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.

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+)

Worlds Enough and Time - Alternate History in Fiction & Reality

Bellevue Food Court (on the lower level below the shops)

The genre of alternative history allows us to glimpse how reality would have unfolded had familiar events gone differently. From the direction of a sneeze to that of war or planetary formation, events miniscule and enormous can radically change the course of history. The best such works illuminate actual history by altering real events to enable the unfolding of alternate outcomes that are close enough to the world we inhabit to highlight aspects of its workings. For example, seeing alternate versions of familiar events can emphasize crucial features of their real-world versions, enabling deeper understanding of real history. From a genre encompassing hundreds of alternate timelines, we’ll examine 4 examples of America as it might have been: An adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s groundbreaking novel, the Man in the High Castle depicts an alternate 1960s where the Axis won WW2 and Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan divide the world and the US between them. The East Coast becomes integral to the Greater German Reich, while the West becomes an extension of East Asia in the Co-Prosperity sphere. Americans on both sides either resist, embrace or make do with the New World Order, while the victors enter cold war and brace for worse. Meanwhile mysterious films depicting an Allied victory surface and stir fear and hope in conqueror and subject alike. Watch the 1st episode: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1740299/videoplayer/vi2796598809 Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory series depicts the aftermath of a Confederate Victory in the US Civil War. North America’s divided between 2 hostile nations, leading to 3 subsequent wars, including a WW2 centered on the North and South and fought with nuclear weapons, as well as genocide and fascist dictatorship on American soil. The events in the series are covered insightfully and humorously in this YouTube commentary: 1. Southern Victory and War for the West: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqYBXrW_5gA&list=PL7DTipO5UGUsJq-mInL8ZVsL3zSox2PU9&index=1 2. WW1 Between North and South: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlt9RwDO1ws&list=PL7DTipO5UGUsJq-mInL8ZVsL3zSox2PU9&index=2 3. Southern Depression and Dictatorship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1BhBQWPCfkU&index=3&list=PL7DTipO5UGUsJq-mInL8ZVsL3zSox2PU9 4. WW2 Billy Yank and Johnny Reb Style, including the Nuking of Philadelphia and the Killing Fields of Texas: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMGLIcznmGw&t=76s Honorable Mentions: 1. Joe Steel by Harry Turtledove – Joseph Dzhugashvili emigrates from Russian Georgia, becoming Democratic machine boss Joe Steele. After orchestrating FDR’s assassination, Steele’s elected President and institutes 5 Year Plans and labor camps to end the Depression and purges to destroy opposition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Steele_(novel). See the dynamics of Stalinism, McCarthyism and the Great Depression from a fresh perspective. 2. Lion’s Blood by Steve Barnes– After the Plague aborts the Renaissance, North America’s colonized by West Africans using European slaves: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion%27s_Blood. Gain fresh insights into colonialism and racism through the eyes of an Irishman ripped from his native paddies and forced to work under the lash of an African Master harvesting cotton on Dar Kush estate in the Old South. All Histories in Endless Worlds: Astrophysical evidence suggests our universe is infinite, with the visible universe being an infinitesimal Hubble Bubble floating in this endless expanse. Since the possible combinations of matter are (astronomically!) finite, infinite space means endless repetition of all possible forms, including all possible worlds, creatures and people. Our infinite universe therefore contains infinite worlds we’d recognize as Earth, with every possible history repeated endlessly. Somewhere beyond the visible stars, Americans arrange Nazi furniture according to Chi, Billy Yank and Johnny Reb meet for Christmas in No Mans Land and you are reading this as you are now.

The Stanford Prison Experiment - Myths and Narratives of Social Psychology

For decades, Intro Psychology students have been presented with classic social pscyhology studies. One such experiment was conducted in 1971 at Stanford University led by Professor Dr. Philip Zimbardo in which college students became prisoners or guards in a simulated prison environment. It was intended to measure the effect of role-playing, labeling, and social expectations on behavior over a period of two weeks. However, mistreatment of prisoners escalated so alarmingly that principal investigator Zimbardo terminated the experiment after only six days. Ever since the literature has been clear: men are inherently violent and will assume total power if given the opportunity. The study points to our inherently aggressive biological roots, harkening back to longtime tribal allegiances. The individual immediately becomes an archetype, their behavior based not on personal characteristics but the environment they’re thrust into. It has been used to explain everything from cults to Abu Ghraib. But many things are left out of that simplistic narrative. Medium article: https://outline.com/t2rkxt BBC study: http://www.bbcprisonstudy.org/bbc-prison-study.php?p=14 What does this study and the aftermath tell us about social psychology narratives and the issue of replication? https://www.vox.com/2018/6/13/17449118/stanford-prison-experiment-fraud-psychology-replication The current and future state of the original narrative: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201310/why-zimbardo-s-prison-experiment-isn-t-in-my-textbook We'l be delving into the following questions and more: -What were the criticisms of the Stanford Prison Experiment from the start? -Could the experiment be conducted today? -What conclusions can we draw, if any, from the results about prison environments? -What conclusions can we draw, if any, from the results about human personality? -Is there a better way to test the same ideas? -What is the broader lesson about social psychology studies? - What does the BBC study, a modified reenactment, tell us about the original attempt? -What lessons have we learned?

How Can We Understand Society & the Social Forces that Affect Our Lives? REPEAT

Bellevue Food Court (on the lower level below the shops)

Are there broader social forces that shape our lives in addition to our individual biology, psychology, and philosophy? Are there social dimensions to our personal issues, our biographies, and our sufferings? How can we come to understand the nature of the local and global social entities that affect our lives? What are the social forces that affect our lives? Are class, race, and gender the main social forces affecting our society? Is any other force of comparable importance? This is a repeat of the event held on 30 December 2018 (https://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/events/257171048), if you attended that event please do not RSVP to this one until March 1st. Is it possible to develop a science for the study of our social worlds? Is sociology as a science possible? Can we study something where the observer is also necessarily a subject. How would you characterize such a science? What are its strengths and limitations? In the first video resource below, Zine Magubane suggests that sociology is a science by which the study of a community may inform ways to make a larger claim about the nature of social forces. Is sociology the science for reform initiatives? Should reformers first turn to sociology for insights into the nature of the problem(s) they propose to ameliorate? Does effective reform require a good grounding in sociology? In our daily lives, each of us has a facility to repeat, revise, improvise, and formulate theories about how society might be working. These everyday social theories give us ways to think about how the world works and they help us think about how we might navigate the complex social worlds we inhabit. What is the relationship between everyday social theory and the theories about social forces that sociology has identified? How should the science of sociology think about the everyday social ideas each of us considers? Should sociology confirm, explain, and/or critique our everyday beliefs? How should you and I consider the social theories and models of social forces proposed by sociology especially given that some may contradict our own beliefs, our own everyday social theories? Should we broaden our perspectives with comparative studies and other sociological analyses? Can we develop the intellectual tools to recognize when and how to disagree with sociology? How can everyday citizens form a productive dialogue with sociology? How should we and sociology come to understand our future social possibilities? What social forces might decrease the chances for world war? Or Genocide? Or McCarthyism? Are there social forces that could upend our world forcing us to migrate as Blacks once migrated from the Jim Crow South before the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Or as Syrians migrate from their civil war? Why must so many of the world's people live below the poverty rate? Why must so many Americans be homeless and poor? Could we, perchance, be forced to join them? What will it take for the other peoples of the world to enjoy the wealth and status of White men? Can sociology help us understand these forces to help us better understand and improve our worlds? Should the leader of every nation-state have, in addition to economic advisors, sociological advisors to better inform policy? Should we read and study more sociology to better understand the social issues that affect our lives? To engage these and related questions, I have curated eight optional but recommended videos totalling one hour and 30 minutes to better inform the discussion. There are two theoretical videos with sociologist Zine Magubane and six interviews between Smitha Radhakrishnan and non-sociologists exploring their everyday social theories. ● 9 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Zine Magubane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lk8umTE8EQw 👉 My notes on the above video includes additional questions for our group conversation: https://plus.google.com/104222466367230914966/posts/KrnrCL8f7R6 ● 10 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Zine Magubane http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IA2FL01PaHs 👉 My notes on the above video includes additional questions for our group conversation: https://plus.google.com/104222466367230914966/posts/cqy1bHa2CHN 👉 In this optional video interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Patricia Hill Collins (http://y2u.be/Vr3TCcMZkpU), we find a different take on everyday social theory than what Magubane emphasizes. ● 10 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Margaret http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-qGmjR4MCI ● 16 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Shirina http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xaQIntq9vw ● 9 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Patty Blais http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNL0Hs9nIh0 ● 15 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Linda Sopheap Sou http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ofn1YujaX0I ● 9 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Gordon Helm http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1FWW9_G9LU ● 13 minute interview between Smitha Radhakrishnan and Jane Watson http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4pKxhL23RQ

Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together

Free Library of Philadelphia (main branch)

If dialogue is the Art of Thinking Together, how can we foster thinking together in group conversations? What does it mean to Think Together? What distinguishes dialogue from discussion and debate? What principles are important in evoking Thinking Together? How can we better practice the Art of Dialogue? "The roots of the word dialogue come from the Greek words dia and logos. Dia means "through"; logos translates to "word," or "meaning." In essence, a dialogue is a flow of meaning. But it is more than this too. In the most ancient meaning of the word, logos meant "to gather together," and suggested an intimate awareness of the relationships among things in the natural world. In that sense, logos may be best rendered in English as "relationship." — William Isaacs, "Dialogue", p. 19. So dialogue can be seen as the practice of Thinking Together: finding and creating perspectives, meanings, and possibilities by gathering together ideas and their relationships from the flow of a group conversation. Participation in dialogue involves the unfolding of feelings, values, thoughts, and considerations so that new relationships and new meanings might be discerned and entertained. "What is true thinking? To think truly is to say things that may surprise us—things we have not said before—that are not in our memory. Such words change us. To think is to sense the emerging potential of a situation, to perceive what is not yet visible, and to give it voice. ... What we usually call thinking is often merely the reporting or acting out of patterns already in our memory." — p. 59. Is thinking about apprehending new relationships, new ideas, and new points of view? Is thinking about voicing such dawning possibilities that we may only barely perceive? Does thinking require reflection: daring to question our assumptions, convictions, and other conditioned reflexes? In a dialogue how should you present your assumptions, beliefs, and opinions so as to contribute your ideas into the flow of considerations without imposing blockages or otherwise disrupting the flow of thinking? Or, is it essential for the group to work through such blocks and disruptions to effectively explore a given subject? How should participants respond to someone with a block or a disruptive belief or opinion so that the flow of ideas can more fully encompass the subject? "To think is also to listen to our own automatic reactions and gain perspective on them." p. 59. Is thinking about listening to others and our reactions to them? How can we better practice listening without resistance? Is thinking a social process or the function of an individual human being? What differences are there between thinking as a group versus as an individual? "Thinking together implies that you no longer take your own position as final. You relax your grip on certainty and listen to the possibilities that result simply from being in a relationship with others—possibilities that might not otherwise have occurred." p. 19. Does the art of Thinking Together require us to relax our certainty when sharing our remembered positions, opinions, convictions, assumptions, and beliefs (our idols as Francis Bacon referred to some of these impediments to thinking), so a group can more broadly think through the possiblilities of meaning? What else is needed to help a group explore other perspectives and approaches which might lead to new insights? How can we engage a group to consider the full range of ideas before judging the subject in any sort of conclusive way (which would be an act of subterfuge and violence, as Isaacs suggests on pp. 68-69)? When Thinking Together is it important to have "a conversation with a center, not sides"? Does this suggest that we need to explore a whole topic rather than divide it into a few staked out sides? Do such divisions necessarily impede the scope and incisiveness of the conversation? How important is it to focus on a fixed subject (the center?) to foster dialogue? William Isaacs suggests that any conversation begins with a turning together to focus on a subject or topic (which could be as unfocused as "whatever occurs to us"). Participants take turns talking. They process information in the flow of the conversation. They deliberate or weigh out the ideas shared: Is that idea relevant or irrelevant? What do I like or dislike about it? How is it interesting or uninteresting? The first crucial question for each participant is always: as you weigh the ideas shared, should you "suspend what you think" keeping an uncommited attitude and posing your ideas as considerations, possibilities, or questions OR should you stand for your ideas, defending them on the assumption that they are right? That is, do you take an approach of exploration or one of standing for your convictions, positions, and opinions? Does the explorative approach of suspending foster Thinking Together with a richer and deeper engagement of the full scope of possibilities. If participants take a defensive posture, there are again two possible approaches. Participants could be open to being wrong which can lead to a discussion where opinions are thoughtfully batted back and forth. Or participants could dig in and the conversation could become a debate where each side trys to suppress the other. Is the way participants in a group conversation present their thoughts a significant determinant of the quality of the conversation? How do you see the strengths and weaknesses of dialogue, discussion, and debate? Isaacs' book "Dialogue" identifies four principles for Thinking Together: participation (tuning in to the multitudes of possibilities in each others' experiences), unfolding (listening for the ideas and relationships in our subject, in ourselves, and in others), awareness (recognition of the dynamic processes and multiple perspectives that underlie everything), and coherence (the realization that all distinctions about our worlds are parts of an integral whole that coheres). Must all four of these principles be attended to for a group to Think Together? Are there any other important principles for Dialogue? Does the principle of exploration summarize and embrace all four of Isaacs' principles of dialogue? Is it always true that exploration = participation × unfolding × awareness × coherence? In every human culture and at all times past, present, and future? Isaacs suggests that there is a timeless art of conversation governing effective dialogue. How should this art be practiced? What do you think are the most important factors in practising the Art of Dialogue, the Art of Thinking Together? Does dialogue offer participants a better opportunity to reveal new possibilities, new perspectives, and new meanings beyond the new understandings fostered by Learning Together in a discussion? If you agree, should the Thinking Society transition from a discussion group to a dialogue group? This topic was inspired by my reading of part I (chapters 1-3) in William Isaacs 1999 book "Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together: A Pioneering Approach to Communicating in Business and in Life". Although Isaacs's book has many good ideas, its business-school-book style may not be helpful for participants. The book was referenced by "The Design Way" which inspired the 9 June 2018 topic "Dialogue: Creating Meaning Through Words" (https://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/events/250567385) which was a follow-on to the 4 November 2017 topic "On Dialogue and Discussion: Sensitivity, Meaning, and Purpose" (https://www.meetup.com/thinkingsociety/events/243994688).

Past events (926)

Photos (1)