Students take classroom discussion online

Can information set us free?

That’s one of the central questions raised in English professor Michael Gavin’s class on the Enlightenment, which looks back at 18th-century philosophy and media innovation as a means of encouraging thought about how today’s technology and communication affect philosophy, literature and politics.

In response to Gavin’s gambit, a group of his undergraduate students is taking that question to the masses by way of an interactive online forum dubbed the “Laissez-Fact Project.”

Beginning at midnight Wednesday (Oct. 16), the public can access the students’ blog, which features a series of point-counterpoint discussions relating to the value of informational media to our understanding of three subjects: politics, social media and nutrition. Readers will be encouraged to add their own opinions.

“When we think of information, many of us assume its objectivity. We think of the facts or of data,” explains junior Hannah Townsend, an English and film studies major and the group’s spokeswoman. “However, it's important to reflect on where this information comes from and what kind of biases or motives may be behind it.”

The project’s title was chosen as a play on the enlightenment term, "laissez-faire," which refers to an economic policy of noninterference in commerce. According to Townsend, the Laissez-Fact Project — which is informed by the works of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, John Milton, John Locke and René Descartes — takes a similar tack with information and ideologies.

“By offering opposing viewpoints in response to different pieces of information surrounding topics of social media, politics and nutrition, the Laissez-Fact Project hopes to raise awareness about information's subjective qualities,” Townsend says. “Information is often considered objective, and it's not. By revealing this, we hope to take the first step in freeing ourselves, the public and information itself from its biases, allowing people to think for themselves.”

To join the discussion, check out the Laissez-Fact Facebook page and the group’s blog.

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