Category Archives: Ronin Activities

Ronin Public Seminar: Biolinguistics and Language Evolution: What is Linguistic Simplicity?

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

Presenter: Keith Tse, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date/time: Nov 6, 2020 at 12:00 PM US Eastern Time / 16:00 UTC (local time)(add to your calendar)
Hosted by: Varsha Dani, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Abstract. Modern linguistic theory goes one step further than standard scientific conventions of formal simplicity (‘Occam’s Razor’) in denoting the simplest formalisations for language structures not only for theory-internal reasons but also for empirical reasons (Martin and Uriagereka (2000)), since it has been established human infants acquire their first language at such an exceptionally high rate that, in accordance with Plato’s Problem, there may be an innate component in the human mind which is species-specific and genetically designed for human language. This is Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (UG), and formal metrics of ‘simplicity’ are a hot topic in contemporary syntactic debates as numerous definitions have been proposed throughout the development of Chomskyan models of language whose latest version known as the Minimalist Program (MP) (Chomsky (1995)) provides a backdrop to language variation and change. While assumptions such as Plato’s Problem and formal simplicity are widely agreed upon, consensus with regards to technical details remains elusive, since Chomsky (2004) radically revises his earliest definitions of formal simplicity (Chomsky (1995, 2000, 2001)) which has given rise to lively debates in modern syntactic theory. This presentation critically examines the history and evolution of modern syntactic theory from a Chomskyan perspective and compares the various principles of ‘simplicity’ proposed which drives us to the conclusion that extraneous elements in language may indeed be eliminated in favour of the simplest structures.

Ronin Public Seminar: Messaging Matters: A Checklist to Enhance Buy-in for Your Ideas

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

Presenter: Thomas J. Buckholtz, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date/time: October 23 at 2:00 PM ET/ 6:00 PM GMT (local time)(add event to your calendar)
Hosted by: Vesselin Gueorguiev, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary: Gain a checklist and perspective to use when marketing your endeavors to would-be clientele, colleagues, funders, or other entities. Consider using the checklist for many other activities throughout your life. I developed this and some other checklists, based on perspective from a diverse career. (I have worked with large and small enterprises in aerospace, agricultural research, biotech, business services, computing, defense, education, energy utilities, government, healthcare, high technology, innovation, insurance, Internet, law enforcement, politics, research and development, telecommunications, and venture capital. One role included leading a 2,000-person business unit.) The checklists are broadly applicable, semi-rigorous, and hopefully not overly prescriptive.

Here’s a preview into the seminar:

If you’d like to get ahead of the curve, you can take a look at the recorded presentation (below) ahead of time and be ready with your questions & discussion points at the seminar.

Ronin Public Seminar: COVID19 and Cutting Edge Technologies You Can Deploy from Home Yourself!

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

Presenter: Vesselin Gueorguiev

Date/time: September 25 at 1:00 pm US ET/ 5:00 PM GMT (local time)(add to your calendar)

Summary: Have you considered using a Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools to understand COVID19? How about a chatbot that can answer some of your friends’ questions about COVID19? Do you think that applications for a Quantum Computer are too far in the future? You can access and play with all these cutting edge technology tools today! In this talk, freely available resources will be used to demonstrate the utilization of all these cutting edge technologies to understand and inform the public about COVID19. The speaker will demo a Slack and Facebook integrated ChatBot that can answer questions about COVID19, a focused NLP and NLU COVID19 based search collection, and finally a quantum computer GDP-sick people optimization for informed reopening decisions.

Ronin Public Seminar: Foundations & Examples for how to tackle (Geo)ethical Dilemmas

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

PresenterMartin Bohle

Date/time: September 16 at 10:00 AM US ET / 2:00 PM GMT (in your local time) (add event to your calendar)

Summary: This essay is about less-than-satisfying circumstances, and imperfect solutions. To that end it presents some theory, experiences and examples for how to tackle ‘geoethical dilemmas’. Geosciences co-shape the human niche, that is, the planetary network of twinned natural and cultural landscapes. Bundled by global supply chains, humans restlessly alter it through engineering, production and consumption. In turn, human agents face counter-intuitive system-behaviour, irreversible path-dependency, and multi-facet values and interests, including ‘ethical dilemmas’. 

Facing such premises, geoethics explores cultural substrates to nurture the skills of agents when facing suchlike ‘wicked’ system-features. Initially, geoethics was conceived for geoscientists, that is, their professional functions in various societal contexts. Subsequently, geoethics evolved into an epistemic, moral hybrid for citizens interacting with the Earth system. Geoethics amended by Kohlberg’s hierarchy of moral adequacy and Jonas’s imperative of responsibility results in a ‘geoethical rational’, namely, to act: ‘actor-centric, virtue-ethics focused, responsibility focused, knowledge-based, all-actor-inclusive, and universal-rights based’. Less-than-perfect guidance, such as the geoethical rational offers, can support agents to navigate the human niche, that is coping with ‘ethical dilemmas’.

Living in a world of Covid-19

Covid-19 has had a drastic impact on people everywhere. Over the past few weeks, we collected stories from Ronin Research Scholars about what their life has been like in different parts of the world. The Scholars here present their stories from Pakistan, United Kingdom, Dubai, and Germany.


Dr. Tamseela Hussain, Pakistan — April 5, 2020

My husband is an ICU doctor and I am a consultant of medical informatics. 

Pakistan has approx 2600 cases thus far since Feb 2020 and we expect more as we continue testing. Pakistan continues to struggle with food for daily wagers as they suffer the most during lockdowns. Medical staff and general public are struggling with PPE and masks etc.

I would like to share with Ronin that I have created an Informatics form for Covid-19 management with basic clinically relevant Covid parameters. This form can be used for research purposes as secondary use of data but I created it for primary use of data for monitoring disease progression and regression.

It is mandated by the government of Pakistan that whomever tests positive “must “be admitted in a hospital until negative. Whereas other parts of the world, self quarantine can be done at home.

My Covid-19 form has clinically relevant data fiends eg signs symptoms monitoring, labs, imaging and sofa scores/ vent / ICU management for morbidity and mortality. 


Keith Tse, York, United Kingdom—March 31, 2020

UK universities and cities on lockdown. All events and classes cancelled and all premises closed indefinitely, apart from those that sell basic and essential amenities. The weather has been good (clear and increasingly warm) but the atmosphere is quite eerie. 


Yasmina Jraissati, Dubai—March 29, 2020

I don’t know if it’s the warm and sunny weather, or if it’s a childhood spent in war time Lebanon (and so many things today remind me of that part of my life), but on a personal level, I feel things are going rather smoothly over here. Confinement is recommended, but for the moment not imposed. We get to go for a short walk in the park every couple of days. Our 4 year old seems to have developed an unexpected capacity to play on his own for several hours in a row – thank god for Legos! Things seem to be under control (but things always seem under control here, so we’re not very certain), in the sense where interesting measures have been recently put in place and/or announced for the near future: Isolating people in redesigned hotel rooms even when their symptoms are only mild; disinfecting the streets at night; screening people in their houses starting with more densely populated areas; drive through testing facilities for those who feel they need a test. 

I keep thinking about how the post-covid world will look like. Part of me wants to think it will be back to how it was. But another part of me deep down worries that the world will change drastically, like it has after the 9/11 attacks. I can see how no government will want to risk another similar pandemic. A perfect reason (excuse?) to have more controls on borders, to increase surveillance on people’s movements, and now even health situation. So many opportunities for abuse… Maybe with the way the world has become (increased interaction and quick travel) something like that is needed? This is a painful thought for people like me who have believed all of their lives in a certain concept of freedom and respect for privacy.


Martin Bohle (Ukko), Germany— March 27, 2020

I am part of the semi-public relief structure (Red Cross) in my town in rural Germany. We are in structured ‘close-down’, that is a three-tier choice as to what kind of business is maintained or closed. Local number of infected are high for Germany, but not extreme. 

The activity in the relief structure keeps me busy. 

Aside from that, I follow-up on my science (publications & review). Combining both I’m drafting a piece explaining exponential growth – a kind of fairy-tale about the ‘exponential soap maker’. Once it is ready, I’m happy to share it. Also, I did build a tool to extrapolate numbers of infected people. It can be shared.

p.s. https://www.salzburgglobal.org/news/latest-news/article/martin-bohle-the-smile-of-the-imaginator.html

Empowering the Ronin Community

by Arika Virapongse, Alex Lancaster, and Jon Wilkins

It’s been a while between posts on the Ronin Institute Blog, and in between this post and the last one, the Covid-19 crisis has touched the lives of every one of us across the Ronin Institute and beyond. As a largely remotely-based community, we hope to help fill in those physical distancing gaps by providing a social and intellectual space for all Research Scholars to stay in touch and continue working toward building a resilient scholarly community. Ultimately this will allow us to connect, support and strengthen all the other communities in which we are embedded, as we collectively grapple with this crisis.

Well before this crisis had started, we had launched a process to create a new governance structure for the Ronin Institute to accommodate the increased scale and scope of the Institute. We have now come so far in that process that it’s hard to believe that we only started it 6 months ago, in September 2019. Our main achievements to date include:

  • A new governance structure for the Ronin Institute that was developed through a community-informed, iterative process
  • Arika Virapongse as our new (and first!) Community Director for Ronin 
  • Five active Working Groups: Governance, Communication, Infrastructure, Membership, and Research

In the rest of this post, we’d like to outline the philosophy guiding that process, what the new governance structure looks like, and specific new outcomes and initiatives that have been created.

Values and principles that guide our process

Ronin’s two core values have guided our development of the governance structure: 

Truth & Empathy

The ultimate goal of the Ronin Institute is to help scholars “Seek truth.” As Jon Wilkins says, “If you are doing scholarship, your job boils down to this: say things that you believe to be true.” Through the governance structure, we want to help support scholars in reaching this goal. 

Empathy underlies how we do things. The governance structure relies on people to make things work, so we want to constantly ask ourselves: Are we treating people fairly? For example, our volunteer structure emphasizes that volunteers should not be spending more than about 2 hours a week on Institutional activities, and they should only be doing things that they like and want to do. 

Two other principles also inform our decision-making: 

Minimal Viable Bureaucracy & Everybody Drives a Truck

  • Minimal Viable Bureaucracy” is aimed at keeping things as simple as possible for our current size and scale. What this bureaucracy looks like is different for 10 scholars, compared with 200. This also implies that we aim for resilience in our Institute by planning for periods of “richness” and “poverty”–in other words, enabling expansion when we have the resources for it, but also being willing (and able) to scale back when we need to. This concept, for example, informs our approach to adding new technological infrastructure to the Institute, as well as hiring help. 
  • Everybody drives a truck” (first introduced in Kitsune #3) is the idea that a community only thrives if everyone actively helps to advance our shared goals as an Institute. Importantly, it means that all decision-makers (and leadership) are also scholars. This concept informed our development of the Working Groups, as well as how we think about leadership across the Institute.

Because we want to create a governance structure that is right for Ronin–while being careful NOT to create top-heavy structures that emulate what has always been done (in traditional academic institutions)–we look towards our Research Scholars for help. We’ve been holding Governance WG meetings every month since September 2019, asking people to share their input, ideas, and people-power to create and implement this new governance structure for Ronin. 

The Ronin Institute: Grants Program & Community Program

After 6 months of community-informed governance development, enough momentum has been gathered to distinguish between two main programs within the Ronin Institute: 

  1. Grants and financial administration (led by Jon Wilkins)
  2. Community (led by Arika Virapongse). 

Grants and financial administration consists of all the fiduciary responsibilities related to accepting grants, disbursing funds to researchers, making financial decisions, and meeting the IRS legal requirements of a US-based 501(c)3 non-profit organization. 

The Community program consists of all the activities related to supporting Ronin Research Scholars’ participation in the community, as well as their scholarship activities within and outside of the Institute. This consists of things like bringing on new members to the Institute, Ronin seminars, the Kitsune newsletter, helping Scholars identify grant opportunities, Slack interaction, and developing new infrastructure to support Scholar interaction—-activities that are now all led by Ronin Working Groups (previously all of these activities were led by Jon). To push the Community program to the next level, a commitment to the coordination and implementation of this program is needed that goes beyond the several volunteer hours per week threshold. As a result, Arika recently accepted the new role of Community Director, a part time position that may ebb and grow as the Ronin community does. 

Working groups (WGs)

Today, we now have five working groups that each focus on a key element of the Ronin Institute Community:

Governance WG: 

  • Scope: Organizes the overall governance structure for Ronin, coordinates across all Working Groups, and creates decision-making structure for the Ronin Community.
  • Example activity: Structuring, activating, and enabling Working Groups 
  • WG leads: Arika Virapongse, Alex Lancaster, Jon Wilkins

Communication WG: 

  • Scope: Develops the approach and structure for how Ronin publicizes and disseminates information about the institute, both internally and externally
  • Example activity: Ronin Newsletter Kitsune
  • WG lead: Emily Monosson

Infrastructure WG: 

  • Scope: Coordinating, maintaining, and administering the technical aspects of Ronin. 
  • Example activity: Auditing existing platforms used by Ronin today, and helping to develop a system that allows these platforms to be used by multiple individuals (as opposed to one person using and managing them all, aka Jon)
  • WG lead: Alex Lancaster and Victoria Costa

Membership WG: 

  • Scope: Developing membership criteria and helping scholars participate as members.
  • Example activity: Coordinating the Ronin Seminar series. 
  • WG lead: Victoria Costa

Research WG: 

  • Scope: Helping scholars conduct research through Ronin
  • Example activity: Developing an IRB for Ronin
  • WG lead: Michelle Susberry Hill

If you are a Ronin Research Scholar and want to learn more about these WGs, join the Ronin Slack and check out the channels for the WGs, or contact arika.virapongse@ronininstitute.org for more info. The Ronin calendar also lists the meetings for WGs, and you are welcome to join them. 

What’s next? 

Expect to hear a lot more soon about how the Ronin Institute is growing. We’ll have an All Hands meeting scheduled in late April 2020 to get everyone caught up on what’s going on. Ronin seminars will be activated again within the next couple of months.

We are also just beginning to launch our Interest Groups (IG), which are groups of Ronin Scholars that self-organize around specific topics. For example, to help spark overlooked or unconventional research angles and collaborations in biology and public health for the Covid-19 crisis, the Covid19-biology IG was just recently formed (Ronin Slack channel #ig-covid19-biology). In the future, we hope to have more IGs that bring together our scholars in biological and physical sciences with those from social sciences and humanities to address the truly transdisciplinary nature of crises and contexts that are often missed in traditional academic silos.

You may have also come by this blog post via reading the first community-led Kitsune newsletter put together by Research Scholars Emily Monosson and Yasmina Jraissati.

Many thanks to all the Ronin Research Scholars who have made all of this happen! 

Scientiam Consecemus!

What do our scholars know? Find out at Blogs of the Ronin

Almost since the beginning of the Ronin Institute we had – what used to be called back in the aughts – a “blogroll” – of all Research Scholar blogs.   As part of last year’s site refresh – the “Blogs of the Ronin” are now properly displayed sidebars.   We also have a new dedicated page – Scholar Blogs –  displaying the most recent post from each blog (those that have an RSS feed).    Go and check them out!


If you’re a Ronin Scholar and have a blog that you would like to have listed, please contact us with the link to the blog, and RSS feed, so we can add you to the aggregation. (Conversely, if you are currently listed and would like to be removed, also let us know).  Ideally the blog would contain a good number of posts related to your scholarly interests, but this is by no means a requirement: a blog that mixes personal and research interests is also fine.  If you have several blogs, probably choose the one with the most scholarly-related content.  It’s may also be possible to filter and only aggregate posts within a certain category, let us know if you would like to do that.

Michele Battle-Fisher presents at the Boston Book Festival

Research Scholar Michele Battle-Fisher was at the Boston Book Festival at MIT Press’ “Pitchfest” on October 13, talking about cyborgs, CRISPR and body hacking.  She was presenting her book proposal on the transhumanism movement, associated with the documentary on the same that she is co-producing.  Lucky for those who weren’t able to be in Boston, you can see her talk on YouTube here:

The Ronin Institute at Performing the World in NYC

Performing the World (PTW) is a biennial conference with a focus on building communities, social change and performance. This year it is being held in New York City on September 21-23. Here’s the description from the conference website:

Since the first PTW in 2001, the conference has been a gathering place to explore and celebrate performance as a catalyst for human and community development and culture change. PTW is now a global community of hundreds who creatively engage social problems, educate, heal, organize and activate individuals, organizations and communities, and bring new social-cultural-psychological and political possibilities into existence.

Building on the conversations started in the related CESTEMER meeting  last year, several Ronin Institute Research Scholars will be holding a session “Performing New Models of Scholarship at the Ronin Institute” at 5:15pm on Saturday afternoon. I’ll be joining Research Scholars  Kristina Baines, Victoria Costa, (Kristina and Victoria are also co-founders of the Cool Anthropology collective), Jocelyn Scheirer, and Jon Wilkins. They will be giving short presentations on their different projects and how they feed into new models of doing research in their fields and beyond. The panel after will invite the wider PTW community to collectively explore a better future for scholarship.

If you’re in the NYC area and interested in attending, come join us! I believe it’s not too late to register. Let us know if you do!

New seminar video on the philosophy, goals and values of the Ronin Institute

As we noted in a previous post, the Ronin Institute has started a YouTube channel  featuring videos from our seminar series. Recently Ronin Founder, Jon Wilkins, presented an in-depth overview of our principles and values in honor of the sixth anniversary of the founding of the Institute. It’s up now on YouTube:

You can also find more on our Mission and Why Ronin? pages.