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I like groups when they exist to bolster individual development and growth. I don’t like them when membership requires enduring steadily increasing pressure to subvert individual expression.

The expression of individuality is unacceptable to the latter type of group, mostly because it’s sloppy, unpredictable, non-conforming. Instead,  various expressions of individuality—disagreement, alternate points of view, creative expression, non-PC rule-breaking—should always be welcomed with curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism.

It’s to be expected that such expression will rattle the order that the group more or less exists to maintain.

But a healthy group should have no problem re-orienting. In doing so, it proves that it exists not just to maintain groupish order, but also to regenerate, develop and improve. On the other hand, a group that fails to re-orient, shudders, and even shatters, at the slightest show of individuality is one from which any of us should immediately withdraw membership.

It’s also important to remember that a group cannot take offense. Only an individual can take offense. And offense-taking should be dealt with on those terms: individual to individual, peer to peer. Once the emotional load is dealt with, a functional group can ask: is there something that we can all learn from this? And, is there a way that we can update our structure to reflect that new wisdom?

Featured image is a photo of Synergy by environmental artist Martin Hill. The shot was taken by his collaborator Philippa Jones.

Here are a few more resources on group leadership and followership:

FFFT Podcast Ep. 2: Evan Meffert – Brewing (and Drinking) Craft Beer, How to Put Philosophy into Practice, and Untangling Postmodernism

My brother Evan Meffert and I have been having mind-bending conversations about religion, politics, art and meaning since we were in our teens. And this one is no exception.

Evan spent eight years as an operational engineer at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and moved to Berlin in October to participate in the graduate-level Certified Brewmaster Course at VLB Berlin. VLB Berlin is an international organization that provides research, training, education and service for the brewing industry.

Evan is also a blogger, avid mountain biker and passionate student of philosophy and political science. You can follow his adventures in Berlin and beyond at tmeffert on Instagram or check out his blog at evanmeffert.wordpress.com.

Over the course of our hour together, Evan and I got into the origins of his love of brewing, his favorite philosophers, postmodernism, weird art trends and quite a bit more—beer and philosophy being inextricably linked throughout the ages.

In particular, Evan and I take a deep dive into:

  • Being a first generation immigrant
  • American vs. German attitudes about alcohol and drinking
  • Getting started in home-brewing
  • The early years of the craft brewing movement
  • Losing focus to gain focus (studying philosophy to become an engineer)
  • Evan’s favorite philosophers, political scientists and economists
  • German and European intellectual traditions—Kant, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Wagner
  • The lofty philosophical underpinnings of Nazi ideology
  • Kirkegaard and the necessity of letting go of what is most precious
  • The intersection of philosophy and real life
  • Inductive vs. deductive reasoning
  • Why it’s important to have opinions and to fully think things through
  • Defining postmodernism and moral relativism
  • That empty feeling you get when you leave a contemporary art museum
  • Evan’s work at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • Constant self-reinvention revisited
  • The Certified Brewmaster Course at VLB Berlin
  • Evan’s story of a contemporary artist’s descent through the 9 circles of postmodernism
  • The practicality of true creativity
  • The impact of postmodernism on modern society: power games and the true nature of language
  • Being a good person—but what is good?
  • What real diversity is and how to build a culture of tolerance
  • The value of a liberal arts education in combating ideological possession

People, resources and links from this episode

WELCOME TO THE FOOD FOR FREE THOUGHT PODCAST EPISODE 1!!!!

I’ve been fantasizing about this for a long time, and it’s finally here. Someday I’ll be Joe Rogan or Sam Harris, but I hope you love these humble beginnings. From a listener standpoint, it should be interesting to pay attention to the evolution of this project.

Here are a few of my lessons thus far:

  • Reviewing highlights sloppy thinking and glossed-over arguments
  • There’s a fine line between conversational and laissez faire
  • Just get started (on projects)—and work out the bugs as you go

I’m committing to at least 6 episodes over the course of the 1-2 months. And believe me: I have some fantastic conversations lined up with amazing people. This is going to fun.

Constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement are welcome, and they can be left on iTunes.

Let the games begin!

Karl Rosaen has been pushing the edge of software engineering since his early work on Google’s Android phones, and his recent leap of faith into the world of machine learning and artificial intelligence is no exception.

Karl is a senior research engineer at the U of M and Ford Center for Autonomous Vehicle at the University of Michigan. Karl took a learning sabbatical in the summer of 2016 to focus on machine learning and before that he was head of product and engineering at Food52.com.

Karl and his brother Alex host the Brosaen Detroit Pistons Podcast, where they regularly geek out on all things Detroit Pistons. In addition to the podcast, which you can find on iTunes, you can find Karl’s resources for machine learning and his research journal at KarlRosaen.com, or find him on Twitter and Github at krosaen.

During our hour long talk, Karl and I talked about his work on the then top-secret Android platform for Google phones, entrepreneurship, and how to compete against artificial intelligence (AI).

In this episode, Karl and I get into:

  • How to get started as a programmer
  • How to choose between exciting projects
  • The secure path of blowing it all up and starting over
  • Machine learning—what is it, and what does it mean for the future of software?
  • Managing the evolution of your startup idea, and figuring out what works
  • Ideas about changing the future of food
  • The benefit and drawbacks of testing your startup up idea in local markets
  • Self-directed education
  • The importance of staying interested and following your curiosity
  • Applying product thinking to research
  • The dangers of an AI intelligence explosion and SkyNet
  • The deep technical and ethical questions that AI raises
  • What AI says about the nature of consciousness
  • What we can learn from toddlers about AI—object detection, differentiation and self-awareness
  • What happened when an robot taught itself to beat “Go!” every time
  • Insulating our minds from catastrophic thinking
  • The greatest threat: creatively competing with AI in the world of the future
  • How engineers can adapt in a world where AI writes programs
  • Why free thought and free expression are our ultimate weapons in staying relevant

People, resources and links from this episode

Burning Man Art: Uncovering Truth

“Is that a lie?” I asked the question as I realized the answer.

The conversation with my girlfriend this morning was around the “right” way to respond when someone shares a favorite food or drink—and, by abstraction, idea, story or position—that we don’t like. In these situations, we can eke by on half truths such as, “it’s interesting” or “it’s good” or “it must be healthy”. Or even outright lies like, “I like it” or “I agree”.

A better response, we decided, would be, “Wow. Thanks for sharing. On first impression, that’s quite a bit different than what I’m used to. But I can see how you might like it/see it that way.” And, for bonus points, “Maybe if I tried it a couple more times I’d like it better” or “Tell me more about why that’s important to you.”

There is an important distinction to be made between the mistakable and the unmistakable truth.

The mistakable truth can lead to misunderstanding, confusion, unresolved conflicts, missed opportunities, et cetera. By contrast, even if it results in a bit of initial conflict and discomfort, the unmistakable truth has a way of opening doors of real conversation, authentic connection and growth.

Featured image by Ben Canales of Truth Is Beauty, a 55-foot-tall sculpture created for Burning Man by artist Marco Cochrane.

Psychedelic Art on Philosophy and Wisdom

Consider above all else whether you’ve advanced in philosophy or just in actual years.

Seneca, Letters from a StoicXVI:3

Years mean nothing if we haven’t gained wisdom. And wisdom is worthless if it can’t be applied.

A useful definition of philosophy is that it is the practice of gaining wisdom by studying and consciously exposing oneself to the natural processes of growth and change in our selves, minds, society and the natural world.

For a fighter in the ring, victory or defeat is nothing more than the measure of the effectiveness of his training. Likewise for a philosopher, whole-hearted study of the inner and outer worlds in the easy times prepares him to apply philosophy in the harder times.

In this sense, wisdom is far from subjective and not at all open to interpretation. It is measured by the ability to keep a level head, stay curious, and thrive even under the worst of external circumstances.

Featured art source is unknown.

For more Stoic-style enlightenment, check out: