In “Monsters of the Economic: Inequality, Fear, and Loathing in America”, Folbre examines the trend toward extreme income inequality within the U.S. and the global economy as a whole is clear. But the numbers don’t reveal the emotional consequences of this information. The threat of downward mobility and economic insecurity generates fear and loathing, increases vulnerability to political manipulation, and impedes our ability to work together to solve important economic problems—including, paradoxically, the problem of extreme inequality itself. This presentation flushes out some of the monsters lurking behind economic policy debates, many of which have been projected onto a vivid cultural screen portraying conflicts between vampire and zombie, robot and werewolf, superhuman and subhuman. Which should we ordinary mortals fear the most?
Community-based approaches have gained attention in recent decades as crucial building-blocks for conservation in many regions of the world. But what does it take to make them work? Almost 50 years ago, leaders of a small community in southwest Madagascar joined with academics in Madagascar and the US to launch a partnership with the declared goal of helping people, forests and wildlife in the area flourish together. I trace the gradual development of this partnership from a “bargain struck” between constituencies with very different interests into a broadly shared endeavor. Today, it offers a model for transcending the small scale and limited impact typical of community-based-conservation initiatives, and a glimmer of hope that they can help safeguard the environment in Madagascar and beyond.
Eleven-year-old children have a pretty good idea of how baseball works. Yet, as Ray Jackendoff will show, the concepts involved in baseball are remarkably complex and subtle. So the question is: What cognitive resources do children bring to the task of learning baseball, such that they manage to understand it so readily? Professor Jackendoff will examine seven aspects of the understanding of baseball, in each case looking for its place in the larger ecology of human cognition. These aspects include: cooperation and competition; rules of the game and strategies; balls, strikes, runs, and outs; taking roles (such as pitcher and umpire) within the frame of the game; the logic of groups, including teams; how humans make up new systems such as games; and why humans like games, both as players and spectators.
To a remarkable extent, our understanding of the natural world is built from a small set of very deep ideas. I’ll try to give some sense for the nature of these ideas, for their power and scope. I will also try to explain what we mean by “understanding” in several different contexts, and why these successes give us (measured) confidence that more complex problems may yet yield to our search for understanding. Finally, I’ll say a few words about the cultural gaps that separate scientists who have mastery of these theoretical ideas from other scientists, from the generally educated public, and from the polity as a whole. It is not too much to claim that our future quality of life will depend, crucially, on our ability to bridge these gaps by teaching.
Experiments have uncovered many of the mechanisms at work in the machinery of life, but there still is no theoretical framework that ties these discoveries together. A hint about how to construct such a theory comes from the fact that many biological systems operate very near the limits of what the laws of physics allow: from bacteria navigating toward a source of food to the optics of an insect’s eye, from decision-making by cells in a developing embryo to aspects of human perception, important aspects of life’s mechanisms are nearly as good they can be, in a sense that physics makes precise. This proximity to perfection provides us with the ingredients for a theoretical physics of life, and I will explore this idea, hopefully providing an appreciation for some of life’s most striking and surprising phenomena.
In “The Political Economy of Patriarchal Systems”, Folbre examines feminist efforts to theorize the emergence and evolution of gender inequality no longer invoke some abstract, a-historical “patriarchy.” Rather, they explore the co-evolution of many distinct patriarchies with other hierarchical structures of constraint, emphasizing intersecting forms of inequality based, for instance, on class, race/ethnicity, citizenship, and hetero-normativity. In this presentation, I argue that economic theory offers some important analytical tools for this exploration, providing a framework for analyzing the interplay of social structure and individual choice. In particular, I explain how game theory, bargaining models, and concepts of exploitation can enrich the emerging interdisciplinary paradigm of feminist theory.
Aby Warburg’s last and most ambitious project, the Atlas Mnemosyne – conceived in 1926 and truncated three years later by Warburg’s sudden death – consists of a series of large black panels, on which are attached black-and-white photographs of paintings, sculptures, tarot cards, stamps, coins, and other types of images. Its thousand images are unified by Warburg’s greatest conceptual creation: the idea of the Pathosformel, or formula for the expression of extreme passion. In this talk, the reflection on the Pathosformel will take the unusual form of an attempt at “operationalizing” the concept, transforming it into a series of quantitative operations. The resulting model is then used to analyze the evidence assembled by Warburg in Mnemosyne, and to gain a new understanding of how extreme emotional states are represented in painting.
Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake proceed from the belief that architecture is most resonant, beautiful, and artful when it connects deeply across levels and dimensions in ways that resolve into a new whole—a whole that is expansive, unified, and far greater than the sum of its parts. Their lecture FULLNESS: The Art of the Whole explores how beautiful design arises from the art and science of a deep, query-based research process, and includes many individuals and many (often competing) influences. Central among these influences is an ethical commitment to researching and envisioning anew the ways in which architecture and planning can address some of the most pressing issues of our time: the international crisis of affordable shelter and the role that carbon consumption plays in global warming and the decimation of our physical environment. Using project examples from the past decade, they will discuss the evolution of their creative process over time, the expanding role of communication in their work, and how innovative new modeling and analysis technologies can become tools for dialogue and collaboration.
Is there, or was there once, life on Mars? Debate about martian life remains unresolved, but over the past decade, unprecedented observations have enabled us to address key astrobiological questions in new ways. This lecture will examine the observations of ancient sedimentary rocks made by the NASA rover, Opportunity, at Meridiani Planum. Opportunity has provided both physical and chemical evidence that liquid water once existed at the martian surface. At the same time, however, Opportunity's chemical data suggest that brines percolating through accumulating Meridiani sediments grew salty enough to inhibit most known life, even the hardiest microorganisms. Chemical observations further suggest that the sites investigated by Opportunity and its identical twin, Spirit, have not seen much water since their minerals were precipitated billions of years ago. Remote sensing of martian landforms independently suggests that Mars has been cold and dry for most of its planetary history, sharply constraining continuing debate about martian life.
The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. In particular, American scientists, dating back to Roger Revelle and Dave Keeling in the 1950s, pioneered research on anthropogenic climate change. Yet, today we lead the world in climate change denial. Nearly half of American citizens aren’t sure that climate change is caused by human activities, and a large part of leadership of the Republican Party refuses to accept that climate change is happening at all.
This talk explains how this strange state of affairs came to be. It tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists, with effective political connections, ran a series of campaigns to challenge well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly; some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is “not settled,” denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, sulfuric emissions to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it. This talk explains both how and why.