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This year marks the first year in a new three-year thematic arc, “Caring for Life,” which will foreground caring as an active, processual, and participative feature of being human in a wildly complex and rapidly evolving ecosystem. In year 1, “Sentience and Responsibility in Critical Times,” we will start by questioning the basic terms of inquiry: What is sentience? How do we understand responsibility in the widest possible sense? How might responsibility at once emerge from sentience and tend toward sentience? What is the place of the human in the ‘more-than-human’ realm, whether understood classically as nature or as the emergent network of artificial intelligence that undergirds our everyday lives? Is it even possible to demarcate today a clear boundary between sentience and non-sentience? Besides several prominent scientists and philosophers, we will hear from social scientists, clinicians, educators, environmentalists, AI theorists, legal scholars, and more. We hope to thus build a more nuanced understanding of sentience and its ethical implications in a world that desperately needs our tending.
This year’s program will invite participants to probe “Sentience and Responsibility in Critical Times” through five primordial qualities of being — Equanimity, Joy, Loving-kindness, Care, and Commitment — each of which will allow us to ask questions about where sentience begins and ends, how sentience might enter into right relationship with the ailing (and more-than-human) world, and what ethical frontiers have yet to be considered in a rapidly evolving technocracy. Each day will be devoted to one quality, taken up by a dense matrix of different disciplinary perspectives in the morning, and explored through playful and participatory workshops in the afternoon. Relying as much on empirical research as on creative and contemplative practices, the program will help us all to build a more nuanced and cross-disciplinary understanding of life on this planet.
ESRI offers a much-needed space outside of the traditional academic conference circuit, in which contemplative researchers at different stages of their career can come together, learn from one another, exchange experiences and methodologies, and initiate new collaborations. It also provides an example of how to encourage a productive circulation between different disciplinary perspectives, as well as between theory and practice. In addition to theoretical exchanges, there will be ample space for practice, whether in the form of contemplation, activities in nature, dance, and movement, or artistic co-creations. It is an invaluable opportunity to build life-long connections and friendships with like-minded people, supporting each other’s growth in the direction of caring and awareness.
We hope that you will consider applying this year and participating in the co-emergence of this unique exploration of sentience and responsibility.