Here’s what attendees say about TOS-Con 2021: Philosophy for Freedom and Flourishing.
“This conference was a rejuvenating and intellectually stimulating experience unlike anything I've ever encountered. If you told me the next TOS-Con would be held on a remote island in the Arctic Circle, I’d find a way to get there. I would swim through orca-infested, icy seas if I had to. That’s how much I loved this conference and how excited I am to attend the next one.” —Leisa
“TOS-Con boosted my spirits like nothing I’ve experienced before. Meeting people who share my love of life and engaging with them on an intellectual level left me satiated.” —Anonymous
“I have a list of about 10 immediately actionable takeaways, from the importance of being prolific in releasing products, to the importance of creating an environment to foster deep work—all while getting my body in shape to fuel my creative passions.” —Ryan
“We greatly appreciated both the practical-living and the spiritually uplifting sessions.” —Roger & Becky
“Going forward, I will approach my goals with a new sense of purpose and urgency.” —Ken
“After this conference, I will not waste a single moment of my life.” —Raja
TOS-Con 2021 transformed people’s lives. Here’s why:
The conference kicked off with an opening banquet where people caught up with friends they hadn’t seen in years and met like-minded strangers who would soon become friends for life.
The next morning, Sarah Biddle, with her characteristic warmth, welcomed everyone to the first day of presentations and provided a rundown of the extracurricular activities—kayaking on the Charles River, a concert with rock band Nimbus 9, Lindy Hop lessons with David Crawford, jam sessions, karaoke, a game room, and more.
I delivered the first talk, “Do Process: A Strategy for Thriving,” about how to integrate fundamental philosophic principles with various self-development ideas to create a powerful strategy for achieving your goals and loving life. This set the stage for the massive integration of ideas, principles, and practices that characterized this unique conference.
Next up was Eric Daniels, discussing “History: Who Needs It” and showing that all of us do if we care about freedom and flourishing. Dr. Daniels illuminated not only the importance of history to our personal lives and political freedom, but also the importance of grasping the essentials of history and protecting the objectivity of this pivotal field against efforts to distort it.
Rajshree Agarwal examined the why and the how of “Designing Your Life around a Central Purpose.” She walked us through a process for clearly defining your purpose, writing it in the form of a mission statement, defining your view of success, formulating a value proposition, and finding others with whom to engage and trade for maximum success in your chosen field.
Gloria Alvarez discussed how relatively free minds developed essentially free markets and in various eras and regions throughout history, the consequences of such freedom, and the importance of fighting for the yet-to-be-implemented ideal of “Capitalism: The Social System for Human Flourishing.”
David Crawford presented practical advice for getting more enjoyment from music, organizing your playlists in ways that integrate with your various activities, discovering new artists and works you’ll love, and incorporating music more broadly and deeply into your life in creative, soul-fueling ways. I suspect many people have already made changes to their playlists and perhaps even made plans to incorporate more music into their lives, by learning a musical instrument or taking dance lessons or the like. I have.
People then headed to the excellent restaurants in Newton for dinner, discussion, and relaxation before the evening events.
After dinner, rock band Nimbus 9 played a concert that brought out the dancer in practically everyone and expanded the camaraderie underway. Those who were not up for a concert gathered in the game room to play chess, cards, and the like—or in the lounge to discuss ideas, get to know each other, and deepen relationships.
The next morning, after the early risers had already been kayaking or hiking, Mitchell Earl examined the question, “How to Forge a Meaningful, Self-Directed Career,” providing practical advice not only for young adults who are just getting started in their career efforts, but also for older people who aim continually to improve and enrich theirs.
Then, turning to the body side of mind-body integration, Doug McGuff provided a power-packed summary of the most advanced knowledge on “Physical Conditioning for a Lifetime of Flourishing.” Covering both exercise and diet, Dr. McGuff discussed crucial yet non-obvious principles for maximizing the length and quality of your life, and spelled out immediately implementable practices for improving your healthspan.
Jon Hersey then regaled us with “Benjamin Franklin’s Principles for Freedom and Flourishing,” noting that in addition to Franklin’s vital contributions to the advancement of liberty, he was one of the first and best self-development thinkers in history. Hersey distilled Franklin’s wisdom down to five immediately practicable principles, using stories from Franklin’s life and his own to show how we can use these ideas to become ever more healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Addressing “Racism: Real, Imagined, and Inverted,” Jason Hill discussed the nature and absurdity of racism and advocated radical individualism, in which people do not regard themselves or others as members of a racial group, a gender, a class, or even a country—but instead see themselves and others as individual human beings with the same general needs and capacities as other human beings. This, Dr. Hill argued, is the solution to all forms of racism and collectivism more broadly.
Next were three presentations in the breakout sessions. In one, artist Jon Wos told the riveting story of how Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, helped him to overcome obstacles associated with his genetic bone disorder, Osteogenesis Imperfecta, and to create a successful career and a fulfilling life. The talk, titled “Realizing Romanticism,” caused so many tears of joy that we’ve invited Jon to give an expanded version of it on the main stage at a future TOS-Con, where we can all cry together!
In another breakout, Chad Morris presented, “The Tortoise and the Hare: The Case for Slowing Down Your Exercise,” emphasizing that exercise should enhance your life, and exploring ways to ensure that it does. Attendees young and old, male and female, experienced with exercise and inexperienced, left with new knowledge and techniques for improving their fitness, increasing their energy, avoiding injuries, and getting more enjoyment out of life.
In a third breakout, “Freelancing Your Way to Felicity and Financial Freedom,” Tim White discussed the pros and cons of freelancing, how to determine whether it’s for you, and actionable strategies for designing and creating your own career on your own terms. Attendees left with tried-and-true principles and practices for developing a lucrative career as their own boss.
That night, after dinner, David Crawford revisited his theme on the importance of music in life by teaching a Lindy Hop lesson. This was a blast, and it led to a whole lot of Lindy Hop at the dance after the closing banquet on the following night. But this night was still young.
After the Lindy Hop lesson, karaoke kicked in, and participants sang all manner of songs from “I Did It My Way” (Frank Sinatra), to “For Once in My Life” (Stevie Wonder), to “I’ll Wait for You” (U2), to “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (John Denver). This too was a blast.
The next morning, Timothy Sandefur presented “A Brush with John Singer Sargent,” showing slides of Sargent’s beautiful and controversial paintings, discussing his artistic approach in contrast to other painters of his era, explaining why Sargent was despised by some for his virtues, and celebrating a long-overdue revival in appreciation for Sargent’s works today.
Next, Cal Newport presented “Your Superpower for Success in a Distracted World,” providing a concise condensation of his ideas, continuing research, and latest thinking on deep work. Dr. Newport defined deep work as “activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit.” He argued convincingly that the ability to do this kind of work is a superpower in today’s multi-tasking, Internet-obsessed world. And his talk was packed with ways to cultivate this superpower. It also blended beautifully with the deeper philosophic principles presented at the conference, expanding the massive integration to help us level up and thrive.
Next, in “Heroes of Philosophy,” Andrew Bernstein examined the ideas of several philosophers throughout history who revered man’s reasoning mind, celebrated human potential, and advocated the goal of living and enjoying life on Earth—and he contrasted their ideas with those of philosophers who attacked reason, throttled progress, and ultimately caused all manner of human destruction. This contrast made the heroes of philosophy—from Aristotle to John Locke to Ayn Rand—stand out all the more as thinkers whose ideas we should study and whose best ideas we should embrace and implement in our lives.
Next up, Timothy Sandefur and C. Bradley Thompson discussed “America’s Revolutionary Ideas: Their History and Possible Future.” Among other topics, Mr. Sandefur and Dr. Thompson delved into the American conception of rights that led to the creation of “the first moral nation in history” (as Ayn Rand put it) as well as John Locke’s significance to the founding and the historiographical trends that have downplayed that significance for decades. This was another concrete lesson in “history: who needs it.”
For the final presentation of the conference, I discussed “Secular Spirituality: The Nature and Nurture of Your Mind and Soul.” Reflecting on my childhood experiences in a boy’s choir and attending church, I surveyed the legitimate values that people get from church—enjoyment of beautiful, often uplifting music; reflection on the purpose of our lives; engagement with like-minded people; thinking about what’s right and wrong—and illustrated the ways in which these are actually secular values that can be gained in purely secular ways. I then reflected on the presentations, activities, and experiences of the conference and showed that these were all about spirituality—as in the values of consciousness, the mind, emotions, the soul. (I’m told that this talk amounted to a secular sermon for people of reason. I like that.)
For the final evening of the conference, we enjoyed a wonderful banquet (Chef Angelo’s food was excellent) and a night full of dancing, photos, discussions, and a celebration of life, liberty, and happiness the likes of which I’ve never seen before.
We had gathered to sharpen our minds, fuel our souls, excel in life, and fight for liberty. And that’s what we did.
Huge thanks to everyone who made this conference possible: the attendees for trekking from all corners of the globe to participate; the speakers for their amazing, life-changing presentations; OSI’s staff for their incredibly thoughtful and hard work in putting this event together; my wife and president of OSI, Sarah Biddle, for orchestrating the whole thing; the Atlases of TOS-Con 2021 for their extra support, which made possible extremely low pricing for students and young adults to attend the conference; and Carl Barney for his general support of OSI and for providing funding for the Active-Mind Scholarships, which enabled scores of bright young people to attend who otherwise could not have come.
Here’s to a wonderful conference. And here’s looking forward to TOS-Con 2022! (It will be somewhere “cool.”)
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