ATOMIC: Anthropology, Technology, Omega Point, Music, Images, Cognitive Science

Anthropology, Technology, Omega point, Music, Images, Cognitive science

September 25, 2021

Location: Coyote Point
Time: 3pm
Confirmed: Arun, Jessica, Anirudh, Mary Anna, Enrique, Piero, Jinxia, Krishnan, Anand, Sofia, Kelley,


  • [Piero] Will the human race succumb to overpopulation? See my essay.



  • [Krishnan] Using Escher's 'Circle Limit IV (Heaven and Hell), the question that I'd like to discuss is 'Are we well suited to judge any situation given that we don't know which is the foreground and the background?'. Image


  • [Jessica and Anirudh] Listen: Angolan Song . It's an Angolan song in both Portuguese and Kimbundu. It's about emigrating and lamenting everything that has changed when you return to your country of origin. The lyrics are very specific to Angola's history but really powerful and would definitely resonate with non-Angolans. I don't speak or understand either language but I first came across the song through this video where two Angolans go through it bar by bar. It's a long video but it's really really good! Ani can attest to it, he watched it with me just the other day. That being said, folks don't have to watch the whole thing, we are happy to break down some of the lyrics and use it as a jumping off point for discussion. But I do highly recommend the video! They start to get into it around 2min and they wrap at around 35min, the rest is just them gassing each other up lol. They also play the song in the video so you can hear it as they translate.


  • [Anand] Tatyana Tolstaya unearthed a telegram in which Lenin complained, "We're not shooting enough professors." Let's reflect on the history of this quote, the way it has been memefied as well as a related image.


April 3, 2016

Location: Garin/Dry Creek Park, 1320 Garin Avenue, Hayward, CA 94544
Time: 3pm
Confirmed: Monica, Sofia, Onam, Jinxia, Anand, Piero, Kelley, Rohit, Bin, Anirudh


  • The interesting and somewhat evil origin story of public relations and how it shapes our outlook today in this information age where perception is what matters. Listen to this podcast [Rohit]



  • In 1963 Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burned himself to death in a busy Saigon street. Read this or this. Slide presentation. [Anand]




  • Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes Read this [Sofia]

May 16, 2015

Where: Garin Barn Visitor Center in Hayward
Time: 3:00 pm

A: Marriage [Sofia] (Europeans don't divorce as much as US couples, but they don't get married either. US couples divorce frequently, and get married much younger than any other developing country. How are ethnic groups in the USA changing these stats?)

T: Selfies, Surveillance and the Self-made Panopticon [piero]



  • Listen: Indian music ( (just listen to the first 10 minutes if you don't have time) [Anand]


C: Poetry and Memory [Rohit]

January 18, 2015

Where: The Skylawn Cemetery in Half Moon Bay
Time: 3:00 pm



  • The Sony hacks and the algorithmic society: read this


  • Nick Bostrom's "Superintelligence" (2014): read this



  • Blossfeldt's "Art Forms in the Plant World" : images


November 16, 2014

Where: The Skylawn Cemetery in Half Moon Bay
Time: 1:30 pm


  • The recent elections, the secular religion of party politics, the secularization of society (e.g. the Supreme Court decision that corporations are persons) [Kelley, Sofia]


  • Favorite inventions/discoveries of 2014? piero's: The first malaria vaccine, China's 1200-km long canal from the Yangtze to Beijing, India's Mars mission, the European robot probe Philae that landed on a comet, and Harvard Wyss Institute stored 700 terabytes of data into a single gram of DNA.





April 5, 2014

Where: The Monumental Cemetery in Colma , 1500 Mission Road Colma CA 94014



  • RoboEarth (A world wide web for robots to learn from each other) [piero]





If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in joining, email me. And, of course, tell me something about you.
The idea was born during a coastal hike. The invitation went out on January 24, 2013 to an initial group of friends, trying to have a sample of artists, technologists, humanists, cognitivists and students from different parts of the world.
ATOMIC stands for (i need to live up to my reputation for ridiculously silly acronyms):
  • A= Anthropology: how people live (eg the impact of using Facebook, iPhones, etc)
  • T= Technology (nanotech, robots, flying cars, biotech, greentech, etc)
  • O= The Omega point (today better known as the Singularity: higher planes of intelligence, but also climate change, Higgs bosons, postmodern science)
  • M= Music (mostly classical, not only Western)
  • I= Images (it can be a painting, a film, a building, a comic strip... but absolutely no Hollywood films)
  • C= Cognitive Science (AI, Neuroscience, Consciousness, etc)

What we do:
  • We get together once or twice a month in nature: a little hike, a forest, a beach...
  • We discuss one topic for each of those six categories
  • For each topic people are asked to prepare (eg read articles or watch a movie or listen to a piece of music)

Why: "Solvitur ambulando" ("It is solved by walking") as the wandering scholars of medieval Europe had it; or, if you prefer Eastern philosophy, "To leave is to arrive and to arrive is to leave" (Yong-Kyun Bae)
Your significant others are obviously welcome, as are neighbors, coworkers, fellow hikers, etc. Feel free to suggest others. In the spirit of ethnic diversity, people born and/or raised in other countries/continents are particularly welcome to broaden our horizons. You won't have the same "voting rights" of the initial group until you have attended a few ATOMIC hikes.

However, we feel that the discussion makes sense only if the group if eight people or less. We may split in two groups if we are more than eight.

These are not hardcore hikes but people do need to be able to walk 5-10 kms to an inspirational point.
The location of the hike is based on geographic center of mass.
Topics and reading material are announced at the beginning of the month. You are supposed to check out the reading material (whether texts, films, compositions...) during the month (not only the day before the ATOMIC hike).

General rules:
* You don't necessarily have to prepare on all six things
* You can invite anybody to join
* But priority in the discussion should go to those who prepared
* So, for example, if you didn't prepare on "A", you should listen first to the ones who prepared on "A".
("prepare" means "check out the reading material on that page)
* Those who attend decide the topics for next time

February 22, 2014

Where: Lake Chabot. Meet at lake Chabot Marina parking lot at 1pm: Coordinates: 37.717283,-122.104329

A: Income Inequality, Greed, the Welfare State [Sofia]

T: Net Neutrality [Anand]

O: The Reality Created by our Devices [Kelley]

M: Meredith Monk's "Traveling" [Monica]

I: The Changing Definition of "Film" [piero]

C: How much is intelligent behavior due to the way we structure the environment in which a human or a machine operate? [piero]

March 10, 2013

Here are the themes and suggested reading. Hike destination: Sweeney Ridge (about 1 hour up).

A: What do we miss (or gain?) if we don't physically interact with other humans?

  • Ray Williams: link
  • Joshua Ackerman on embodied cognition: link
  • The long story: link
  • Varela's "The embodied mind" reviewed by Dennett: link
  • For user experience (UX) design: link

T: Biomimicry

  • The Biomimicry Institute: link (Click on videos to hear Janine Benyus talk about it)

O: If i replace all the neurons in your brain with chips that perform the exact same function, are you still you? If that brain is not you anymore, is it a person? If yes, is it ethical to perform experiments on "it"?

  • Kelly Inglis's presentation: link
  • Stephen Law's article "Brain Transplants, Teleportation and the Puzzle of Personal Identity" link
  • Dan Weijers's presentation: link

M: Michael Gordon's Timber for six 2x4s

I: Makoto Aida

C: The Cognitive Development of Pretty Girls

  • Sofia suggests this short story: link
  • piero suggests "Women's Ways of Knowing" (1986) summarized here: link and Male & Female Cognitive Learning Differences link

April 13, 2013

Here are the themes and suggested reading. If you want to suggest more readings, email me and i'll post them here (in the age of Twitter, make sure it's something good but BRIEF). Hike destination: Tilden Park (about 1 hour hike).

A: Youth suprematism, the idea that young people know better than old people for A (a 9-yo told our friend Emily who is his teacher "you are old" dismissing what she was trying to teach him )

T: Sexism in the High-tech Industry

O: The Morality of the Robotic Society

M: Johann-Sebastian Bach, inventor of heavy metal music

I: Yayoi Kusama

C: Our friend Beth told the story of a little girl who has two very talkative siblings who never let her talk, so she starts screaming "Me talking! Me talking!" as in "let me talk". It seems that the need to talk talk talk is not just of old people, it's already there at birth.

  • Monica suggested this video and this article ("The more face-to-face time you spend, the healthier you and your children are")
  • piero suggested this video of Alison Gopnik talking at a LASER or this review of her book "The Philosophical Baby"

May 12, 2013

See themes and suggested readings below. Hike destination: Pacifica (on the coast, north of Half Moon Bay)

A: Technologically-created Reality

T: Online Education and Disembodied Growth

  • [Stephen] The resources for online education have been available on the internet for decades. Before Coursera videos there was iTunes U videos and youtube. Before the videos there were articles on the internet, providing the same information. Before the articles on the internet, people made grandiose claims about 'educating the world' through television or the radio. I think the new thing is that big fancy universities are willing to seriously invest in producing (and possibly using) online content. Favorite example of how this might be used: The Minerva Project

O: The Morality of Immortality

M: John Cage's 4'33"

I: Cenci Goepel and Jens Warnecke

C: Creativity in the Wild

  • Roger Malina's "Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings": text (quote: "four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers")

My writing