collective moral judgment?

Philosopher and entrepreneur Damon Horowitz argues that our technologically-driven society has provided us with so much power that we have neglected the processes we need to deal with that power – to weigh its strengths and its weaknesses, differentiate between right and wrong and ultimately make effective decisions. In his compelling TED talk, “We Need a Moral Operating System”, he demonstrates that “we have stronger opinions about our handheld devices than about the moral framework we should use to guide our decisions.”

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Weekend Reading: April 2018

Weekend Reading: April 2018

Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to browse and enjoy this weekend.

“I don’t often start essays about leadership with insights from French novelists,” writes Fast Company cofounder and author Bill Taylor in a recent piece for Harvard Business Review, “but in this case it seems appropriate. ‘The real act of discovery,” Marcel Proust wrote, “consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes.’”

Too often, Taylor argues, experienced leaders allow prior knowledge and expertise to dictate their ideas and limit innovation. But art can be an important tool to kickstart a more creative form of leadership. Taylor describes a program where police officers look at paintings, sculptures and more, answering the question, “What do you see?”

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To Know Again: How Stories Lead to Recognition and Revelation

To Know Again: How Stories Lead to Recognition and Revelation

The best things I learn in life often come from unexpected places. There’s nothing more satisfying than suddenly seeing something in a startling new way. The pure pleasure when I have said the words “I never thought of it like that!” reminds me of the happy surprise on a young child’s face who has learned something new and exciting. It occurs to me that this feeling of recognition may be what engages us to be lifelong learners, beginning as little tots and continuing into old age.

One such experience came for me around that very word: recognition.

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Books@Work in German: An Interview with Professor Guido Isekenmeier

Books@Work in German: An Interview with Professor Guido Isekenmeier

We recently had the chance to speak with Guido Isekenmeier about his experience as a Books@Work facilitator discussing Franz Kafka’s “The Hunger Artist” in German with German participants. Guido is an Assistant Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Stuttgart, Germany. His research and teaching focus on the history of description in narrative fiction and the relations of postmodernist literature and visual culture.

“I’m doing all kinds of classes: undergraduate, graduate, lectures, seminars,” Guido said of his current course load. “Unlike some of my colleagues in the United States, we have to cover the whole field from the beginning to the present, including literary, historical, theoretical stuff. We’re also doing English and American literature.”

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Reading Mindfully: Bret Anthony Johnston’s “Encounters with Unexpected Animals”

Reading Mindfully: Bret Anthony Johnston’s “Encounters with Unexpected Animals”

Each month we offer you a chance to read mindfully, using literature to challenge your assumptions about the world in which we live and work. Through these short texts and questions, we hope to give you a small taste of Books@Work. Grab a friend, family member or colleague to read, share and discuss together.

Director of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas in Austin, Bret Anthony Johnston is the author of numerous award-winning short stories and nonfiction pieces. His “enthralling and skillful” debut novel Remember Me Like This was named a 2014 New York Times Notable Book of the Year. “Encounters with Unexpected Animals,” a portrait of a father at odds with his son’s girlfriend, was originally published in Esquire and later appeared in the 2013 Best American Short Stories anthology.

As you read Johnston’s story, consider the many forms of power and how they do – or do not – lead to a false sense of security.

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The Noise of Contemplation: Embracing Silence in the Workplace

The Noise of Contemplation: Embracing Silence in the Workplace

In the recent March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, student leader Emma González took to the stage to deliver a speech. After a short opening statement, she stopped speaking altogether and gazed ahead into an eager crowd of thousands. She spent the next six minutes in complete silence as the disoriented crowd cheered and clapped to fill the void. Despite where you fall on the political spectrum, González’s speech (or lack thereof) embodied a powerful truth: uncomfortable silence is an incubator for introspection – whether we like it or not.

Words and gestures and body language mean different things to different cultures – as does silence. “Anglophones tend to be most uncomfortable with long gaps in a discussion,” writes Lennox Morrison in a fascinating piece for BBC. “Even among sign language speakers, studies show that typically we leave just a fraction of a second between taking turns to talk.” A 2015 study of Japanese communication found that Japanese people in business meetings “were happy with silences of 8.2 seconds – nearly twice as long as in Americans’ meetings.” Another study comparing silence in Japanese and Finnish culture found that in Finland, “silence is tolerated and in certain social scenes it is preferred to idle or small talk.”

So how can we use silence as a learning tool in the workplace?

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To Stem the Tide: Reuniting the Sciences and the Humanities Through Science Fiction

To Stem the Tide: Reuniting the Sciences and the Humanities Through Science Fiction

In our our Weekend Reading post last week, we highlighted a fascinating article by Marcelo Gleiser, Dartmouth professor of philosophy, physics and astronomy, on teaching at the intersection of two increasingly distinct academic “cultures” –  the sciences and the humanities. At a time when universities are shrinking their humanistic offerings in favor of science and technology, Gleiser comments on the weakness of an education that favors one over the other.

“We all stand to lose from this gulf between the sciences and the humanities,” Gleiser writes. “The sciences run the risk of being decontextualized from their moral and social consequences, pursuing technologies that should be regulated and scrutinized. . . On the other hand, the humanities run the risk of becoming disconnected from the pace of scientific discoveries and myopic to how they are effectively transforming the world we live in.”

So how science fiction help to bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities?

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Weekend Reading: March 2018

Weekend Reading: March 2018

Happy Friday! We’ve compiled our favorite articles and essays from the last month for you to browse and enjoy this weekend.

In NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos & Culture, theoretical physicist, author and Dartmouth College professor Marcelo Gleiser explores “the growing gap between the sciences and the humanities” – how it harms us, how we enable it and what we can do to bridge the divide. With a course called “Understanding the Universe: From Atoms to the Big Bang,” Gleiser hopes to portray “the sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences as different and complementary ways of knowing the world and why we matter” – a lesson that is just as crucial in the workplace as it is in the classroom. So how can we convince others to help bridge the gap?

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Practicing What We Preach: Books@Work for Books@Work

Practicing What We Preach: Books@Work for Books@Work

Books@Work participants tell us over and over that the sessions are a “great way to get to know your colleagues, your peers, on a totally different level” as well as “de-stress.” They highlight that the program “brings us all together in a different way.” Because I have such a varied work history – in food service, office jobs, caring for handicapped adults – I resonate with our participants when they tell us how valuable getting to know your colleagues is and how they look forward to moments of refreshment in the midst of a busy and demanding day.

Because of this, it has been a special pleasure to participate in Books@Work myself. I first participated in 2014, with the classified staff of a Cleveland-area school. I was struck by how, at first, it was difficult for people to express their thoughts. It seemed like they were all searching for a “right” answer and participants were hesitant to hazard their opinion. But after a few weeks, people started to trust that they had something meaningful to say and that the group was interested in their ideas. After people found their voices, the conversations became more engaging. When we read John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums,” we disagreed about our interpretations, and some people told really personal stories. In the end we respected the unique perspective of each person in the room. The opportunity to share and reflect gave those staff members a chance to see each other as people instead of a job title, like bus driver or teacher’s aide.

Knowing the benefits, why not participate in Books@Work as a staff?

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