Nammour Philosophy Symposium

April 8 & 9, 2015


printable flyer (with colorful pictures and logos)

printable schedule, abstracts, and biographies (black and white)

We're happy to thank Randy Mayes for organizing the Nammour symposium for about the past two decades.

We're also very happy to thank this year's Nammour symposium organizers: Vadim Keyser, Kyle Swan, and Dan Weijers.

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Session One: 10:00am - 12:00 pm          Meditation and Happiness

Discussion Moderator: Kyle Swan, Sacramento State

Talk 1: The Basics of Mindfulness for Self-Care and Stress Management

Marvin Belzer, University of California - Los Angeles

Abstract: Mindfulness is the art of openly and actively paying attention to experience in the present moment. This approach has scientific support as a means to reduce stress, improve attention, boost the immune system, reduce emotional reactivity, and promote a general sense of health and wellness. This workshop will engage participants in several experiential practices where they will explore the basics of mindfulness meditation as well as methods to cultivate positive emotions, with special emphasis on reduction of stress.

Bio: Marvin Belzer is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, and also the Associate Director of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. His Ph.D. is in philosophy, and he was a Professor of Philosophy at Bowling Green St. University in Ohio for many years, where he began teaching a mindfulness course for credit in 1998. Belzer now teaches a wide variety of courses on mindfulness at UCLA.

video icon Click to view. 1 hour 3 min (YouTube)

Talk 2: The Dark Side of Meditation

Yuliya Chernykhovskaya, UC-Merced

Abstract: Depression, suicidal thoughts, sleepless nights, and physical pain are not phenomena that are typically thought to be associated with meditation, since meditation is widely recognized as a beneficial contemplative practice. However, there have been reports indicating that meditators can experience such adverse effects, referred to as the “dark night of the soul”. In this talk, we will be discussing the nature of the “dark night of the soul” and ideas about why this phenomena might occur..

Bio: Yuliya Chernykhovskaya is a graduate student in the Cognitive and Information Sciences department at the University of California, Merced. Her interests include experimental philosophy, consciousness, meditation, intuition, and implicit association.

video icon Click to view. 25 min (YouTube)

Session Two: 1:00pm - 3:00 pm          Philosophical perspectives on happiness

Session Chair: Vadim Keyser, Sacramento State

Talk 1:Get Real, Be Happy: Authenticity and Happiness in Daoism and Zen

Rick Schubert, Cosumnes River College

Commentator: David Corner, Sacramento State

Abstract: Mainstream contemporary Anglo-European culture generally views happiness as an internal state that directly results from external circumstances. On this view, it is our external circumstances that make us happy or unhappy. However, Zhuangzian Daoism and, under its influence, Zen Buddhism contend that external circumstances have little to do with how happy we are. What does matter to how happy we are, Daoism and Buddhism tell us, is how directly we are in touch with and embrace reality, in specific, the reality of our own self-nature. I present a version of the Daoist and Buddhist view and canvass its advantages over the mainstream contemporary Anglo-European view.

Bio: An internationally recognized scholar of Asian Philosophy, award-winning teacher, and pioneer in academic Philosophy of the Martial Arts, Rick Schubert is Professor of Philosophy at Cosumnes River College.

video icon Click to view. 52 min (YouTube)

Talk 2: Manipulated into Being Happy

Timothy Houk, University of California - Davis

Commentator: Kyle Swan, Sacramento State

Abstract: Is it ever morally permissible to manipulate someone into being happy? Manipulation usually involves influencing a subject to act in certain ways or believe certain things. So to manipulate someone into being happy is just to manipulate that person to have particular beliefs or to act in particular ways such that those beliefs and actions result in her happiness (and the resulting happiness must have been intended by the manipulator). It can be permissible to manipulate someone into being happy. My case will primarily be motivated by thought experiments. I will offer cases where it seems that (1) S has manipulated R into being happy and (2) S has not done anything morally impermissible. One case involves a kind of libertarian paternalism (or `nudging' as popularized by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein) where a manipulator does not coerce, but uses known cognitive biases to influence agents into making particular choices. And another case involves straightforward deception. There are three main ways to push back on my argument. One could claim that S has not actually manipulated R (where the focus is on the notion of manipulation). One could claim that S has not manipulated R into being happy (where the focus is on the notion of happiness). Or one could claim that S has done something morally impermissible. I will focus on defending my argument against the first, and to a lesser extent, the last, of these claims.

Bio: Tim Houk is a graduate student in Philosophy at University of California, Davis. Prior to his current study, Houk completed his BA in Philosophy here at California State University, Sacramento, and then an MA in Philosophy of Religion & Ethics, Biola University. Houk's areas of interest are Ethics, Epistemology, and Metaphysics.

video icon Click to view. 50 min (YouTube)

Thursday April 9th

Session Three: 10:00 am-12:00 pm            Choice and Happiness

Talk 1: Happiness for sale: How money buys happiness (and why people don't buy it)

Ryan T. Howell, San Francisco State University

Commentator: Dan Weijers, Sacramento State

Abstract: Every day more and more people are trying to understand the relationship between money and happiness. Although everyone desires to be happy, the pathways people choose are varied (and not always successful). People frequently believe that making more money will increase their happiness. However, although the United States economy has grown steadily since the 1950’s, happiness levels of Americans have not increased. Also, after a person’s basic needs have been met (food, shelter, etc.), the relationship between income and happiness is quite small. This leads to a simple, yet important question: if materialistic pursuits, those that are embodied by the American Dream, are not making people happier, then are the hours we spend pursuing better careers, nicer homes, and faster cars, in vain? The problem is that people are simply spending their money on the wrong things (literally). People can spend their money in ways which will make them, and others around them, happier—by focusing their expenditures on activities that satisfy their basic psychological needs. Recently, research has begun to support this advice and explain why people find it so hard to follow.

Bio: Dr. Ryan T. Howell is an Associate Professor of Psychology at San Francisco State University and the co-founder of, an academic website which allows individuals all over the world to take free psychology quizzes to find out how their spending choices affect their happiness. He and his colleagues developed Beyond the Purchase to explore the well-being costs and benefits of different purchasing and money-management choices as well as the motivations behind these different consumer choices. He is the director of The Personality and Well-Being Lab at San Francisco State University which focuses on identifying the factors that may best remedy human problems and cultivate thriving by understanding the barriers to functioning while simultaneously determining the conditions for meeting higher-order psychological needs. The primary aim of the Personality and Well-Being Lab is to communicate to scientists and society about how development, personality, motivation, values, beliefs, forecasts, and community interact with a person's economic conditions and financial decision-making to influence experienced quality of life—from suffering to flourishing.

video icon Click to view. 49 min (YouTube)

Talk 2: A Defense of Puddleglum

Russell DiSilvestro, Sacramento State

Commentator: Randy Mayes, Sacramento State

Abstract: Is it possible, or advisable, to aim to affect what you yourself believe in order to make yourself…happier? Pascal seemed to think so. William James seemed to think not. C.S. Lewis seemed to think not—or did he? The character of Puddleglum, the adorable if hyper-pessimistic Marsh-Wiggle from The Silver Chair (part of Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia), gives us an example—in a single but pivotal scene of the story—of how it might be possible, and even advisable, to calibrate beliefs with an eye towards happiness. This is all the more astonishing because Puddleglum is such a pessimist in every other scene of the book, and because Lewis seems to take the opposite position in his other writings. What is going on here? And how might we apply Puddleglum's case to real-life cases, like the recent case of a California pastor who tried on atheism for a year as an experiment-in-living?

Bio: Russell DiSilvestro is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Practical and Professional Ethics. He received his PhD from Bowling Green State University. Professor DiSilvestro's main teaching and research interests are Ethics (Applied and Social/Political), Metaphysics, and Bioethics. He is the author of Human Capacities and Moral Status.

video icon Click to view. 50 min (YouTube)


Session Four: 1:00-3:00 pm     
Student panel: The experience machine and the importance of happiness
Session chair: Dan Weijers, Sacramento State

Winners of the Nammour student essay competition:

Katherine Runkle: Happiness and the Experience Machine
Joseph Gurrola: The Metaphysics of the Experience Machine
Christian Green: Analysis of “The Experience Machine”

video icon Click to view. 1 hour 49 min (YouTube)