What we're about

The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society is a Meetup group that brings together thoughtful people for stimulating and civically minded conversations.

We meet in a relaxed setting on almost every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 AM and occasionally in the evening. Most of our events aim for a small group ambiance with about 10-12 participants. Sometimes we use larger spaces with different group dynamics and formats.

Almost all our events engage participants in a group conversation to explore a wide range of topics including society & culture, philosophy & religion, design, science & technology, psychology, politics, economics, and current events.

We organize a safe, facilitated forum of inquiry and exploration.

Our interactive format engages participants to speak up and be heard, to explore our assumptions, to listen and hear others, and to find and build meanings.

We value topics that matter, diverse points of view and ways of knowing, sensitive listening, and your contributions to our explorations.

In addition to ideas and resources posed by the event host(s), our conversations are informed by participants exchanging experiences, interpretations, understandings, beliefs, feelings, values, thoughts, and ways of thinking.

Through discourse and consideration these ideas can reveal a web of relationships which participants can form into meaningful insights and new possibilities.

We start the conversation so come participate and accept your own genius.

We are always looking for new discussion leaders and other volunteers to bring new and interesting topics and perspectives to our group. Please see https://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/pages/14433542/Discussion_Leader_Guidelines/ if you are interested.

For more information about our group including our list of Frequently Asked Questions, please visit About the Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society (https://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/about).

Upcoming events (5)

Destruction & Creation: A Method of Thinking by John Boyd @ Comprehensivist Wed

We will be discussing John Boyd's short paper on "Destruction & Creation" which lays out his method of thinking. Please read it here to prepare for this Meetup: https://fasttransients.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/destruction_and_creation1.pdf Please watch a past Meetup giving overview of John Boyd's Ideas here: https://youtu.be/6hDhznBtN24 In this seminal paper, John Boyd argues that to increase our capacity for independent action we need to continuously engage in a relentless process of destruction and creation of conceptual structures in order to shape and adapt to a fast changing world around us. We are subject to Godel's incompleteness theorem, Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle and Entropy. We need to continually reorient by deductive, destructive analysis pulling apart our old conceptual structures, and recreating them through creative inductive synthesis. Such dynamic orientation enables us to decide and act effectively while being responsive to changing context. Format: 1) Presentation by Shrikant 2) Breakout rooms 3) Go around with takeaways. 4) General discussion **** Welcome to the series "Comprehensivist Wednesdays". Transdisciplinarity, Renaissance humanism, homo universalis, and Polymathy are some of the ways of describing this approach which Buckminster Fuller called Comprehensivity and described as “macro-comprehensive and micro-incisive”. An introductory series of videos from past events can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkCiNL_gZp2chIX3Hk5gHXf9bzxcjVxNA CJ Fearnley's site "Collaborating for Comprehensivism" has more information on the idea: https://www.cjfearnley.com/CfC/ July 15: Why Be a Comprehensivist? — a Panel Discussion. http://y2u.be/qjwTy6pGkNA ‪July 22: Louis Sullivan’s Ideas: Art of Expression & Form Follows Function with Architect Sherri Tracinski & Shrikant‬ https://youtu.be/oM8vbQQ-4MU ‪Jul 29: Humanity's Great Traditions of Inquiry and Action with CJ‬ Fearnley http://y2u.be/8RuHE_3FMUs ‪Aug 12: The Necessities and Impossibilities of Comprehensivism with CJ Fearnley http://y2u.be/u6372Te2YA8 ‪Sep 16: The Fundamental Role of Story in Our Lives with CJ Fearnley https://youtu.be/4UvDO2z0bjo ‪Oct 14: The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller with CJ Fearnley http://y2u.be/sPjcJjnHzKU Nov 18: The Value of The Ethnosphere with CJ Fearnley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixgxwR29_WY Dec 16: Value of Multiple Working Hypotheses with CJ Fearnley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpIHsVIzGlw 52 Living Ideas records Comprehensivist Wednesdays events and posts them on YouTube. Feel free to keep your video on or off as you prefer. Watch all their past Meetups at: https://www.youtube.com/c/52LivingIdeas?sub_confirmation=1

Critiquing The Mystique of Simplicity in Science, Art, and Life (REPEAT)

In our culture many of us have adopted the value of simplicity. We value it in science, in art, in mathematics, and in our lives. A popular acronym is KISS "keep it simple, stupid". In science especially, we laud Occam's razor ("The principle of preferring the simplest of competing theories" according to Wiktionary). Is our world necessarily and inherently simple? Doesn't complexity better characterize our world than simplicity? Is our preference for simplicity misplaced? Are there other more important criteria for good science, good art, good mathematics, and living a good life? If not simplicity, what is it that we should really value in science, art, mathematics, and life? This group conversation will primarily explore Jan Zwicky's critique of simplicity which is a major topic in her (optional) video presentation "The Experience of meaning" (http://y2u.be/je1ZN907HzQ). Zwicky argues that the resonance of gestalts, which she calls "the experience of meaning" is more fundamental and more important than simplicity. Zwicky argues that clutter that antagonizes resonance in our experience of meaning is the real concern we should care about, not simplicity. She suggests that by focusing on simplicity we miss the more important, and more impactful issue of meaning in our science, in our arts, in our mathematics, and in our lives. Zwicky's powerful presentation (http://y2u.be/je1ZN907HzQ) was delivered during the 2013 conference "Simplicity: Ideals of Practice in Mathematics & the Arts". The papers of the conference were published in the 2017 book "Simplicity: Ideals of Practice in Mathematics and the Arts". Pennsylvania residents can get electronic access to the book through Temple University's PA Borrower's program. Message me with your e-mail address and I can send you a copy. Zwicky published a book "The Experience of Meaning" in 2019 which significantly expands and restructures her essay to make its points in a book length format. Zwicky reports that the prospectus for the 2013 conference on simplicity raised the question: "Why is the idea of simplicity so important in scientific practice?" Zwicky warns, "Many truths are complex, and they are simplified at the cost of distortion, at the cost of ceasing to be truths. Why then do we valorize quantitative simplicity?" She gives the profound example of Kepler's laws of motion that belie the simplicity in Copernicus' model of the solar system with the Sun at the center: "Attempts to explain apparent planetary motion with one focus—the centre of a circle—generated clutter; attempts to explain it with two foci precipitated an experience of meaning so powerful that it changed the intellectual life of Europe." Zwicky argues that meaning, not simplicity, is what scientists, artists, mathematicians, and citizens really value. Meaning is what gets us out of bed in the morning. It is what takes our breath away and gives us a new outlook on our lives. Her thinking about the value of the ethereal and often ineffable qualities of meaning is grounded in gestalt or wholistic thinking. Zwicky's critique of the mystique of simplicity is not alone, in their 2012 book, "The Design Way", Harold G. Nelson and Erik Stolterman write, "Acknowledging that complexity is the natural order of things is something too many people try to avoid and have even been trained to avoid in their educational backgrounds." Zwicky reminds us, "The view of Harakleitos, then, the riddler, who saw change and unity and dynamic interdefinition as the fundamental features of the cosmos" may be a more correct view of the natural order. Does the idea of simplicity run against nature? Is the meaning of our experience and our experience of meaning so complex and so ineffable that simplicity causes us to focus on the wrong things and overlook the real nature of being, which for Zwicky is the resonance of gestalts? Here is my condensed summary of Zwicky's argument: The Gestalt school whose leading exponents were Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka maintained that "wholes are different than the sums of their parts; and we perceive wholes first. Wholes, they argued, are both logically and epistemologically prior to their parts". Zwicky says, "A Gestalt itself ... may be defined as a structure all of whose aspects are in dynamic interrelation with each other and with the whole." Zwicky argues that melody provides a striking example: "Melodies are aural shapes, and we perceive these shapes, not their constituents, spontaneously." Facial recognition is another example. We may recognize hundreds of faces, but we cannot draw nor describe them (from memory, I assume). Laboratory experiments show that subjects who are asked to identify or think about the parts of the faces they attempt to recognize do more poorly than subjects just asked to recognize faces. Zwicky argues that the experience of meaning, the experience of gestalts, come in two forms: "we move from a chaotic situation ... to a situation in which we discern pattern or structure" (she calls this "gestalt crystallization") and "we see a given thing or image as something else" (she calls this "gestalt shifts"). In both cases we perceive structure. In the first it is structure manifesting out of chaos and in the second it is a metaphorical shift. She distinguishes the two types using the language of poetry. Gestalt crystallization is "like haiku: single images through which the resonance of something much larger sounds. Whereas, gestalt shifts are like "metaphor: x is not y; and yet it is". In her 2019 expansion of her 2013 presentation, Zwicky provides a list of other names for gestalt insight: "Wittgenstein called it Sehen als [seeing as], Gerard Manley Hopkins called it the sensation of inscape, Plato described it as κατ' εἶδοζ λελόμενον [kat' eidos legomenon, understanding according to a form that collects particulars into a unity], the old Taoists called it awareness of zìrán [self-evidencing]". Zwicky argues that the structure of a gestalt experience is comprised of "resonant internal relations" so that "the aspects of a gestalt are interdefined". Zwicky gives three images to further clarify the experience of meaning: a visual proof of the Pythagorean theorem, a visual puzzle, and the Necker cube. Can you think of situations in which your breath has been taken away or your vision has been altered? Do these examples corroborate Zwicky's argument? If not, what is the difference between your experience and the gestalt experience? Zwicky argues that reductionist prejudice, a focus on the aggregative synthesis of parts, obscures our gestalt experiences of meaning and makes it harder to discuss. Do you agree with her? What is the value and relative importance between gestalt thinking and synthetic/analytical thinking? Which form of thinking is to be preferred? In which situations? Why? Zwicky argues that "We frequently use the vocabulary of recognition to describe our experiences of insight". Does this make sense? Why is re-cognition involved? Zwicky points out that even though "insight" and "recognition" (the language of gestalt experience) imply a sense of truth, in fact, gestalt experiences may not be veridical, may not be true, may not truly represent reality. She gives the example of the phi phenomenon (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phi_phenomenon) which is universally (hence objectively) perceived as a moving light when in fact it is just two flashing lights. She also refers to Kepler's insight that planetary motion is connected to the five perfect solids (the tetrahedron, octahedron, hexahedron or cube, icosahedron, and dodecahedron). Zwicky writes, "the experience of meaning is not always an experience of truth." Zwicky summarizes her characterization of the experience of meaning: "to experience meaning—to have a gestalt crystallize out of chaos, or to sense the internal relations between one gestalt and another". She gives this further description and illustration: "the whole is experienced through the particular, which is an aspect of it. This is possible only if every part is internally related to every other part: if it is the nature of the whole that determines both what and that any part is." Zwicky infers Leo Tolstoy's insight in "War and Peace": "Paring life to its basics allows one to experience its ontological core, which is that the natural world—in all its magnificent complexity—is a resonant whole. One becomes able to perceive this resonance in individual beings and this perception brings joy." She continues, "Visualize a geodesic sphere. Because its nodes are dimensionless points, each exists only as a set of angles. Now imagine the sphere's lines are threaded with elastic, so that any or all of the nodes can move. If any one of them does move, this will affect the angles that define it: some will contract, some will expand. As will the constituting angles of every other node. Now, put the whole thing in motion. Each node will be in interdefined dynamic relation with every other node; and each will, necessarily, reflect the state of the whole at every moment." Does this explain how the "resonant internal relations" of a gestalt experience work? Does this example show how simplicity is misplaced whereas the resonance of gestalts can remain dynamically powerful even when a detailed analysis of angles would be complex? Or would you argue that gestalts integrate these dynamics and reveal the simplicity in what from an angular measuring point of view would be incomprehensibly complex? She also cites as examples, the protagonist in Tolstoy's "War and Peace", Pierre Bezukhov, and a passage from Arthur Koestler. Zwicky writes, "At the core of the Gestalt theory of learning is the view that to understand something just is to perceive its relevant structural similarity to some other thing or situation. The perception of telling similarity is the litmus that understanding has occurred." Zwicky concludes, "we experience meaning as resonant interior attunement". She cites Ludwig Wittgenstein as corroborating the view that "internal relations [are] at the centre of his theory of meaning" in "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus". Zwicky argues that instead of simplicity, we should value a lack of clutter in our understandings of science, the arts, and our lives? She cites Arne Næss's distinction between complicated and complex: "What is complicated is disunified, chaotic… What is complex, by contrast, may be intricate, but it is not chaotic; it has a unifying gestalt—Næss's example, of course, is an ecosystem. By definition, a complex thing cannot be simple in the sense of having no parts or divisions. It will have multiple aspects, and there are often many different relations among these aspects. But complexity is uncluttered. Everything fits. Clutter, then, may be defined as that which does not belong to a gestalt, that which has no internal relation to other aspects of an array. … Clutter is anything that damps down or muffles this resonance." To explain how clutter fits into her schema for the being and understanding of the world as gestalts, Zwicky observes that "anything we see or understand as a thing—each has shape, is a whole whose own aspects are internally related.… The world, in other words, is an immense complex of subordinate and superordinate gestalts. To paraphrase the homespun philosopher, it's gestalts all the way down. And up, too.…" Then she fits clutter into this ontology (nature of reality), "Clutter consists of what we might call con- or peri-ordinate gestalts—things that don't fit; facts we say we don't understand, but wish we did; recalcitrant data. It consists of gestalts that don't seem to belong to a superordinate gestalt; or, to put it another way, of gestalts that don't seem to have internal relations to other subordinate gestalts. Their perception therefore does not precipitate an experience of meaning. This failure to precipitate an experience of meaning is the hallmark of conordinate gestalts." She cites Arne Næss for the terms con- and peri-ordinate gestalts which she doesn't define. We might interpolate their meanings by observing in Wiktionary that "ordinate" can mean "disposed or arranged in an orderly or regular fashion" while the prefix "con-" means "with, together, or joint" and "peri-" means "near". In both cases suggesting that clutter is next to or associated with the gestalt, but not quite part of it, not fully resonant with the gestalt we have focused on. Does this argument show why simplicity oversimplifies and why the point of our epistemic understandings are resonant gestalts? Something like simplicity is retained by Zwicky in her epistemic virtue that resonant meaning lacks clutter (conordinate gestalts). But, she emphasizes, it has nothing to do with a simplicity of parts. Zwicky explores the claim that "gestalt comprehension and language-use are somehow at odds. She reports on Wertheimer's interview of Albert Einstein who said, "I very rarely think in words at all". She discusses the work of Jonathan Schooler on "verbal overshadowing". She quotes Schooler saying, "verbal processing has been assumed to be the 'deepest' and most memorable form of processing". The quote goes on to suggest that language can interfere with gestalt experiences. Zwicky concludes, "[we want] the revelation of meaning. We want to experience gestalts so powerful they make us change our lives. I do not know why we want this. One possibility is that that's what being itself is: the resonance of gestalts." In considering Zwicky's presentation, how should we think about our learning and our understanding? How should we think of the role of meaning in our understanding? What is meaning? How do we experience understanding and meaning? Why is the experience of meaning important to our understanding? Should this understanding of meaning replace the distorting value imposed by our mystique of simplicity with a gestalt approach of meaning? Should we view the nature of clutter as conordinate gestalts as a more incisive, than simplicity, way to think about our science, our arts, our mathematics, and our lives?

How Do We Heal a Divided Nation?

Online event

“This is a great nation. We are good people. And over the centuries, through storm and strife, in peace and in war, we've come so far. But we still have far to go. We'll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities, much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.” President Joseph R. Biden – January 20, 2021 These words from President Biden’s Inauguration speech speaks to all of us no matter what our differences are. Our history has been filled with strife, incivility and sins of the past. What makes our country unique is that we move past them and we unite when it is needed. We just recently suffered an attack from within our country. Even though it doesn’t seem like it most people united in the fact that the attack was not acceptable and that the insurrectionists should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. This sentiment transcends party politics, race and other factors that that separated us. But the social unrest in 2020 clearly indicates that a growing number of Americans are dissatisfied with our elected officials. When Americans look to the future, they see a number of issues that will ultimately impact their standard of living. The public views providing quality, affordable health care to all Americans, increasing spending for education and reducing the national debt as some of the top policy priorities for the future. And, while these and other issues might benefit from government action, the public has little confidence in government’s ability to effectively address these issues. We will explore what actions the Biden Administration can take to begin to effectively address the problems of everyday Americans and how confidence can be restored in government institutions. We will also analyze what role both parties can play in restoring this confidence. For a list of issues that we will be discussing see “Views of the major problems facing the country” https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/12/17/views-of-the-major-problems-facing-the-country/ Questions to Ponder What do you see as the most pressing issues facing the US? What is preventing politicians from taking meaningful actions? Who benefits from our division? What is the likelihood that these issues will be addressed? Why do people lack confidence in the US governments ability to assist in solving the nations issues? Additional Resources After A Bitter Election, Can Americans Find A Way To Heal Their Divides? https://www.npr.org/2020/11/01/929856421/after-a-bitter-election-can-americans-find-a-way-to-heal-their-divides Views of the major problems facing the country https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/12/17/views-of-the-major-problems-facing-the-country/ Joe Biden’s inauguration speech transcript, annotated https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/01/20/biden-inauguration-speech/ Surest Pathway to Expanded Opportunity, Success for American Students https://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/fact-sheet-college-degree-surest-pathway-expanded-opportunity-success-american-students#:~:text=Americans%20with%20college%20degrees%20are,system%20that%20helps%20everyone%20succeed. Views of government and the nation https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2019/12/17/views-of-government-and-the-nation/#few-americans-say-other-countries-are-better-than-the-u-sL

Ignorance & Questions @ Comprehensivist Wednesdays

Online event

Is science driven by ignorance? Is the primary output (and input) of science ignorance? Is there a difference between low and high quality ignorance? Is high quality ignorance the result we should expect from good science? Is ignorance the engine that drives science? Simply put is science about Ignorance? Are knowledge and ignorance akin to the figure-ground distinction in perception? Would a new field exploring ignorance be a profound tool to help us better understand and appreciate the mysteries of science? According to neuroscientist Stuart Firestein, the answer to all of these questions is 'yes'! "Knowledge is a big subject. Ignorance is bigger. And it is more interesting." --- Stuart Firestein, p. 10 "Forget the answers, work on the questions." --- Stuart Firestein, p. 16 "Real science is a revision in progress, always. It proceeds in fits and starts of ignorance." --- Stuart Firestein, p. 22 The discussion will be based on Stuart Firestein's short, eloquent, 18 minute TED Talk. Please see it to prepare for the Meetup: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nq0_zGzSc8g We will also be discussing the value of Questions. **** Welcome to the series "Comprehensivist Wednesdays". Transdisciplinarity, Renaissance humanism, homo universalis, and Polymathy are some of the ways of describing this approach which Buckminster Fuller called Comprehensivity and described as “macro-comprehensive and micro-incisive”. An introductory series of videos from past events can be watched at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLkCiNL_gZp2chIX3Hk5gHXf9bzxcjVxNA CJ Fearnley's site "Collaborating for Comprehensivism" has more information on the idea: https://www.cjfearnley.com/CfC/ July 15: Why Be a Comprehensivist? — a Panel Discussion. http://y2u.be/qjwTy6pGkNA ‪July 22: Louis Sullivan’s Ideas: Art of Expression & Form Follows Function with Architect Sherri Tracinski & Shrikant‬ https://youtu.be/oM8vbQQ-4MU ‪Jul 29: Humanity's Great Traditions of Inquiry and Action with CJ‬ Fearnley http://y2u.be/8RuHE_3FMUs ‪Aug 12: The Necessities and Impossibilities of Comprehensivism with CJ Fearnley http://y2u.be/u6372Te2YA8 ‪Sep 16: The Fundamental Role of Story in Our Lives with CJ Fearnley https://youtu.be/4UvDO2z0bjo ‪Oct 14: The Comprehensive Thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller with CJ Fearnley http://y2u.be/sPjcJjnHzKU Nov 18: The Value of The Ethnosphere with CJ Fearnley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixgxwR29_WY Dec 16: Value of Multiple Working Hypotheses with CJ Fearnley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpIHsVIzGlw 52 Living Ideas records Comprehensivist Wednesdays events and posts them on YouTube. Feel free to keep your video on or off as you prefer. Watch all their past Meetups at: https://www.youtube.com/c/52LivingIdeas?sub_confirmation=1

Past events (1,158)

Tribalism: a double edged sword

Online event

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