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Event details

36th Asilomar Conference - Feb 17-20, 2023

  • February 17, 2023
  • 4:00 PM
  • February 20, 2023
  • 12:00 PM
  • Asilomar, 800 Asilomar Ave, Pacific Grove, CA


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Registration closed

But  the details of this year's event are below

You can register for 2024 HERE

36th Annual Asilomar Conference - February 17 – 20, 2023

" Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world.”  Albert Einstein 

Deirdre Frontczak, Asilomar Chair

Friday, 7:15 p.m.    Welcome and Introductions Deirdre Frontczak, Ph.D., Asilomar Chair

Friday, 7:30 p.mNico Orlandi, Ph.D, Philosophy and Feminist Studies, U.C. Santa Cruz The Concept of a Woman

Everyone has an idea of what a woman is. But what does it mean to have that idea? What is occurring in our heads when we think of a “woman” -- or a man, or a white man, or any other social concept? Philosophers and psychologists hold ideas as concepts; in this view, having the concept or idea of a woman consists of having a general description of women in mind.

This talk explores a view that many of our ideas are akin to simple labels in thought. Our labels act as a sort of headline under whose umbrella a variety of information about that idea is catalogued  -- for example, the notion that women are adult human females, or that they tend to play a particular role in human reproduction. I suggest that the ideas we associate with the label do not, in fact, constitute that thing;  i.e., that it is not a conceptual truth that “women” are adult human females.  This insight has direct implications for current public debates on trans inclusion – or on other womanly roles -- since the concept of “woman” does not imply a certain reproductive nature. This position also allows us to make sense of “conceptual engineering” – an idea that we will explore in this talk.

Nico Orlandi is a philosopher of mind and cognitive science, whose work draws on research in cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and computer science. A central theme is understanding what kind of capacity perception is, and what kind of relationship it affords with the environment.  Current  projects concern Bayesian and predictive coding models of perception; and conceptual development, along with the significance of fMRI research for understanding cognition.  Dr. Orlandi completed undergraduate studies in Florence, a doctorate at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, andhas taught at both Rice University and Stanford. A first-generation college student, Dr. Orlandi has earned previous PBK Teaching Excellence awards.  

(*Note:  Orlandi's pronouns are "they / them." It was not a syntactical error.)

Saturday Morning, 9:30 a.m. Kerry Driscoll, Ph.D., Associate Editor of the Mark Twain Papers, U.C. Berkeley Mr. Clemens and the Saturday Morning Club of Hartford 

This presentation tells the little-known story of Mark Twain’s involvement with a group of young local women between the ages of 16 and 20 established in 1876 to “Promote Culture and Social Intercourse.” He assisted in the club’s founding and eventually became—as one member fondly recalled—its “patron saint.” He addressed the group on at least fifteen occasions (significantly, always in the role of “Mr. Clemens” rather than his nom de plume) and persuaded other literary friends to do the same. The writer’s devotion to the Club is most tangibly expressed in the exquisite pins he commissioned from Tiffany Lamp Company in 1880 and presented as gifts  to its members. Dr. Driscoll will discuss Clemens’s role as confidant and mentor to these young women and explore the innovative methods he devised for cultivating their self-expression—offering a fascinating glimpse of the more serious side of our nation’s most celebrated humorist. 

Kerry Driscoll is an Associate Editor at the Mark Twain Papers and Project at U.C. Berkeley.

Prior to that, she was a long-time professor of American Literature at the University of Saint Joseph in Connecticut. Kerry is the author of Mark Twain among the Indians and Other Indigenous Peoples (UCalifornia Press, 2018), which received the Louis J. Budd Award for Outstanding Scholarship from the Mark Twain Circle of America. Her presentation, “Mr. Clemens and the Saturday Morning Club of Hartford” is an excerpt from her current book project. Dr. Driscoll is a contributing editor for the Mark Twain Annual and a trustee of the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT.

Saturday Afternoon, 1:30 p.m. David B. Feldman, Ph.D., PBK, Psychology, Santa Clara University The Science of Hope 

More than three decades of research show that hopeful thinking is an essential ingredient in well-being and goal accomplishment. Numerous studies show that people with higher hope report lower anxiety and depression, and experience their lives as more meaningful and satisfying, than those with lower hope. Moreover, college students with higher hope achieve higher GPAs, lower drop-out rates, and accomplish their personal goals more often than those with lower hope. For the past 20 years, Dr. David Feldman’s research has helped clarify the meaning of hope and the mechanisms through which it appears to increase achievement and life satisfaction. In this talk, Dr. Feldman will offer a definition of hope, discuss why hope is important in a variety of life domains, and offer insights for kindling hope.

Dr. David B. Feldman is a professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University. Considered one of the nation’s foremost experts on this topic, his research and writings have addressed such topics as hope, meaning, and growth in the face of highly stressful circumstances. He has authored four books, including The Science and Application of Positive Psychology and Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering & Success. His work has been published in numerous scientific journals as well as featured in popular publications, including SELF, 'O': The Oprah Magazine, Time, and Harvard Business Review. Finally, he writes regularly for Psychology Today and hosts the program 'About Health' on KPFA Radio. For more information, please visit

Saturday Evening, 7:30 p.m. Tom Greene, Ph.D. Astrophysics, NASA Ames Research Center The James Webb Space Telescope: NASA's Greatest Observatory and its Fantastic Science

The James Webb Space Telescope is the most complex and powerful astronomical space observatory ever built. It launched on Christmas Day in 2021 and has recently been commissioned in its final orbit in the Sun – Earth system. The large 6.5-m diameter JWST primary mirror and its infrared instruments will allow it to see some of the very first luminous objects that formed in the Universe shortly after the Big Bang. Other major science themes of JWST encompass studying the assembly of galaxies, the birth of stars and planetary systems, and planetary systems and the origins of life. JWST will be the premier astrophysics space observatory for NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and scientists from all over the world will use it for 10-20 years or more. It employs several unique technologies, and the mission was in development for over 20 years. This talk will illustrate the mission's science goals and highlight some aspects of its design, technologies, and initial science results. 

Dr. Thomas Greene is an astrophysicist in the Space Science and Astrobiology Division at NASA's Ames Research Center. He conducts observational studies of exoplanets and young stars and develops astronomical technologies and instrumentation. Dr. Greene is a co-investigator on the NIRCam and MIRI science instruments of the James Webb Space Telescope and serves on the JWST Users Committee.  At NASA Ames he has served as the Director of the Center for Exoplanet Studies, Project Scientist of the SOFIA mission, and Chief of the Astrophysics Branch. Previously, he worked at Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, and taught at the University of Hawaii. Dr. Greene received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona and currently co-chairs the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Sunday Morning, 10 a.m. R. Jay Wallace, Ph.D., PBK, Philosophy, U.C. Berkeley and PBK Visiting Scholar, 2021-22 Why Is Everyone So Angry? 

Dr. Wallace’s topic is the dominance of anger in our political culture and discourse, a phenomenon on which Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals may shed some light. Nietzsche thought that large parts of aristocratic societies were consumed with “ressentiment,” a hostile attitude on the part of the dispossessed toward those who are structurally privileged. This negative emotional orientation eventually gives rise to a new scheme of moral values, which are adopted precisely because they enable the masses to make sense of their prior hostility and animus. So we have an original attitude of antagonism, and then a specific set of moral views become prevalent because of the way they render this hostile orientation intelligible to those who are subject to it. 

Something similar may be occurring in contemporary social processes. These are characterized by a tendency to forming negative group identities, whereby we come to understand who we are by defining ourselves in opposition to other groups. This leaves us with a hostile orientation toward the Other that doesn't really make sense, morally or intellectually. Under these circumstances, we tend to accept narratives of grievance, which attribute to The Other moral infractions that justify and render intelligible our opposition to them, and thereby satisfy an emotional need. But the process of accepting such narratives turns our antagonism into chronic anger, which is characteristically an attitude of emotional opposition to moral wrongs. 

Jay Wallace works in moral philosophy. His interests extend to all parts of the subject, and to such allied areas as political philosophy, philosophy of law, and philosophy of action. His research has focused on responsibility, moral psychology, normative ethics, and the theory of practical reason. Recently he has written on promising, resentment, hypocrisy, love, regret, and anger (among other topics). He was an undergraduate at Williams College, where he received the B.A. degree in 1979. He did his graduate work at the University of Oxford (B.Phil. 1983) and at Princeton University (Ph.D. 1988).  Wallace was a PBK Visiting Scholar for 2022.

Sunday Afternoon, 1: 30 p.m. 

Programming Note: At the start of this talk, we will take 15 minutes to hear from members of our Young Professionals Committee about mentoring opportunities for recent PBK graduates.

NCA YP has just launched our first-ever Mentorship Program!

This personal and professional development initiative offers mentorship for any and all members who would like to be a mentor or mentee. The goal of this program is to provide a structure to support meaningful relationships between mentors and mentees while creating opportunities for personal and professional growth. With flexibility in mind, the mentors and mentees are welcome to customize the program to meet individual and group needs.

Thank you for your interest in participating in our 2022 Mentorship Program! Please note that we are no longer accepting survey responses at this time. We will re-open our survey in 2023. Please stay tuned and follow us on social media for more updates and fun future events. 

Forest Rohwer, Ph.D., PBK, Microbial Ecologist, San Diego State University and  PBK Visiting Scholar, 2021-22 Viruses and the Health of Coral Reefs