Some of you might have already heard. We spent four crazy days in Las Vegas, ending this past Sunday. It wasn’t spur-of-the-moment. It wasn’t spontaneous. It wasn’t accidental. I’d been planning to go for nearly a year, and had finally booked the tickets in February. And then it arrived. (And now it’s over.) I simply didn’t write about it here, much, if at all, because — well — publishing one’s travel plans on the web would be pretty stupid.
First, let me give you low-down on the reason for the trip. For the last couple years I’ve been tuned into what you might call a quasi-rationalist, science movement. I’m sure most of you know about that — it’s not like I’ve been secretive about it — but if you don’t know then you should corner me sometime and ask. One way of explaining it is this: Simply, when all us science fiction geeks grew up and became adults we picked metaphorical camps in which to store our geeki-ness. About a third of us went off and stayed as just big kids, living with our parents and chasing Star Trek celebrities for their autographs. You know these folks. You see them dressing up like Klingons or spending wads of cash on autographed-things. Another third really did grow up, decided that there were more pedestrian pursuits, and are living their lives in relative obscurity with kids and jobs and (likely) admirable contributions to society. You might be even one of these and that’s great. The final third made the leap from science fiction to just science (science education, science investigation, and science information) and have formed in the past several years what is essentially a rapidly-expanding, massive grass-roots network of pro-education, pro-thought, pro-evidence, anti-scam crusaders. (Well, of a kind.) That last group has been holding an annual conference — The Amazing Meeting — in Las Vegas for the last seven years. And frankly, until I sat in a massive conference room with over a thousand people — scientists, bloggers, celebrities, podcasters, journalists, writers, authors, entertainers, and just average folk — representing just a fraction of the international force behind this group, me, myself and I didn’t even understand the scope of it. Nor did I understand just how complex and varied the array of beliefs and opinions (on just about any topic imaginable) is spread across all those folks. There are no stereotypes. There are no simple classifications for these people. There is no real unified goal or single “we all we all believe X” save for maybe the vague pursuit of exposing the economic, entertainment, social, medical, moral, or political deceptions made by one group of people unto another, for whatever reason. And we gathered in Las Vegas for two-plus days of surreality.
And we went, I dragging Karin along while Claire camped out in Red Deer and was shuttled through her own little adventure.
We arrived a day early. Never having been in Vegas, we stole off to the Strip. We took in the sights. We ate at the restaurants of famous chefs. We wandered the hotels. We photographed the lights and the people. We learned the hard way about the shortcomings of the Las Vegas transit system. We oohed-and-aahed at the grandeur and insanity of it all, from the unreal size and display, to the heat of the fourty-two-degree-C temps, and to the people spending, drinking, eating, and using their location to make many bad decisions about parenting. We lost money in machines. We shopped. We strolled. We tipped. We taxied. We shuttled. We observed. We took in shows. We ate small quantities of fabulous and expensive food and we ate large quantities of mediocre and less-expensive food. We drank fancy drinks under the lights. We spent entirely too much money. And we lost track of our senses of time and place, and maybe even of our sanity for a few very brief moments.
Needless to say, I’ve either had my fill of Vegas for many years, or am still just short of some kind of emotional and mental withdrawal phase that will hit me very hard very soon. It was awesome.
The other half of that vacation — whilst Karin lounged by the pool, shopped, read, relaxed, and just simply enjoyed herself while away from the stress of work — was me at the conference. It was me hunting for the crowds for the ten-odd folks from Edmonton and the fifty-or-so from Canada who made the trip, too. It was me perched in the fourth row (of fifty rows) listening to presentations on topics such as the portrayal of science in the media, the quasi-science of so-called personalized medicine and the costs to individuals and society, the role of personal failure in shaping one’s ability to think critically about one’s actions, the morality of deception in entertainment, the negative costs of listening to celebrities (or other non-experts) when it comes to making choices about health and medicine, and more. It was me chatting with idealists, scientists, geeks, entertainers, magicians and world-travelers over meals. It was a group of us storming a Mythbuster for his photograph. It was me wandering amidst people I know from television, podcasts, blogs, or just because they are (in their own place) famous. It was me attending an impromptu, on-stage wedding of a pseudo-famous podcaster I’ve been listening to for a couple years now. It was me engaged in a conversation with countless folks who’s position or opinion might have been entirely different, but who’s rules of rational engagement couldn’t have been more similar. It was entertainment and information. It was curiosity and then more questions. It was me coming back to the hotel room for a few moments at lunch just to catch my breath and tell my wife I’d just had the most surreal morning of my life.
I’m sure if you are reading this you already have your own opinions of all these things. And I don’t really expect to change your opinions any more than you should expect to change my core values — at least without good evidence. That’s not the point here. The point here is to record a reflection backwards from a thing I did in Vegas that I don’t think I want to stay behind. It’s my catharsis so I can go back to my life. The thing is that we all follow our ideas and our observations of our world to the place that makes the most sense to use personally. I went to Vegas because I thought I might get a better understanding of this thing in which I’ve been actively engaged, contributing to, and pursuing. I thought I might get a better impression of it, a better sense of the people and the ideas, for better or worse, frank and honest. And I did… I think. Of course, it has it’s flaws and gaps. It’s a human creation. But it also has elements that are driving it forward so strongly I couldn’t have imagined the possibilities.
To be honest, there was even a little secret I had before I went: I wanted to go to see if it was all worth it. I wanted to meet these folks and see if I was casting my lot — not with the right people but — with the right pattern of thought. My secret was that if I went and didn’t like what I saw, that if I got a whiff of something off, or broken, or rotten, or manipulative — that if I was following something hollow, deceptive, or just less than what it purported to be — then I was ready with the knife and prepared (mentally and emotionally) to cut the link.
No, really. “Snip. Done.”
But no. Instead we boarded a plane to Vegas and there in the hot, dry, neon desert of the unreal there really was something amazing. (Cue sappy music.) And thus… the journey continues.