May 22, 2018
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Camden philosophy conference tackles technology, boundaries

By Tom Groening, BDN Staff

CAMDEN, Maine — The Camden Philosophical Society invites those willing to unplug from the Internet and think about how technology has changed the human experience to join them at its sixth annual Philosophy at the Edge conference.

This year’s conference, on Saturday, July 28, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, has as its theme “Technology — Crossing and Creating Boundaries.” Three academics each will speak for about 50 minutes, with a 25-minute discussion among those attending following each presentation.

Sarah Miller, a member of the society who helped organize the conference, said the group hopes that both those with advanced degrees and those who never studied philosophy will consider attending. One of the group’s central goals, she said, is that the conferences are accessible to all.

Clearly, one doesn’t need a postgraduate degree to know that technology has changed our lives. But questions such as, “Does technology rule us or do we rule it?” and “How does technology alter the experience of being human?” are among those the conference hopes to address.

Val Dusek, a philosophy professor at the University of New Hampshire, will speak on the topic “Technology: Human Relations or Hardware?” Dusek, who has written a textbook on the philosophy of technology, plans to explore the social systems he believes are essential parts of technology’s hardware.

If people have the sense that technology is out of control, Dusek argues, the social organizations that propagate a technology are to blame, not the hardware itself, he said in the society’s press release about the conference.

Howard Segal, a professor of history at the University of Maine, will deliver his talk, “Beyond Huxley, Orwell and other 20th-Century Dystopians: The Revival of Technological Utopianism in the 21st Century.” Segal told the society he will talk about his own “healthy skepticism about all utopian aspirations,” but also address those “committed visionaries [who] force us to rethink the present and future alike.”

Duke University professor Mark Hansen will seek to answer the question “Can Consciousness Think 21st Century Media?” The talk will examine the challenges posed by what Hansen sees as a shift in the media from being a recording of the past to an anticipation of the future. Hansen, the society notes, will further explore what happens “when data gathering substitutes for consciousness in the process of ‘presenting’ experience.”

Miller said the society was formed by the late Victor Suchar, a resident of Bath, England, who owned a house in Camden. Suchar, after deciding to spend more of the year in Camden, placed an advertisement in the local newspaper seeking those interested in reading and discussing philosophy. He had belonged to a similar group in England.

“He managed to find some like-minded souls,” Miller said, and the group began meeting monthly seven years ago. The group first read 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, she said, “and we moved on from there.”

In recent years, the group has read and discussed contemporary philosophers such as Jacques Ellul and John Searle.

It was Suchar who wanted to start the annual conference, Miller said, but he died before it was launched. The conference themes have included “Imagining Place: Philosophy in Social Character,” and “Ethics in Today’s Policy Choices.” Last year, the conference was titled “Experimental Philosophy: Out of the Arm Chair.”

The conference draws people from the midcoast but also from Portland, Bangor and the Blue Hill peninsula, Miller said.

She stressed that “those who haven’t done extensive reading in academic philosophy” are welcome and will find the discussions accessible.

The suggested donation for admission to the conference, which runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., is $20 for adults, $10 for students. For information, visit or email Miller at

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