SCHOLARS NOTEBOOK - July 2013

Scholars Notebook   


* ANNUAL  SUMMER  SOCIAL *
 

 

 Have a book you'd like to share with another interested party?  Have a friend you'd like to introduce to SDIS?


Sharing is the key word for SDIS' summer social gathering, this year on Saturday August 3, 2:00-4:30, again at the home and garden of Gerry Horwitz.  Attendees will discover the enthusiasms of others,  literary as well as social, as they encounter both books and individuals they'd like to know.

 

To participate, you only need to bring one book that you will exchange for someone else's, either fiction or non-fiction; and yes, you can bring more than one but must leave with the same number of volumes you brought.  (Trading friends is not necessary, but trading contact information may occur.)  And enjoy some light refreshment while you encounter new stimulation.   RSVP not necessary!



FROM THE PRESIDENT

 

 

THE NEW SDIS WEBSITE

The San Diego Independent Scholar's website has just been reconfigured. Its appearance has changed in ways which will better display the varied programs, activities, and interests of the SDIS community. The website is a work-in-progress and can be expected, in time, to be increasingly inclusive of SDIS members' work and interests. With this new website SDIS will better inform and invite membership in SDIS by intellectually inclined San Diegans.

 

THE SDIS WAY OF LEARNING 

At SDIS events, we listen to each other and learn from each other with mutual respect and attention. Many members join SDIS small study groups on selected topics. Some collaborate with each other on writing projects; some work solo on projects of their own. Social events add to this mix of activities. SDIS General Meetings take the form of lecture (or panel discussion) followed by open discussion. These meetings occur monthly (except December) during the academic year, starting in September. General Meetings are free, open to the public, and are held on the UCSD campus. 

 

THE COLLEGE OF WORLDLY EXPERIENCE 

An article titled " Who Ruined the Humanities" by Lee Siegel appeared recently in the Wall Steet Journal (7/13/13). It offers extensive critical commentary on undergraduate programs in the humanities, particularly programs in literature. The article mentions aspects of education such curricula might aspire to provide:

                to think critically or write clearly;

                to empathize with other people;

                to recognize truth, beauty, and goodness;

                to be curious about other people and places; and

                to engage with great literature.

I am impressed by the deep and personal kinds of abilities at stake. I think of these as "wisdom skills," enormously difficult to convey, especially to young people who have limited personal experience in the world at large. I expect most students obtain only a bare bones beginner's kit of such skills during their undergraduate years. 

Then, after graduation, what comes next? 

Some people are fortunate. They are the ones for whom life becomes an ongoing act of discovery, each experience leading to deeper understanding. Life experience offers opportunity to develop an experientially based point of view about "wisdom issues" like empathy, truth, beauty, and goodness. But is this point of view adequately comprehensive? Does it encompass an understanding of such issues from points of view other than one's own?

Consider the possibility of intentionally seeking to discover the similarities and difference between ones own thoughts and those of others. If one develops the skill of listening, coupled with the skill of articulating ones own point of view, the remarkable possibility opens of learning with and from others. Such egalitarian interactions are a far cry from the usual mode in which there is a provider (The Expert) who conveys information to a consumer (The Student), a mostly one way flow. People of worldly experience can do better. Such people, if so motivated, have experience which enlightens what they have to offer as providers of information and simultaneously creates opportunity for them to be students who learn from others. It's a process that is not only egalitarian; it's also interactive. It is a process used in most SDIS Study Groups — most of which are limited to about a dozen participants. Thus, there's "air time" for everyone.

 

SAN DIEGO INDEPENDENT SCHOLARS

Most member of SDIS have entered what erroneously is known as a time of "retirement." Some people in their 60's and 70's and older have entered a personally rewarding phase of life within which experience enlightens critical thinking and informs understanding of "wisdom issues" such as truth, beauty, goodness (and their opposites). Within SDIS the focus is not on retirement from what was; its focus is forward looking, emphasizing what's ahead: a time for intellectual activity and discovery, individual and shared.

San Diego Independent Scholars is for discovery just for the sheer joy of learning, absent any thought of monetary gain, credentials, or positional power. Some SDIS members have their own personal muses in the form of subject matter which whispers to them, "Learn about me. I'm what enchants you." For many people this is tempting and pleasurable. Hannah Arendt called it a life of the mind. Give in to it and the world becomes more brilliantly illuminated with ever so much of interest. A good word for this is enchantment. 

 

THE PEOPLE OF SDIS

SDIS encourages this kind of freedom — whether it is a study of metaphoric language, the neuronal structure of the brain, the writings of e.e. cummings, a historical meaning which can be teased from a particular old tapestry, the ways of public discourse, on and on. SDIS people select themselves for membership. It's not a degree that counts; it's a state of mind which says, "I'm alive and interested in this unfathomably remarkable world, including its people, myself included." The unspoken message is, "I have experience; so do you who are also members of SDIS. What we know and how we can learn from and with each other is joyful to a person such as me who values an intellectual life."

That's a thumbnail sketch of SDIS. It's not comprehensive. Some additional member benefits are financial discounts for UCSD library cards and two grant programs, the Helen Hawkins Memorial Grant Fund to support scholarly work and the Jane Ford Fund which purchases books written by members and donates them to libraries. 

Write to me at sagus@sbcglobal.net if you want to learn more.

Sam Gusman 

 

 

Financial Support Offered to Members


Two funds held and administered by SDIS benefit the scholarship of members, the Helen Hawkins Memorial Grant Fund and the Jane Ford Fund.
The Hawkins Fund supports grants to members seeking financial assistance for research and/or travel in order to complete an intellectual goal.  Individuals must be members of SDIS for one year before becoming eligible to apply; announcement of application deadlines, guidelines and rules is made by the President each January.
The more modest Ford Fund monies are used to donate books newly published by members, during their membership, to local libraries. Two copies of each such book are purchased; one is sent to the San Diego Public Library's central location and one to the UCSD Library system.
Helen Hawkins was an influential participant in the beginning years of SDIS; Jane Ford was a founding  member whose death ended her many years of active participation in the organization.  Donations to either or both funds promote the intellectual work of present members.


 

The Science Legacy of World War II

(A Major New SDIS Project)

 

THIS NEW SDIS PROJECT explores the scientific contributions that ensured the Allies victory in WW II. It invites not only review and discussion of books on the subject but also the sharing by project attendees of personal stories about those days and those achievements.

 

THE SCIENCE LEGACY OF WW II is a series of six individual book review sessions, each focusing on a scientist or scientific contribution essential for the Allies' victory in WW II.  The audience will be invited not only to discuss the book, but to share any involvement, direct or indirect, of their participation in a scientific endeavor in WW II.  Too many of these stories have been lost with the passing of these unheralded warriors.  The proceedings of the meetings will be recorded, transcribed, and published.  SDIS is dedicated to the publication for posterity of what can be retrieved of this oral history.

 

The meetings will be held on the first Tuesday of each month, starting September 3, 2013. Email invitations to participate have been sent to SDIS members. Non-members of SDIS who wish to participate should write to beabe@me.com for further information.

In contrast to the stylized military maneuvers of the past, WW II was a war like no other in the history of the world:  the vastness of the geographical areas involved reaching from one end of the earth to the other provided a glimpse of future globalization; the alliances of disparate nations in the conflict had not occurred before; the scale of military personnel and materiel involved in both sides of the conflict had never been imagined in previous centuries; and the use of science and technology to undermine and defeat the strategies and tactics of the enemy was unprecedented.

Many books have been written about the scientists and the scientific projects that were not only instrumental but essential to the Allied victory in WW II.  Those scientists and those scientific projects did achieve fruition but not by the work of one person alone; each and all had the support and hard work of an untold number of persons, some knowingly, others not, working on sections and parts of the project which by the time of completion were able disable, defeat, destroy, and/or obliterate the hitherto successful enemy attacks on the Allies.


Study Groups 


Colloquy Cafe

 

The May meeting of the Colloquy Café discussed the concept of "now."  Although it can be difficult to discuss a topic as ephemeral as
"now," we came up with some interesting ideas.  The quotation "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift," duplicates some of comments about how "now" is "living in the moment," or "now is all we have," a valuable consideration when we realize how easy it is to waste our "nows." Wikipedia calls it "specious present."  Buddhism sees being in the now all the time as a goal.  

One person defined "now" as the intermediate between "then" and "then," which is peculiar when one considers that "now and then" means "occasionally."  He went on to report how Benjamin Whorf, an engineer/philosopher, described Hopi language as having no verbal tense for "now," only past and present.  We don't know if that's true, but it's worth investigating.  Overall, we had to conclude that we constantly move through our nows into our futures or, actually, our next "now."

At our next meeting we explored the concept of "belief."  Although one of the definitions of "belief," the topic for our June discussion, is "a collection of ideas that guides one's life," i.e., a moral guide, harmful beliefs such as prejudice also exist.  One dictionary definition exploring the word's background points out that what we love, what pleases or comforts us is what we believe.  Another aspect of the word is its power "to move mountains."  History gives us multiple examples of such power and an anecdote from a New Mexico hospital is one such example: with a mostly Navajo population, the one Navajo doctor there routinely got a better cure rate with his Navajo patients than the other M.D.s.  Of course the word is frequently used in common conversation to voice an opinion such as "Tchaikovsky is greater than Mozart" or a political preference. Belief, assumptions and attitudes are all related, yet many assume that most belief is religious.  

The topic for our July meeting was "seduction."  The first comment rather surprisingly introduced the phrase, "seduction of the spirit," which questioned our ability to "seduce" ourselves into a higher spiritual level.  Most formal definitions of seduction include "temptation" or "corruption," with comments on how a seducer lures, entices or tempts the victim into doing something that goes against the victim's morals.  Most definitions also describe the seducer as male, seeming to have overlooked such famous seductresses as Delilah and Eve.  Since there was general agreement that we live in a world swirling with seduction from advertisers and politicians, we decided that seduction wasn't the totally negative thing most dictionaries describe.  Our discussion of the difference between "seduction" and "persuasion" was that one's urging another to do something that was ultimately desirable or good for them was persuasion. Another difference was how seduction appeals to the emotional whereas persuasion reaches out to the rational mind. We touched on the subject of self-seduction, agreeing that we can talk ourselves into almost anything.   
Our next meeting will be August 21 at 2:00pm;  we will be discussing "personality."  For more information, contact Mary Ellen at strattme@san.rr.com  

 

 

Culture Study Groups 

 

At its next meeting, 2 PM, Thursday, July 18, the SDIS Culture One Study Group will be discussing Chapters 3 and 4 of The Geography of Thought (How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... and Why) by Richard E. Nisbett.  Contact Sue Rosner at rosnersue@gmail.com for further information.

A second group, Culture Two, is discussing this same text.  Its next meeting, 1:30 PM, Friday, August 9 will focus on Chapter 6.  Contact Sam Gusman at sagus@sbcglobal.net for further information.

In both groups the Nisbett text is the starting point for discussion which may at times focus directly on its findings, critique it, inquire into its generality, or explore the relevance of other approaches and other influences relevant to differences of thought between the two cultures. 

 

Film Group


The Film Group did not meet in July, and has not set an August date as of this newsletter.  A date will be noticed, via email,  if one is set for August, and otherwise a September date will be posted in the fall.  For further information, contact bheckler@san.rr.com 

 

Literary Group

 

The Literary Group will meet next on September 9, 10:30 AM, at the home of Janet Kunert.  Under discussion will be The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw.  Bring a brown bag lunch.  Contact Harry Boyle at hhboyle28@cox.net

 

 

Neuroscience Group

 

The June meeting of the NeuroScience Study Group involved a discussion of Chapter 16 in Mind edited by John Brockman:  the second essay in this book by the French neuroscientist, Stanislaus Dahaene, entitled 'The Signatures of Consciousness'.                      

The next meeting of the Neuroscience Group was Monday, July 15, 2013.  The topic of discussion was Chapter 15, the essay by Alison Gopnik, UC Berkeley, in "Mind" edited by John Gopnik.  Dr. Gopnik thinks that we have known for a long time that human babies are the best learning machines in the universe, but we did not know how they do it.  The next meeting is TBD, and visitors are welcome. Because of space constraints, please call Bea Rose beforehand at (858) 458-9263 or e-mail beabe@me.com.