Every summer since 2008, an eclectic collection of scientists, artists, economists, designers, philosophers, psychologists, and other thinkers have traveled 60 miles north of Seattle to gather in the big barn at Smoke Farm for a weekend of lectures, conversation, and communal dining.
My cohost Stuart Smithers (chair of the religion department at University of Puget Sound, expert on Buddhist stuff) and I call it the Smoke Farm Symposium, and there's nothing quite like it. As shorthand, we describe it as "TED Talks in a barn," but it's a livelier and more intimate experience to have 200 people camping, eating, and thinking together on a 300-acre former dairy farm than shuttling in and out of auditoria and hotels.
If our astrobiologist alumnus Ken Williford shows up again this year, for example, you might be able to take an impromptu telescope tour of the night sky with one of NASA's most brilliant minds. And the Symposium may be the only place on the planet where you can easily find yourself sitting by—or swimming in—the river with a MacArthur Genius; a Soros fellow; an architect who dreams up futuristic, environmentally sustainable cities for the Chinese government; and a longtime member of the Black Panther Party.
The 2015 Symposium is on the weekend of August 22. Tickets are limited, but they're available now.
More details are below , but this year's speakers are: Adrienne Fairhall ("Decoding the Mind: Frontiers in Brain Research"), Susan Stryker (“Cross-Dressing for Empire: Gender, Race, and Place at the Bohemian Club”), Sheldon Solomon (“The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life”), Kelly Vomacka (“Plea Nation: Dispelling the Illusion That the US Criminal Justice System Sorts the Guilty from the Innocent”), Kareem James Abu-Zeid (“Psychedelics and Meditation: Experimenting on the Self”), and John Criscitello (“Façadeomy: Gentrification, Tech Money, and the Architecture of Normativity in the Gayborhood”). Our chef this year is Monica Dimas (Campagne, Le Pichet, Monsoon, Spinasse, Neon Taco).
And more about this year's Symposium:
Adrienne Fairhall “Decoding the Mind: Frontiers in Brain Research”
With a background that includes theoretical physics and statistical physics, Fairhall is currently the co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Neuroengineering and will discuss the latest horizons in neural research, including what we know, where progress is happening, and current challenges to understanding the brain.
Susan Stryker “Cross-Dressing for Empire: Gender, Race, and Place at the Bohemian Club”
Stryker is an associate professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona and has served as a visiting professor at Harvard University, Simon Fraser University, and others. She is currently working on a book about Bohemian Grove, the infamous campground in Northern California that serves as a summertime gathering place for economic and political power brokers—most of them American and all of them male.
Sheldon Solomon “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life”
Solomon is a professor of psychology at Skidmore College and helped developed Terror Management Theory, which postulates how the existential dilemma of mortality—wishing to live in the face of inevitable death—influences human decision-making.
Kelly Vomacka “Plea Nation: Dispelling the Illusion That the US Criminal Justice System Sorts the Guilty from the Innocent”
Kelly Vomacka, an experienced criminal defense lawyer, explores the mechanics behind a criminal-justice system in which 97 percent of cases result in plea bargains. Those pleas do not determine guilt or innocence, though individuals who plead guilty are then saddled with that label—in the eyes of potential employers, landlords, and others—for the rest of their lives.
Kareem James Abu-Zeid “Psychedelics and Meditation: Experimenting on the Self”
Abu-Zeid has translated novels by writers from Lebanon (Rabee Jaber) and Sudan (Tarek Eltayeb), as well as poetry collections such as The Iraqi Nights by Dunya Mikhail and Nothing More to Lose by Najwan Darwish. He has taught courses in four languages in Berkeley, Mannheim, and Heidelberg and is writing a history of psychedelic literature that will also serve as his PhD dissertation in comparative literature at the University of California Berkeley.
John Criscitello “Façadeomy: Gentrification, Tech Money, and the Architecture of Normativity in the Gayborhood”
A multimedia visual artist living in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Criscitello addresses a wide variety of subjects including materialism, capitalist culture, gay culture, and homoeroticism. In response to the influx of what he calls “new moneyed denizens” who have begun to “whitewash a historic enclave of queer and creative individuals,” Criscitello began a series of street-art paintings and posters that have provoked a citywide discussion about culture clash, new money versus established community, and the commodification of gay culture.
We hope to see you there.