Lecture Library

Llyd Wells’ “Clima(c)tic Change: Twenty Million Hands and the Living, Wavering Globe”

Last August, I heard an NPR discussion of climate change in relation to the Inflation Reduction Act, a bill designating almost $800 billion to energy security and climate change. The show’s host emphasized that, per the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC), fossil fuel usage must fall dramatically within ten years to keep Earth’s warming by 2100 below 1.5°C. She asked the...

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Phil Lecuyer’s “The Concept of Truth in the Book of Genesis”

The Hebrew word אמת (emes), translated as ‘truth,’ occurs in the Torah for the first time in the 24th chapter of Genesis in verse 27. It occurs soon after in the same passage as an adjective in verse 48, and again as a noun in 24: 49. What is the structure of the event in which this word emes--‘truth’ enters the world of the Torah? Who utters it? And to whom? And most important, what does it...

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Michael W. Grenke’s “Another Euclid”

Euclid presents the reader with proofs about eyes and what they see.  He gives us proofs about the height of trees and the depth of ditches.  Some of the parts of the proofs are sunlight and shadows and mirrors and chariot wheels.  Euclid offers comments about natural beings that move and grow.  He offers comments that are phenomenological.  He even offers comments about the workings of the...

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Grant Franks’s “Second Thoughts About Shakespeare’s AS YOU LIKE IT”

As You Like It is my favorite among Shakespeare’s plays, but lately it has occurred to me that I have liked it for the wrong reasons. Or, to put the matter more accurately, there are many reasons and ways to enjoy this play and while I have long recognized some of them, I have only lately noticed others. The features of the play that I have always enjoyed are still there but there are others that I only recently began to appreciate. Those are the ones I want to talk about.

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Nicholas Starr’s “Prospero’s Art: On Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST”

Abstract: With a view to uncovering the ultimate aims of Prospero’s “project,” I consider the two great productions of his magic: the betrothal masque of Act 4 and the harpy-banquet scene of Act 3.  On the basis of a moral psychology that guides the use of his magic in these scenes, Prospero aims at a renewal of Italian politics that restores justice and moderation as central virtues of rulers. ...

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Peter Pesic’s “Understanding Understanding”

What does it mean to understand something, especially something one finds really hard  to understand? I take it that “understanding” must necessarily fall far short of “complete understanding,” which seems superhuman. More modestly, what does it mean to make a first, small step toward understanding anything? In the process of trying to take such a small step towards understanding...

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Howard Fisher’s “Faraday’s Galvanometer”

Faraday’s galvanometer and modern galvanometers operate on the same principle: the tendency of a magnetic element to align itself in the direction of the surrounding magnetic field. But Faraday’s instrument and modern ones function very differently. Modern galvanometers measure electric current—that is, the more or less steady rate of flow of electricity through a conductor. But Faraday’s...

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Howard Fisher’s “Alternating Current”

Although the topic of my talk is alternating current, I’d like us to begin with a few experiments using direct current. Direct current is what batteries produce, but we shall obtain it from one of our venerable “EFB” power supplies.

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William H. Donahue’s “What would Kepler say to Einstein?”

The more I think of this topic, the more appalled I am at my hubris in proposing it. “Really, Mr. Donahue (you might be thinking), “aren’t you just using Kepler’s name to throw out your own rash thoughts into an arena in which you have no business contending?” As for the arena, I have no defense, other than that here at St. John’s we routinely contend in contests where, by standards accepted...

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Philip LeCuyer’s “Reading the Book of Esther”

This essay presents two concepts, ‘angular unconformity’ from geology, and ‘assymetrical repetition’ from astronomy, to use in approaching the Book of Esther. Esther, the final book added to the Hebrew Bible, is the only biblical book written by a woman. If it is a revelation, it is the final revelation in that tradition. The name of God does not occur in its text.  Reading the Book of Esther points to a major scribal unconformity and pervasive assymetrical repetions on every level in interpreting the text’s theological silence.

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The Minimum Wager

A bi-monthly letter for those who want to think.