Today I paid an all day visit to an academic department at a nearby University. Gave a talk, met with students and faculty, and generally got a sense of the place.

There is something ineffably delightful about encountering an entire community for the first time. It’s not so much the physical buildings and rooms, although of course these make their own impression. It’s more a feeling you get from the people, the way they fit together with each other, the way you can sense each individual’s particular sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe, of having a shared purpose.

To the students I suppose I was a bit of an exotic animal, a visitor they’d heard of only by reputation. It took a while to break through the formalities, to get to the point where we got past roles and were simply sharing great conversation. Around the time I found myself and a group of students engaged in a spirited debate about the role of circular causality in the invention of the neural-net processor in the Terminator movies, I realized everything was going to be ok.

I love the way people naturally form themselves into little communities, the way a shared sense of identity — and a shared sense of pride — can emerge from the pooled energies of disparate individuals. This lovely ability we have, to weave a communal tapestry from the threads of our respective unique individual selves, is just about one of the most delightful of human traits.

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