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Socratic Conversation: Do You Have a Soul?, with Ron Gross

        Does each of us have an enduring core as a person, irreducible to our physical beings, and the source of some of our most valued capabilities? The belief that we do has been held by most human beings throughout the ages and in virtually every culture. But that belief has dwindled among a great many people in Western Europe and America.

        Now, some leading scientists and religious thinkers are bringing it back. What do you think? We will explore how emerging insights relate to our own convictions, feelings, and questions.

        For example, some evolutionary biologists are speculating that a person's soul is the information in his or her DNA. Others working in humanistic traditions, like Joseph Campbell, Scott Peck, and Harry Moody, have delineated stages of spiritual growth through which they contend that our souls develop. Here at Columbia, the idea of a "distributed soul" which inheres in relationships between people, rather than within each individual, has been proposed by Professor Robert Pollack of the Center for the Study of Science and Religion.

        We will explore the many different ways in which the word Soul is used, ranging from the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of best-selling self-help books, to referring to the "souls" of nations or organizations or even technologies*, to using the term "Great Souls" to describe outstanding people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King.

        Please join us to share your views on questions and issues such as:

        • Is the idea that we have souls meaningful in your own philosophy of life?

        • Does your heritage (religious/cultural/ethnic) have a concept of "souls" that is important to you? (Almost all do.)

        • How do you feel about the idea of "seeking one's soul-mate"?

        • Do you believe that the spirits of loved ones who've passed away, endure somehow?

        • Does the way you live your life, and the key decisions you make, form your soul? Do we have souls which change for better or worse in the course of our lives? Can some ways of working or living, corrode your soul?

        Suggested Reading or Viewing (optional):

        * "Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service." Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. (Brainyquote)

        Where: 104b Russell

        Next conversation: Thursday, 12/12, Topic TBA

        Socratic conversations this year are part of the project entitled Design and Education: Dialogues on Design Thinking, which includes online video discussion and seminars on designing for the future of libraries and learning spaces.

        Inspired by Socrates' famous conversations with his friends in the marketplace of 5th century Athens, we engage in spirited discussions of ideas and issues. Socratic conversations range broadly and probe deeply into the basic challenges of life. They are informed by the latest literature for reference and follow up. While building a sense of community on campus, these meetings enliven the intellectual atmosphere and model dialogue and discussion as modes of inquiry.

        These highly-participatory conversations with fellow students are moderated by Ronald Gross, author of Socrates' Way and Co-chair of the University Seminar on Innovation in Education. They are part of a year long series of Socratic Conversations hosted by the Gottesman Libraries.
        Individuals with disabilities are invited to request reasonable accommodations including, but not limited to sign language interpretation, Braille or large print materials, and a campus map of accessible features. Address these requests to the Office of Access and Services for Individuals with Disabilities at (212) 678-3689,, or Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services at (212) 678-3853 V/TTY,

        • Jennifer Govan
        • 212-678-3022
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