In the promotional material for CSICon this year, we used a lot of allusions to Vegas as a “city of illusions,” a notable contrast to the aims of a conference like this: the dispelling of illusions, or at least harmful ones. And arriving here during the day, to a hotel like the Excalibur, yes, it’s about illusion, for sure, but not in the sense of being fooled or having your mind blown as in a magic act. It’s more in the sense of a wilful illusion. “Let’s pretend this is a magic castle.”
On a hazy day in Las Vegas, the place looks almost like an abandoned theme park. Well, that’s not quite right. Maybe more like a distant relative of a theme park that sometimes gets involved in some questionable dealings and we just don’t bring it up at Thanksgiving. But the Excalibur itself is particularly fantastic; I audibly chuckled when I finally saw it from my taxi window. It’s a monument to “let’s play pretend.”
But we’re not going to see too much of the outside of this castle. There is so much going on over these next few days, I’m a little intimidated. There are hundreds of people here who are really excited. The sessions are packed into a relentless schedule so there is something new going on all the time. (Probably for the best, so I don’t get tempted to sneak off and try and lose my money to a slot machine.)
Our conference comes at a time when the country is going googly-eyed over the constant stream of information and misinformation, anxiety, and conspiracy mongering of the 2016 election. At a reception last night, Robyn Blumner, the CEO of CFI, said she had a lot of hope for the future of reason and skepticism, if we can only “survive the present moment.” This conference will be a good shot in the arm for that. We’ll fortify our brains and our psyches for the home stretch of the election, ready to bring our sharpened critical thinking to the rest of the year, and the rest of our lives.
As long as we don’t get lost among the Big Bang Theory and Ellen DeGeneres themed slot machines. Could happen.