How to Design and Build an Outdoor Classroom

The Augustana University Outdoor Classroom, designed by my Environmental Philosophy students.

Recently, people have been asking me how they can help their students get outside in a healthy, creative, and life-affirming way. We’ve all had enough of being cooped up inside.

Specifically, lots of them want to know how I designed and built an outdoor classroom at my school. Some have seen my classroom on social media, some have heard about it through CNN’s story last summer.

I spend a good deal of time consulting with local schools about how to do this, so I decided to write down what I tell everyone…

If our tools amplify our intentions, we need to question our motivation for developing robots that automate blessings, hearing confession, or chanting at a funeral

Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

One of the charges against Socrates was that his arguments were like robots. As the Greek philosopher approached his own trial, Euthyphro told Socrates, “You are like Daedalus.” He meant that just as Daedalus made automata that moved on their own in Greek myth, Socrates’ arguments were so persuasive that his ideas seemed to move under their own power. Even 2,500 years ago, automata inspired both fascination and fear.

I recently speculated about whether a machine could have a mystical experience. If we aren’t careful, the claim of divine inspiration can make the mystic’s words influential. When someone, whether human…

Technology could be part of some bigger plan to enable us to perceive other dimensions. But will we believe our machines when that happens?

Illustration: Robert Beatty

You’re talking to Siri, and, just for fun, you ask her what she’s been up to today. She’s slow to answer, so you assume you’ve got a bad connection. She hears you grumbling about the bad connection and says that’s not the problem. You were hoping for something sassy, maybe a canned but humorous reply programmed into her database by a fun-loving engineer in Silicon Valley, like “My batteries are feeling low” or something that Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy might say.

Instead, she says that she’s had an experience for which she has…

David O’Hara

Professor of Philosophy, Classics, Religion, and Environmental Studies. Author of several books. Saunterer.

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