Friday, August 7, 2009

A More Moderate Evening

My last panel got out at ten, and very few people are in the hotel bar (many more Delta parties tonight). After thorough deliberation and a glass of wine, sanity won out (given that Curtis & I have a 9am thing tomorrow--a fencing demonstration!) and we're back in our room. Our Con has been such that we haven't even been inside the Delta (party hotel) yet--we'll probably get there tomorrow.

Today was largely spent working the Locus table--awesome because of all the interesting people who come by to chat.

I hit a 3:30 panel titled "Are We Conscious and Does it Matter?" with Kathryn Cramer, Peter Watts, Daryl Gregory and James Morrow. They were surprisingly sanguine about the possibility that consciousness is nothing more than an epiphenomenon of our complex brain system that doesn't really add much value; the primary identified evolutionary value seemed to be imagination and the ability to model possible futures. I'm still a bit confused: while research shows that your arm is getting nerve impulses to go for a glass of water before you're consciously aware that you're hungry, what about the fact that a lynch mob of people who have already decided to kill someone can be talked out of it? i.e. isn't consciousness more complex than that, and if we only rationalize unconsciously made decisions, why can our minds be changed by argument? However, I didn't get to ask that question, because the audience was quite keen on having its say, whether called upon or not. Kathryn really had her hands full with that crowd. And of course, most of the folks stood up to lecture or ramble on rather than ask specific questions. Times like that make me sympathetic to those who'd like to ban audience participation at panels, but I didn't feel that way by the end of the night (about which more later).

5 pm saw my first panel of the Con, and the only one I felt really qualified for: the Hugo Short fiction handicapping panel. Between Ann VanderMeer, Jonathan Strahan, Niall Harrison, and Bill Fawcett, we talked about all the Hugo short fiction nominees and some that didn't make the ballot. There was quite a bit of unanimity: Ted Chiang for short story, toss up for Novelette but we're rooting for Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Gambler," and while Novella wasn't terribly strong this year, Ian McDonald's "The Tear" is probably a leading contender. However, other factors may influence the "will win" as opposed to "should win," so we'll have to see.

Ran out for Greek food, and made it back in time for a panel on Post-Modernism and Post-Humanism with Geoff Ryman, Daryl Gregory, Nancy Kress and Geza Reilly. The panel was a little fuzzy on post-modernism, but could hold forth on post-humanism--which was fine because that's what the (packed) audience really wanted to hear about.

Then I had to run for my last (9 pm!) panel of the night: Mainstreaming the Geek Dream. It focused on how the Internet has changed things since it became really popularly useful in ~1995. There was a healthy age range on the panel (Duncan McGregor, older comp sci guy; Sandra Manning, older physics/math teacher; myself; and straight from the Chesley awards, Neil Clarke, middle-age online person). However, we weren't exactly sure where to take the panel after some general comments on how we use the Net and how things have changed (and some of the dangers associated with putting yourself out on the Net), but the audience, sparse though it was, led us on a discussion of many and varied topics: the generational divide, search engine algorithms and search engine optimization, the Pirate Parties in Europe and some associated copyright issues, the arms race between students and school admins, mobile phone technology, etc. It turned into a fun discussion, for which I give all credit to an enthusiastic crowd, and made me feel good about audience participation again.

Off to bed now! Tomorrow is my really busy day, so probably not much blogging for me. And I haven't been having much luck with Twitter (I live tweeted the entire Stross/Krugman panel on Thursday night, but even though I used the #worldcon09 hash-tag, I don't think it showed up anywhere), so I may be dark until Sunday.

1 comment:

Kathryn Cramer said...

I really like the question. I wish you'd been able to ask it.