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 (4)

(IN-PERSON EVENT!) Big Lives -- The Good, the Bad and the Jury

Needs a location

NOTE: THIS IS PLANNED AS AN IN-PERSON, OUTDOOR EVENT STARTING AT 11:30am EDT. IF RAIN IS FORECASTED, THE DISCUSSION WILL BE MOVED TO A ZOOM SESSION AT THE SAME TIME. ANY SUCH CHANGE WILL BE POSTED BY NOON ON FRIDAY MAY 27. REVISIT THE EVENT PAGE TO CONFIRM OUTDOOR vs. ZOOM STATUS BEFORE HEADING OUT TO ATTEND.

This will be the first in-person discussion event for GPTS since the
start of the pandemic. We are testing the waters; we're not quite ready just yet to make the decision to go back fully to in-person events. We are meeting outdoors to limit COVID-19 exposure risk and limiting the number of attendees to facilitate group discussion in an outdoor setting. If you wish, feel free to bring a lunch/snack/beverage -- there is no food service at the park. You may wish to bring a hat since we may not be able to meet under a shade tree. Bring a folding chair if possible. We will bring several extra chairs for those who cannot bring one.
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It is one of the ironies of life that many of the people who make major contributions or have outsized positive impacts also have dark sides. We are surprised by these two sides of the same person and struggle with reconciling these seemingly contradictory sides and deciding how to judge or react to the person as a whole.

We are all familiar with examples of such "big life" individuals who have significant good and bad attributed to them. Some are well-known historical figures. Some are current examples, including people still alive and even recently in the news. Some are even fictional or mythical characters that may serve as object lessons. To help prompt our discussion, several specific examples are listed below, along with reference sources for those interested in investigating further. Discussion participants will undoubtedly be able to identify other examples.

-- Bill Cosby: Successful stand-up comic; first African American to win an Emmy for acting for his starring role in the series I Spy; star of The Cosby Show which was the top rated TV show in America from 1985-1989, getting the reputation as "America's Dad" in the process. However, starting in 2014 he was the subject of multiple sexual assault allegations and was convicted of aggravated indecent assault in 2018. His conviction was subsequently overturned based on prosecutorial violations of his constitutional due process rights. Those interested can learn more in the Showtime documentary TV mini-series "We Need to Talk about Bill Cosby", directed by W Kamau Bell and available for a fee via Amazon Prime Video. The series Director was also interviewed on the February 14, 2022 Fresh Air podcast (https://www.npr.org/programs/fresh-air/2022/02/19/1081679644/fresh-air-for-feb-19-2022-w-kamau-bell-on-cosby-succession-actor-matthew-macfady).

-- Robert Moses: He is perhaps the person with the single greatest impact on the physical design of New York City and its surrounding areas. Moses served as president of the Long Island State Parks Commission, as New York City's first Park Commissioner and as head of the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority. However his actual impact on the NYC metro area far exceeded the nominal authority of these positions. His accomplishments included Jones Beach State Park, the Triborough Bridge, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the West Side Highway, the Long Island parkway system, the Niagara and St. Lawrence power projects, 658 playgrounds in New York City, 416 miles of parkways, more than 10 other bridges, Co-Op city, multiple public housing projects, and slum clearance for the Lincoln Center complex. However, his aggressive and autocratic approach made him many enemies and he has been widely criticized for the significant negative impacts on neighborhoods and public transit of his approach to slum clearance, public housing and
highway construction. For those interested in more detail, the definitive source is the 1974 biography by Robert A. Caro, "The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York". A far briefer overview is his NY Times obituary
(https://www.nytimes.com/1981/07/30/obituaries/robert-moses-master-builder-is-dead-at-92.html).

-- Business Leaders: In the world of business there are well-known examples of titans of industry with outsized accomplishments and impacts both for good and bad. These include historical figures such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Vanderbilt. Current examples of business leaders cited for both major positive accomplishments and negative impacts include Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

-- Artists: Richard Wagner was the great German composer who left behind a great body of work, particularly his operas. He was also known for controversial political and racial positions, including antisemitism.

-- Scientists: The recent book "When We Cease to Understand the World" by Benjamin Labatut is a fictionalized account of several real people who made great scientific, mathematical or technology contributions, yet also had major dark sides. The case of Fritz Haber is particularly relevant to our topic. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his invention of the Haber–Bosch process to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen gas. This process was instrumental in permitting the large-scale synthesis of fertilizers and explosives. A majority of global food production uses nitrogen from this process. On the other side of the ledger, Haber also spent years developing and weaponizing chlorine and other poisonous gases that were used to devastating effect in WWI and subsequently. Another example is that of William Shockley, who was a key player in the development of the transistor. He went on to found Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, one of the incubators of the emerging Silicon Valley. After winning the Nobel prize and joining the
Stanford faculty, Shockley started taking positions on race, human intelligence, and eugenics which were heavily criticized and damaged his reputation.

-- Historical figures. Monumental figures in American history such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington have been posthumously criticized for their participation in slave-holding, particularly given the obvious contradictions in their espoused principles vs. actual practice. However, in such historical cases, we must ask to what extent one can apply current morality to people living in a society with far different norms.

-- Fictional characters. In popular entertainment (film, TV) there has been a growing tendency to present characters, including protagonists, as having both good and bad elements. A good example is TV show "The Shield" portraying an experimental strike team in the LA police department which employs highly aggressive and even illegal methods to cope with the pervasive crime problem in the district to which they are assigned.

During our discussion we will look at how such individuals should be judged and how to best respond, especially for those "big life" people who are still alive and in the public eye. The following general questions are proposed -- and in addressing them we can refer to specific "big life" examples from those mentioned above or others that participants find illuminating.

1. Why are there people with major positive impacts who so often are also significantly flawed?

2. Are people naturally born good? If so what is/are the primary factors changing that? (family/parents? local culture?)

3. Should we try to balance good vs. bad in a person? Are there thresholds for good or bad that preclude trying to balance the two?

4. How do the following considerations affect our assessment of, or reaction to, a life?
--a. The scope/scale of the good and bad (how significant is the impact & how many people does it impact)
--b. The type of positive or negative impact (e.g., economic, emotional, personal rights)
--c. Role & stature of the person being judged (e.g., politician, celebrity, influential scientist, regular person)
--d. Timeframe. Is the person living or dead? How long ago were the good & bad activities? Are we using the same societal norms that prevailed during the behavior being judged?

5. How should we respond to the good and bad of a person during their
lifetimes?
--a. Can we celebrate the good and reject the bad separately?
--b. Should we apply a threshold to the bad in determining if it should overwhelm any possible good?
--c. Should the response (e.g., loss of job, shunning) last forever or a finite period of time?
--d. To what extent should a person's subsequent positive accomplishments or attempts to make amends change our assessment?

4
Blindness by Jose Saramago -- On Fragility of Society

Link visible for attendees

"If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals."

One of the most predominant themes in this book Blindness is the fragility of society. Saramago uses blindness as a metaphor for both personal misfortune and social catastrophe. His book shines a spotlight on how the interpersonal web of interactions in which we live on a daily basis is actually quite tenuous, even though it seems stable. A major theme in the story is deterioration, of society and of government. All around, people are going blind. No one knows why, or how to stop it. The epidemic of blindness is an interesting thought experiment because it does not kill, it merely cripples. This means that it is something that changes mankind in a fundamental, yet non-fatal way. In doing this, the novel is able to bring out many themes of human interaction without having the group face imminent death from the disease itself.

A 2 minute summary that does a good job synopsizing the story: https://www.supersummary.com/blindness/summary
Here is a more in depth summary, including a summary of each chapter: https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Blindness/plot-summary/
Purchase the full book: https://www.amazon.com/Blindness-Jose-Saramago/dp/0151002517

May 1: chapters 1-5, 76 pages to read (pages 1-76)
May 15: chapters 6-10, 83 pages to read (pages[masked])
May 29: chapters 11-13, 80 pages to read (pages[masked])
June 12: chapters 14-17, 87 pages to read (pages[masked])
June 19: Conclusion and Wrap-Up

This literature series is a joint event between The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society and 52 Living Ideas.

52 Living Ideas will record this event and post it to YouTube. Feel free to keep your video on or off as you prefer.

Blindness by Jose Saramago -- On Fragility of Society

Link visible for attendees

"If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals."

One of the most predominant themes in this book Blindness is the fragility of society. Saramago uses blindness as a metaphor for both personal misfortune and social catastrophe. His book shines a spotlight on how the interpersonal web of interactions in which we live on a daily basis is actually quite tenuous, even though it seems stable. A major theme in the story is deterioration, of society and of government. All around, people are going blind. No one knows why, or how to stop it. The epidemic of blindness is an interesting thought experiment because it does not kill, it merely cripples. This means that it is something that changes mankind in a fundamental, yet non-fatal way. In doing this, the novel is able to bring out many themes of human interaction without having the group face imminent death from the disease itself.

A 2 minute summary that does a good job synopsizing the story: https://www.supersummary.com/blindness/summary
Here is a more in depth summary, including a summary of each chapter: https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Blindness/plot-summary/
Purchase the full book: https://www.amazon.com/Blindness-Jose-Saramago/dp/0151002517

May 1: chapters 1-5, 76 pages to read (pages 1-76)
May 15: chapters 6-10, 83 pages to read (pages[masked])
May 29: chapters 11-13, 80 pages to read (pages[masked])
June 12: chapters 14-17, 87 pages to read (pages[masked])
June 19: Conclusion and Wrap-Up

This literature series is a joint event between The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society and 52 Living Ideas.

52 Living Ideas will record this event and post it to YouTube. Feel free to keep your video on or off as you prefer.

Blindness by Jose Saramago -- On Fragility of Society

Link visible for attendees

"If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals."

One of the most predominant themes in this book Blindness is the fragility of society. Saramago uses blindness as a metaphor for both personal misfortune and social catastrophe. His book shines a spotlight on how the interpersonal web of interactions in which we live on a daily basis is actually quite tenuous, even though it seems stable. A major theme in the story is deterioration, of society and of government. All around, people are going blind. No one knows why, or how to stop it. The epidemic of blindness is an interesting thought experiment because it does not kill, it merely cripples. This means that it is something that changes mankind in a fundamental, yet non-fatal way. In doing this, the novel is able to bring out many themes of human interaction without having the group face imminent death from the disease itself.

A 2 minute summary that does a good job synopsizing the story: https://www.supersummary.com/blindness/summary
Here is a more in depth summary, including a summary of each chapter: https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Blindness/plot-summary/
Purchase the full book: https://www.amazon.com/Blindness-Jose-Saramago/dp/0151002517

May 1: chapters 1-5, 76 pages to read (pages 1-76)
May 15: chapters 6-10, 83 pages to read (pages[masked])
May 29: chapters 11-13, 80 pages to read (pages[masked])
June 12: chapters 14-17, 87 pages to read (pages[masked])
June 19: Conclusion and Wrap-Up

This literature series is a joint event between The Greater Philadelphia Thinking Society and 52 Living Ideas.

52 Living Ideas will record this event and post it to YouTube. Feel free to keep your video on or off as you prefer.

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