Scientific and philosophical food for thought

Two updated links below…

I just wanted to document some fascinating lectures I’ve been privy to in the past week (a great perk of working for a university).

Currently, I’m watching (and live-tweeting for myself and @ASU) the Origins Symposium. Seventy of the world’s foremost scientists (from physicists to biologists to cognitive scientists) have converged here to discuss the origins of the universe and life. Today, you can follow the live webcast of these speakers:

  • 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
    Steven Pinker
    Don Johanson
    Brian Greene
  • 1:45 – 5:45 p.m.
    Richard Dawkins
    J. Craig Venter
    Lawrence Krauss
  • Nobel Panel, moderated by Ira Flatow
    Baruch Blumberg
    David Gross
    Walter Gilbert
    Sheldon Glashow
    John Mather
    Frank Wilczek
  • 7:15 – 9:45 p.m.
    World Champion of Magic, Jason Latimer
    Panel on Science and Culture:
    Hugh Downs, Ann Druyan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lucy Hawking…
  • Stephen Hawking (virtual presentation)

Thanks to Alan Boyle, you can read six “mind-blowing” ideas recapped from this weekend’s Origins sessions. His Cosmic Log on MSNBC will publish another recap tomorrow. Update: Boyle posted a great second article on Monday’s great speakers.

On Tuesday, I was privileged to hear Martha Nussbaum speak on democracy in India in the wake of the Gujarat attacks, religious violence egged on by far-right (Hindu nationalist-fascist) politicians. She strongly argued against the interpretation of clash of civilizations or the Muslim vs. West thesis, pointing out how diverse both groups are. She concluded with four keys to keeping India’s democracy strong, the first two of which they have and the last two which they need to fortify:

  1. Maintaining strong governmental and judicial institutions.
  2. Maintaining an ideologically (AND financially) independent press, which gives ample access to intellectuals.
  3. Promoting humanities- and arts-based education with an emphasis on teaching empathetic understanding.
  4. Restoring a sense of gender balance and equality.

All of these are keys for democracies throughout the world, she insisted. She elaborates more on the history and her prescriptions in her latest book, The Clash Within: Democracy, Religious Violence, and India’s Future. I found point two particularly interesting from a journalistic point of view (and there could be some very interesting research and potentially lessons learned from comparative studies of Indian vs. American papers). I also found point three in particular interesting, as I am reading her book on emotions, Upheavals of Thought (and which I got signed). I got exposed to Nussbaum’s writing in an English class, and she has a truly broad-ranging mind.

A recording of Nussbaum’s lecture at ASU should be available online within a month, and I’ll update here with a link then. [Update: I stopped checking and this slipped my mind until now, but you can now get the podcast of this lecture; the link will take you to the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict (CSRC)’s fascinating channel on ASU’s iTunesU.] In the meantime, you can read a chapter from the Clashes Within book or read the transcript of a similar lecture she gave recently.

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