Dean’s Lecture and Concert Series

2015-16 Academic Year

Lectures are free and open to the public and are followed by a question-and-answer period.

“Freedom, the Liberal Arts, and St. John's College”
Matthew Davis, Dean, St. John’s College, Santa Fe
Friday, August 28, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

We take it for granted that we are free and that we know what it means to be free. Is it possible, though, that we are not genuinely free, and that genuine freedom requires an education? And could it be that the study of liberal arts at St. John's College provides the beginning of such an education? This lecture will explore these questions, and in the course of doing so will briefly take up several authors, both ancient and modern, on the St. John's program. 


“Another Euclid”
Michael Grenke, St. John’s College
Friday, September 4, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

This lecture is first and foremost meant to serve as an introduction to Euclid’s lesser known work, the Optics.  In that work, Euclid applies his geometrical thinking to one species, perhaps the preeminent species, of human perception.  Here, as in the Elements, Euclid’s text provokes questions about the very starting points of human experience and thinking.  Looking at the Optics not only provides us with a simple expansion of our consideration of Euclidean thought to a new field.  Here Euclid shows us, more than in the Elements, how he is thinking about the world.  Every proof in Optics sets up a geometrical understanding of the world of perceptibles and then gives a geometrical account of the resulting optical experience.  The lecture will focus on the relation between these double accounts.  The Optics is a small work, but it has remarkable moments that may serve to help us understand Euclid’s mind and corpus better and may make us better readers of the Elements.  It may also help us to think about how and where human beings find their starting points in the world.


Brooklyn Rider
Friday, September 11,  7:30 The Great Hall
Johnny Gadelsman, violin
Colin Jacobsen, violin
Nicholas Cords, viola
Eric Jacobsen, cello

The Brooklyn Rider Almanac

Over a century ago, the cross-disciplinary relationship between the German composer Arnold Schoenberg and Russian-born artist Wassily Kandinsky greatly affected each of their creative psyches. The string quartet played a supporting role in their first encounter, and we look to their symbiotic friendship as a springboard for The Brooklyn Rider Almanac, a commissioning project and the title of our latest album.

Schoenberg’s Second String Quartet, the composer’s first full dip into the opaque waters of atonality, was a musical lightning rod that sharply divided audiences and critics alike. Following the riotous premiere in Vienna in 1908, the work received its Munich debut some three years later. In the audience for that performance sat Kandinsky. Transformed by Schoenberg’s music, Kandinsky’s style took a further step towards abstraction with his landmark painting, Impression III, a visual synthesis of that very concert. A friendship ensued between these visionaries and Schoenberg soon became associated with of a group of artists surrounding Kandinsky known as Der Blaue Rieter (our very namesake). This group published Der Blaue Almanach in 1912; a highly eclectic collection of artwork, essays and music which served as an artistic testament to their era while also offering a vision for the future.

The unquenchable drive for artistic exploration and open embrace of the collective spirit displayed by Der Blaue Reiter are similarly hallmarks of today’s artistic zeitgeist, and The Brooklyn Rider Almanac attempts to honor the present. Using music as our project’s touchstone, we asked a select group of composers to create short works for us inspired by a creative muse from relatively recent memory. Not only did the composers readily accept the challenge, but the varied sources of inspiration—from David Byrne to Keith Haring to William Faulkner—were consistently a surprise and a delight to us.

Additionally, this project afforded us the opportunity to seek fresh perspectives on string quartet writing. On the surface, these composers come mostly from the other side of the classical fence; the worlds of jazz, rock, and folk. But more significantly, they represent some of our favorite musical thinkers and we were deeply confident they would have much to offer our medium. Our newly assembled cadre is inclusive of old friends and certain ‘musical crushes’—those we have long wished to approach, but lacked proper courage or circumstance. Recalling the eclecticism of Der Blaue Reiter Almanach, we have embraced the varied results and feel that our boundaries have been expanded in the process.

We are reminded at every turn of this project that music is a deeply immersive art form, something that cannot be understood divorced from its broader cultural context. By magnifying the creative force of inspiration, we hope that you will endeavor (as we do) to hear the music as only the tip of an iceberg. —Brooklyn Rider


Dig the Say by Vijay Iyer, inspired by James Brown

When I was asked by Brooklyn Rider to choose an artist who had inspired me, James Brown instantly came to mind. His groove-based music features complex polyphony, expressive virtuosity, and a ritual-like intensity. His vocals were electrifying, his lyrics pointedly political, his dance moves revolutionary, his sense of style larger than life, his cultural impact immeasurably huge. Like many, I have studied his music; of course it’s best to enjoy it with your body and soul, but there is also much to learn from analyzing his music’s interlocking bass, drums, guitar, horn, and vocal parts. Each song has its own vivid and distinct identity, beginning with the intricacies in the rhythm section. The groove underlying “Super Bad” is different from the beat for “Payback,” neither of which is the same as the rhythms of “Give it Up or Turn it Loose.”

So I humbly offer this small tribute to this musical giant. The title “Dig the Say” and section subtitles come from the lyrics to his song, “I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothin’ (Just Open Up the Door, I'll Get it Myself).” I am very grateful to Brooklyn Rider for offering me this opportunity, and for truly rising to the challenge themselves. — Vijay Iyer


"Maintenance Music" by Dana Lyn, inspired by Mierle Laderman Ukeles

I first read about New York-based artist-activist Mierle Laderman Ukeles in Dialogues in Public Art, a compilation of interviews edited by Tom Finkelpearl. Over forty years ago, as an effort to synthesize her roles as a mother and a creative artist in an art world that would not accept her as both, Ukeles coded her philosophy in the Maintenance Art Manifesto 1969! (Proposal for an exhibition, CARE). The proposal sought to bring attention to the importance and cultural value of all acts of domestic, public and environmental maintenance. What also greatly impressed me about Ukeles was her commitment to the city of New York and to the welfare of its public and domestic maintenance workers. For the past forty years, she has been Artist in Residence at the Department of Sanitation (an unsalaried position) and has staged countless actions and performances dedicated to the maintenance of the city itself and to the workers that carry out that task.

"Maintenance Music" is inspired by Ukeles’ belief in the power of naming day-to-day acts of maintenance as art. The piece is based on two themes; the first is simply the open strings of a string quartet (E, A, D, G, C), played to sound as if tuning (which is the string player’s first task in maintenance each day). It is played with, pulled apart, and re-assembled as a motif: G – A – E – C – D. The second is a mantra-like theme, meant to convey the sort of repetitious action that one feels ambivalent about; it is re-harmonized throughout the piece and later intertwined with the initial motif. —Dana Lyn


"Show Me" by Aoife O'Donovan, inspired by William Faulkner

The first part of this tune started dancing around in my head during a train ride in Germany- I was in the middle of The Sound and The Fury, reading the classic for the first time, and something about the lonesomeness of Quentin in Cambridge spilled out in the melody. As the tune progresses and the strings swell, I imagine Quentin Compson's adventure on the Charles River, and his nostalgia for the American South, resulting in the fiddle tune. Faulkner has such an intricate way with words- he's able to create such depth of feeling with sometimes coarse and simple language, and I find that inspiring across all art. —Aoife O'Donovan.


Ping Pong Thumble Thaw by Glenn Kotche - inspired by Jens Massel

Several years ago, I heard a refreshing track of minimal electronic music from Cologne. The artist was Kandis, one of the moniker’s used by German artist Jens Massel. I then found other releases of his under the monikers Senking and Fumble. I began to listen to this music obsessively. It’s highly rhythmic, yet sparse with minimal grooves ebbing and flowing over evocative sound environments. Being a drummer, I am of course drawn to the grooves but also love the sounds Massel uses and combines to create these ambient electronic percussion songs. This is electronic music that somehow feels very human and organic.

I decided to write a solo drumkit piece inspired by some of these more high-energy recordings and then used that as the blue print for this string quartet for Brooklyn Rider. The title is comprised of words taken from Massel’s record titles that also work as descriptors for the four distinct sections of the piece.

The opening section, “Ping,” is exclusively pizzicato and full of rhythmic interplay. “Thaw” is comprised of long arco swells that directly contrast the preceding material. “Pong” features woody battuto rhythms, with the quartet acting more as drummers than string players. “Fumble” is the transition back into the hands of the main pizzicato theme and ultimate resolution of the piece. — Glenn Kotche


John Steinbeck – August 12 by Bill Frisell, inspired by John Steinbeck

I first met Brooklyn Rider when we played together on Jenny Scheinman’s album Crossing the Field (Koch 2008). I became a fan. I was thrilled when they asked me to be a part of this project. Back in 2012 I had the good fortune to be commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival to write a piece of music to be performed at the festival. Thanks to the Monterey Festival and the Big Sur Land Trust I was given the amazing opportunity to stay in Big Sur, California at the beautiful Glen Deven Ranch. It was there that I had the luxury of being alone in an extraordinary place with nothing to do but write music and be with my own thoughts. There was time and space enough to follow through with musical ideas. The music I wrote there was first performed at the Jazz Festival and soon after recorded on an album entitled Big Sur for OKeh records. But, that wasn’t the end if it. There was much more music. Pages and pages. So, I was very happy when Brooklyn Rider approached me. The timing was perfect. Steinbeck has long been an inspiration. Glen Deven Ranch is not far from Monterey, Salinas, and the settings for many of Steinbeck's stories. I had recently read East of Eden. Naturally, he was on my mind and the environment was stirring my imagination. It seemed fitting to dedicate the piece to John Steinbeck. — Bill Frisell


"Five-Legged Cat" by Gonzalo Grau - inspired by Chick Corea

When asked to write a piece for Brooklyn Rider, I immediately thought about doing a Venezuelan merengue. I was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, and this is one of the styles of music I love the most. The Venezuelan merengue has a 5/8 meter, perhaps one of the only odd-metered rhythms in the Americas. Very contagious and beautiful, but hard to feel naturally. This rhythm comes from the capital, Caracas, and it has an urban evolution. Influenced by contradances and polkas, it was played originally in open squares. Venezuelan merengue has evolved in many directions, sometimes a little more cool and jazzy, sometimes very traditional with a touch of early 1900's.

Brooklyn Rider is definitely the ensemble to open Venezuelan merengue to the worlds ears. I began my music studies at age three, studying cello, so I love to explore different kinds of effects, borrowing techniques "a la Piazzola" or even asking Brooklyn Rider to expand and create their own. I also grew up playing many different types of percussion, so I push the players to use their instruments and their whole body to compliment the rhythms of merengue, and to give life to this piece.

This piece is overall inspired by Chick Corea- its colors, textures, and accents come from his enduring example. And what about the title, "Five-Legged Cat?" Venezuela is famous for its refrains, morals and street sayings. When someone is about to get in trouble, people say: "no le busques la quinta pata al gato (don't look for the cat's fifth leg)." This piece was born with a fifth leg so I think we don't even have to look for the cat any longer ... the Rider has it. —Gonzalo Grau


Bradbury Studies by Gabriel Kahane

Across the musical ages, it has just as often been the case that composers look outside of the sphere of music for creative inspiration. Gabriel Kahane's most recent album, The Ambassador, looks at Los Angeles as the muse for his project. Referencing 10 specific building addresses with a range of characters and scenarios spanning from the 1940s to the present, the album is a loving ode to the City of Angels. "Bradbury (304 Broadway)" is the album's second track and references the Bradbury Building, Los Angeles' oldest landmarked building and the setting for countless films (including Blade Runner), television series, and works of literature. Bradbury Studies is a related composition in which the original song is slowly revealed over the course of the work. —Nicholas Cords


String Quartet No. 13 in A minor, Op 29, D. 804, “Rosamunde” - Franz Schubert:

Given Franz Schubert’s undeniable stature in the pantheon of musical luminaries, it is a challenging exercise more than two hundred years later to imagine him as greatly under appreciated within his own lifetime. There was much left to be published of his work upon his death, much of it spread out in the hands of his small social circle in Vienna. He was known in his day as a composer of mere hausmusik; part songs, lieder and various pieces for piano. Almost none of his large scale works were known by the Viennese public, much less outside of Vienna. Schubert himself was not a virtuoso performer- he wrote no concertos, so his cause was not advanced by the popular virtuosos of the era. Italy was all the rage: the incomparable and devilish violinist Paganini was enormously popular, as was the music of Rossini.

And so it was left mostly to Schubert and his intimate circle of friends to organize evenings of informal performances comprised mostly of lieder and part songs with the ink still drying, referred to as Schubertiaden. It took later figures such as Robert Schumann, who was an extremely prescient observer of the musical landscape, to elevate Schubert’s status to a wider audience. Schumann’s description from an 1840 essay on Schubert’s 9th Symphony for the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik could just as easily apply to tonight's selection, the Rosamunde Quartet - “And this heavenly length, like a fat novel in four volumes by Jean Paul- never-ending, and if only that the reader may go on creating in the same vein afterwards. How refreshing is their sense of inexhaustible wealth where with others one always fears the ending, troubled by the presentiment of ultimate disappointment.”

Schubert’s Rosamunde Quartet (1824), marks an important transition in Schubert’s music for string quartet from the hausmusik-infused works (composed mainly with his family quartet in mind) to works of grand dramatic scope (the famed Death and the Maiden Quartet appeared in the same year). Reluctantly buoyed by the musicianship of the Ignaz Shuppanzigh Quartet and a desire to increase his public scope, this quartet was composed after an extended struggle with venereal disease. Schubert's dark state of mind could be summed up in this excerpt from a letter to a friend: “I feel myself to be the most unfortunate, the most miserable being in the world.”

In this quartet, Schubert often draws from the world of his own songs to help convey a complex field of emotions. The figuration in the second violin at the beginning of the first movement is reminiscent of Schubert’s song Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), which calls to mind a similar sentiment expressed in the song: “My peace is gone, my heart is heavy, I’ll find it never, never again,” while the third movement draws from Schubert’s Die Götter Griechenlands (The Greek Gods) in which Friedrich Schiller’s text asks: “Fair world, where art thou, come again glorious age of nature.” The work gains its unofficial nickname from the Andante movement's theme, taken from the composer’s incidental music to the Wilhelm von Chezy play Rosamunda. While this music conveys a serene pastoral, it is perhaps also a reference to yet another disappointment. By all accounts; the production was a colossal failure! The sense of the ultimate disappointment which grips the Rosamunde Quartet is finally broken by the work’s rousing Hungarian inspired finale, bringing this novel-length song without words to a conclusion. —Nicholas Cords


“Montesquieu's Persian Letters : Comic Vanity, Tragic Pride
Janet Dougherty, St. John’s College
Friday, September 18, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall         

The Persian Letters is a novel composed of letters to and from two Persian travellers to France, one of whom has left behind a seraglio. Montesquieu’s main characters seek enlightenment through a sort of comparative study of western society with their own.  Their observations expose French vanity and corruption, highlighting the absurdity of a wide array of French customs and personages. They also come to see that some of the peculiarities of French life are compatible with pleasure, prosperity and perhaps the natural tendencies of human beings.  The Persian harem, by contrast, aims at purity, distorts nature and provokes rebellion.  In the course of many letters, the master of the harem has become a proponent of European liberty. But Usbek’s apparently enlightened thinking does not loosen him from the invisible chains that bind him, while his wives, who live under the compulsion of their guards, demonstrate their independence through desperate acts.  They share with Usbek a tragic pride.  Vanity offers an easier and more amusing way to live.  It also brings natural tendencies into the light. But enlightenment requires more than seeing.  I will try to show that careful reading of this book points out the way to read ourselves as well as Montesquieu’s work.

This lecture is part of The Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series on Literature


Homer’s Gods”
Lorraine Pangle, University of Texas at Austin, Professor of Government
Friday, September 25, 7:30  p.m. The Great Hall

Professor Pangle will analyze the different levels on which Homer’s gods function in the Iliad to tell a dramatic story, depict both simple and profound features of human experience, and explore questions about freedom and necessity. She will conclude with some reflections on how Homer’s account of the divine beings helped form the Greeks into a people capable of developing both republican self-government and philosophy.

Lorraine Smith Pangle is Professor of Government, winner of the 2014 Raymond Dickson Teaching Fellowship, and Co-director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas at the University of Texas, where she teaches political philosophy and ethics. She is author of four books: The Learning of Liberty: The Educational Ideas of the American Founders; Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship; The Political Philosophy of Benjamin Franklin; and Virtue is Knowledge: The Moral Foundations of Socratic Political Philosophy. She is currently at work on a book on the relation between intellectual and moral virtue in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. She holds a B.A. in history from Yale, a B.Ed. from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Committee on Social Thought.

This lecture is part of The Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series on Literature.

“The Tyranny of Beauty: On Art and Truth in Lessing's Laocoön
Richard Velkley, Tulane University, Department of Philosophy
Friday, October 2, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall       

Laocoön: On the Limits of Painting and Poetry (1766) by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, is a remarkable work combining art criticism, poetics, and philosophical inquiry on the nature of the arts. The argument takes polemical form, its chief target being Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the contemporary leader of the revival of the study of ancient Greek art who calls for the imitation of the “Greek ideal.” Lessing exposes a misunderstanding of the nature of art in Winckelmann which he indicates betrays a deep error about human nature. Indeed, Lessing suggests a tyrannical dimension to the views on the arts of Winckelmann and other recent authors. In so doing, he shows that the reverence for antiquity has tyrannical potential, and he intimates at the deepest level that beauty itself (or the soul’s need for beauty) may have a tyrannical tendency. Lurking beneath the argument about plastic and poetic arts is the question whether the life of the mind, or philosophy, can be presented in images, beautiful or otherwise. Lessing’s explicit reflection on the difference between ancient and modern ways of searching for truth relates to this more hidden theme.

Richard Velkley is Celia Scott Weatherhead Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Tulane University, and the author of three books: Freedom and the End of Reason: On the Moral Foundation of Kant’s Critical Philosophy (Chicago, 1989), Being after Rousseau: Philosophy and Culture in Question (Chicago, 2002), and Heidegger, Strauss and the Premises of Philosophy: On Original Forgetting (Chicago, 2011).  He is also the editor of Dieter Henrich, The Unity Reason: Essays on Kant’s Philosophy  (Harvard, 1994), Freedom and the Human Person. Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, vol. 48 (Catholic University of America, 2007), with Susan Shell, Kant’s ‘Observations’ and ‘Remarks’: A Critical Guide (Cambridge, 2012), and with Frank Schalow, The Linguistic Dimension of Kant’s Thought: Critical and Historical Essays (Northwestern, 2014). He was associate editor of The Review of Metaphysics 1997-2006, the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, American Council of Learned Societies, Bradley Foundation and Earhart Foundation, and he held postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Toronto, University of Iowa, and Harvard University.


“Natural Science as Liberal Art: A Panel Discussion of the St. John’s Laboratory Program”
Friday, October 9, 7:30 p.m.  The Great Hall 

St. John’s tutors Chester Burke and Cary Stickney will lead a seminar-style discussion of the St. John’s Laboratory program using Niels Bohr’s essay “Light and Life” from his collection Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge as the starting point.  Tutors from both the Annapolis and Santa Fe campus will participate.


“Diplomacy’s Long Eclipse--Assessment of what might be done. But probably won’t be”
James Nathan, Auburn University
Monday, October 12, 3:45 p.m., Junior Common Room

Diplomacy is how a nation advances its interests with minimal violence.  It is not just an alternative to war, it is the pursuit of national interest by persuasion and the harmonization of interests.  Diplomacy has been distrusted by Americans from the get-go, from the Paris treaty, to the Versailles settlement of World War one, through the diplomacy of alliance cohesion during the second World War and into the various periods of Detente in the Cold War. The reaction to the recent UN Security Council and German settlement with Iran is hardly an exception. Compromise is suspect. Diplomacy can’t be good-- at least not in terms of much of American political discourse.

Of course, once American diplomats were the architects of the modern international legal and economic order. But the husbanding and growth of international institutions has long languished in the long wake of armed flops. A fair inventory of 45 years of military intervention yields a record of nearly unblemished failure. The liberation of Grenada is perhaps an exception. Who can argue with securing a reliable source of nutmeg, and access to a sun-bleached medical school renown for offering middling American student a second chance.

South America no longer defers to us.  Russia is again hostile.  Europe questions our judgment, and is audibly disturbed by our belligerence.  A disintegrating Middle East seethes with vengeful contempt.  Africa often ignores us.  A long lust for Indian friendship remains unrequited.  And China has come to see us as implacably hostile, while Japan is reviewing its inner samurai.  What we have actually proved is that, if you are sufficiently indifferent to the interests of others and throw your weight around enough, you can turn off practically everybody. Not all of this can be undone. Some can; but probably won’t be.

James Nathan is Khaled bin Sultan Eminent Scholar, Auburn University at Montgomery. He is a former foreign service officer and the author of seven books and more than 80 academic articles. He has written for the New York Times, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post, The LA Times, The Nation, and other popular publications. Dr. Nathan has also held senior posts at the Naval War College, Army War College, and Johns Hopkins. He recently was Senior Distinguished Fulbright Professor in Beijing, and SyCip Distinguished Fulbright Professor in Manila. He has been a senior Distinguished Fulbright Professor in Australia and a Fulbright Alumni Fellow in Beijing. His book, Soldiers, Statecraft and History won the "Choice" award for the best academic book on international policy in 2003. Another recent book, Anatomy of the Cuban Missile Crisis, was termed "mandatory reading for policy makers" by the Washington Post. Dr. Nathan's book on U.S. Naval Policy won the Furness award for the best book on military strategy.  He is Executive Director of the Alabama World Affairs Council and a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations. 


Evening Concert
Friday, October 23, 7:30 p.m., The Great Hall

Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo soprano
Jeff Gibbons, piano 

The evening will include the following works:

Duparc: Phidyle
Mahler: Rheinlegendchen
Faure: La bonne Chanson - 9 songs
Gibbens: Strut (3 minute piano piece)
Schoenberg: Book of the Hanging Gardens - 15 songs
Falla: Siete Canciones Españolas, 3 and 4


Ebooks: The Twenty-First Century’s Guttenberg Press
James McGrath Morris
Friday, October 30, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

Morris will outline the seismic changes shaking up the world of book publishing and reading. “What is happening to books today is as important a moment in history as five centuries ago when Gutenberg created moveable type and launched the printing revolution,” said Morris.  “The changes now taking place are more than a matter of replacing type, ink and paper with pixels—a profound shift is taking place in the act of reading itself.”

Combining his work experience in the publishing industry and his years as an author, Morris will explain why current changes are so significant and what lies ahead for readers “The culture of books and reading is changing before our eyes, and no one I know has a more nuanced understanding of these historic changes than James McGrath Morris, “ said Hampton Sides, best-selling author. “Erudite, funny, print-loving but digital-savvy, Morris is navigating the fast-evolving universe of the written word--and giving us fascinating glimpses of its future.”

James McGrath Morris is an author of biographies and narrative nonfiction. His newest works are the New York Times bestselling Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press and the Kindle Single Revolution by Murder: Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and the Plot to Kill Henry Clay Frick. His other books include Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power and The Rose Man of Sing Sing: A True Tale of Life, Murder, and Redemption in the Age of Yellow Journalism. He is one of the founders and past president of Biographers International Organization. He is currently working on a new work The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway and Dos Passos--Literary Lives in War and Peace that will be published by Da Capo Press in 2017. Aside from writing books, Morris is the author of a column that explores the changing world of publishing and reading. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Morris spent a decade as a journalist, a decade working in the book and magazine business, and a decade as a high school teacher. He lives in Tesuque, New Mexico with his wife Patty McGrath Morris. 


Subjective Sensory Experience and the Fallacy of Neural Codes     
Leslie Kay, University of Chicago, Department of Psychology and The College
Friday, November 6, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

We do not have objective information from our senses, and the idea that we will find stable representations of these sensory objects in the brain is not supported by the evidence. I discuss a different way of thinking about how brains allow us to interface with the sensory world and do in fact give us reliable information. It is just not in the relatively simplistic form that we anticipated and on which much of neuroscientific inquiry has focused. Drawing from my research on the olfactory system, I show that expanding the point of view from the relatively low dimensional world of vision and touch into olfactory space, which may have hundreds of dimensions, we can begin to understand general principles that allow us to map cognitive states onto neural processes. In this way, we understand brains as organs that allow consistent interaction with the world outside of our bodies rather than as computers cast in biological material.

Leslie Kay is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. She is a graduate of SJC Santa Fe (83) and after graduation spent several years working for the GenBank project at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She did her graduate work at UC Berkeley in Biophysics, where she worked with Walter J. Freeman, and her postdoctoral work in Biology and Computational Neuroscience at Caltech, where she was a Sloan Postdoctoral Fellow. She has been at the University of Chicago since 2000, where she is currently the Chair of the Psychology Graduate Program in Integrative Neuroscience and is also a member of the Interdepartmental Graduate Programs in Neurobiology and Computational Neuroscience. 


“Duns Scotus’s Modal Argument for the Existence of God”
James Carey, St. John’s College
Friday, November 13, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

“Anxious Faith in Don Quixote”
Andre Barbera, St. John’s College
Friday, November 20, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

The person of faith suffers in proportion to the extent that he is faithful, but his condition is not passive.  Haunted by Dulcinea, Don Quixote experiences wonder, care, and anxiety.  Some theologians refer to this latter condition as love.

The person of faith aspires to obtain knowledge that will render him blessed or happy.  Practically this aspiration entails a search for signs.  Don Quixote wants to receive a sign from Dulcinea indicating that she is trustworthy, and he wants to give a sign of his own trustworthiness. 

The person of faith, attempting to adhere religiously to a code of conduct, performs deeds in accord with his faith.  These works are the anxiety of faith.  They result from the contradiction between the end of faith, knowledge, and the mode of faith, testing.

This lecture is part of The Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series on Literature


Incest Prohibitions and the Possibility of Humanity
Frank Pagano, St. John’s College, Santa Fe
Friday, December 4, 7:30  p.m. The Great Hall

Nietzsche predicts two alternative futures for homo sapiens: the superman and the last man. Neither of these alternatives seems to be an example of the human being as we encounter it in Homer or Shakespeare. Both seem to be post-humans. Nietzsche therefore implies that there are special conditions that allow for what we call humanity. In this lecture I shall examine two works that indicate that one of the two incest prohibitions is the necessary condition for humanity. In Oedipus Tyrannus the incest prohibition between generations, between parents and children, is the fundamental condition for human life, and for the David story in the Bible it is the incest prohibition within generations, between siblings. In the third work considered in the lecture, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, we find a protagonist who believes that the people around him may be remade according to his project. He tries to replace the incest prohibitions with a prohibition against miscegenation. He initiates an experiment that involves destroying the possibility of humanity in the United States.


This lecture is part of The Carol J. Worrell Annual Lecture Series on Literature


“Self-love and Love of Another Self”
Daniel Maher, Assumption College, Philosophy Department
Friday, December 11, 7:30 p.m. The Great Hall

Aristotle’s characterization of a friend as another self assimilates my friend’s love for me or my love for my friend to self-love.  And yet an important difference persists.  Friendship depends upon the recognition of something good, pleasant, or useful in the friend, but all people wish themselves well without any such conditions.  The Nicomachean Ethics as a whole and the books on friendship in particular catalog the reasons why most people are not lovable in the sense that is required for the best form of friendship, which indicates that a good human being would not love those people for their own sakes.  And yet those people wish themselves good things for their own sakes, which is to say, they seek happiness.  Aristotle’s account of friendship calls into question happiness as the end of human action.

Daniel Maher is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Assumption College in Worcester, MA, where he has taught since 2008.  He completed his doctoral studies in philosophy at Boston College in 1997.  His teaching and research interests include Greek and early modern philosophy, ethics and medical ethics, political philosophy, and philosophy of science.  He has published recently in HermathenaThe Review of MetaphysicsSociety, and National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly.  He is presently at work on a book on Aristotle and friendship.