2022-23 Panels and Participants

Collage featuring an abstract image of cells, an etching of an eye, a soothing color gradation, a closeup of a microscope, clouds in a blue sky and antique script writing, representing the 2022–2023 Critical Conversations talks

Fall 2022

Collage featuring an image of brain neurons, an etching of an eye, and an arrow pointing in both directions, representing the 2022–2023 Critical Conversations Talk 01, entitled “Comfortable Illusions: How our Brains Mislead Us.”
Comfortable Illusions: How Our Brains Mislead Us

October 12, 2022

Do our senses collect an accurate image of reality? Actually, our brains almost never give us all the data our senses collect: that would overwhelm us. Instead, they draw on memories of everything we’ve seen before to make quick decisions about what we’re seeing now. This allows us to react quickly to dangers, but also favors speed over accuracy and nuance — whether we are trying to figure out the physical world or social realities. 

These mechanisms are often useful, but they present their own problems. Some of our background knowledge comes from our experience, but much also comes from media and education. If these "priors" are flawed, we might sort people too quickly into easy, familiar categories. Can we rid ourselves of these mental shortcuts? Or must we simply learn to manage a fundamental neurological process that affects us all?



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Spring 2023

Collage featuring a closeup of antique script writing, a soothing color gradation, and clouds in a blue sky, representing the 2022–2023 Critical Conversations Talk 02, entitled “Transitional States: Exploring and Experiencing Sand, Clouds and Other ‘In Betweens.’
Transitional States: Exploring and Experiencing Sand, Clouds and Other "In Betweens"

February 28, 2023

Some objects are simple, such as a block of ice or a glass of water. One is a solid that holds its shape, and the other is a liquid that flows. But other in-between objects force the question: “What is it, exactly?” Scientists and artists ask this question in different ways, using diverse methods and seeking distinctive results to unravel their mystery. This conversation focuses on how scholars from different disciplines engage the puzzle of “transitional states.” Beginning with things that are neither liquid nor solid — or perhaps both — we will use interactive exercises that enable students to participate in the workings of such transitional states. We will explore how the “in between” cannot be neatly categorized. Making use of professor Chakraborty’s work on sand, poetry by Yeats and immersive sculptures by artists such as Yayoi Kusama and James Turrell, we will invite students to reflect on how poets, artists and physicists may all approach such in-between objects with wonder and curiosity. 



  • >John Plotz, professor of English and Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities
Collage featuring a detail from a gold coin with an image of a Roman emperor, dead leaves, a microscope, a closeup of a Bible page, and an abstract image of cells, representing the 2022–2023 Critical Conversations Talk 03, entitled “Is Belief in God Incompatible with Science?”
Is Belief in God Incompatible with Science?

March 23, 2023

Belief in God or other supernatural beings arose in ancient times when there was limited scientific understanding of the world and the universe. So one could ask, as scientific knowledge has developed over millennia, has the rationale for faith diminished? As science explains more and more, is it irrational to maintain a belief in God and in other supernatural concepts? Are science and religion inevitably at odds in their contrasting explanations of events, or can they coexist and even support one another?



  •  Rajesh Sampath, associate professor of the philosophy of justice, rights and social change, the Heller School for Social Policy and Management